The Sunday Intertitle: Max Actor

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on October 23, 2016 by dcairns

There are NO intertitles in LES DEBUTS DE MAX AU CINEMA, I’m afraid to say. But I feel there should be. Max at one point turns and gives a look to us, his chums the audience, and says something, probably in French, which receives no intertitular enlargement. I’m pretty sure Max meant for us to know what he was saying.

Tempting to believe the titles have been lost, but the rest of the film is in absolutely stunning condition, so that would be surprising.


Maybe the decision was made based on the fact that the story told was (perhaps) pretty well-known. It apparently derives from the true tale of Max’s screen debut, in which he became so enraged at the slapstick treatment he was receiving that he blew his top and stormed off. In this short, helmed by Louis J. Gasnier who would go on, tragically, to “direct” REEFER MADNESS, Max shows himself a good sport by recreating the incident.

The restoration and transfer are so fine that one barely notices the gags, which are reasonably nice but nothing special. The high-quality Pathé Bros sets — or maybe most of them are the real production company offices? — are so richly detailed it’s like time-travelling back 106 years to observe Linder (and the actual Pathé brothers, above) at work.

Also a weird directorial choice when Max plays his first real scene, as a hen-pecked husband: it’s a piece of behind-the-scenes footage, supposedly, but we never see the crew. Maybe they couldn’t afford a second camera. But when Max is chucked out the window, a small camera team abruptly appears to film his descent. Comparisons are possible to Chaplin’s tramp debut in KID AUTO RACES AT VENICE, which also takes as subject the comedian’s relationship to the camera, but remember: this isn’t Max’s debut, but a fictional recreation of same. At this point, Max was already a veteran.

When Worlds Collude

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on October 22, 2016 by dcairns


“This is a terrible film,” said Fiona, mid-way through STRANGER FROM VENUS. It shouldn’t have been a surprise that this low-budget British sci-fi effort wasn’t exactly ROME: OPEN CITY, but it had started so promisingly. Within moments of the first UFO sighting, we got a quick scene of the great John Le Mesurier as an archetypal Man from the Ministry, on the hotline to somebody or other, saying something or other… we were too thrilled to really pay attention to the words uttered. But after those all-too-brief seconds, Le Mes departs the film, never to be seen again, and interest markedly slumps. To offer us John Le Mes and then take him away again so suddenly is a like a cruel cinematic version of orgasm denial.

On the plus side, we then get Patricia Neal, her presence calculated to affirm with every passing moment that this is not THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL. Though it closely resembles it in many ways, all of them making for an unflattering comparison. As in Robert Wise’s terrific picture, a stiff-necked extraterrestrial lands and delivers a message of peace — backed up with apocalyptic threats.


Like every other sci-fi movie made in Britain, the setting is a pub, in this case a roadside inn where the stranger takes up residence while demanding a congress with the world’s leaders. There’s a time limit on all this since his ability to breathe our earthly air will eventually give out, when he runs out of oxy-gum or something. Despite all this suspense, the film manages to be sluggish, with numerous scenes devoid of any discernible dramatic tension, and most of the plot consisting of desultory waiting.

As a result, the high-points are early on: director Burt Balaban (of the Balaban dynasty) shows a penchant for filming his cast from the back, which becomes a full-blown fetish when the Venusian interloper enters, his face hidden from us for long minutes. Eventually, the agreeably chiseled features of Helmut Dantine are revealed, and Patricia is of course drawn to the sexy stranger from Planet Lurve. His cheekbones call to her cheekbones.


Space Helmut has an important message to deliver but can’t do so just yet, so there’s plenty of time for (excuse the expression) mooning after Patricia, and the fact that she has a fiancée who is a government official (the heavy, space-gauntleted hand of coincidence lies heavy upon the scenario) adds complication, but none of this adds up to either romantic agony or mild curiosity for the viewer. The ending manages to preserve the status quo while (somewhat) questioning it, making this a half-hearted bit of liberal fantasy that can’t quite bring itself to be surprising or radical or scary or exciting. The climax hinges upon the theft of Space Helmut’s communication device (a flat cylinder looking suspiciously like a make-up compact) from an army tent, an operation so tedious the film doesn’t even bother to present it.

The very end is quite nice, actually — bittersweet, I suppose you’d call it. But I still feel like we’re owed an apology for the premature withdrawal of Le Mesurier.


The Judex Files: The Twilight Bark

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on October 21, 2016 by dcairns


Judex, like Tarzan and Dr. Dolittle and other heroes, has a close rapport with the animal kingdom, so in episode 3 of Feuillade’s serial he responds to a distress signal carried by bird, but jumping into action with a kind of canine armada.

I was reminded of Buster Keaton’s rather disparate Huskies in THE FROZEN NORTH, as Judex apparently favours variety when selecting his dumb chums. The lead hound resembles a bear cub, possibly to strike terror into his enemies and cloud their minds. Criminals are a superstitious lot.


Print damage: mysterious French writing flashes up the screen sideways, looking like it’s been stenciled on the wall.

This section of the serial does get rather, well, episodic, as the banker’s innocent daughter is repeatedly kidnapped by Musidora and her jailbird accomplice. Just for variety, they decide to kill her next time, then fall back on abduction with no apparent explanation for this change of approach. Still, if an outlaw can’t be whimsical, what is the good of being an outlaw?


Louche-ness personified. All they need is an Aspidistra to chew and the effect would be complete. Musidora, we note, unlike Judex, is no friend to the animal kingdom.

In other news, the Liquorice Kid gets adopted into the foster home of the banker’s rather girlish grandson, so they can continue their childlike romance. It is really one of the more unusual relationships I can remember seeing, two little boys, one of them psychologically an adult, the other psychologically and physically a girl.

Also, Pierre Kerjean (Gaston Michel), the raddled old victim of the evil banker’s perfidy, who got fatally run over by a death-jalopy in the prologue, unexpectedly rises from his sickbed, not only not dead but positively alive. So that’s nice. I like looking at his elongated, broken face. According to the IMDb, Michel enjoyed similar recuperative powers in reality, expiring as he did in 1921 but making his last screen appearance in 1932.