Archive for August 16, 2020

The Sunday Intertitle: Chimproper Behaviour

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , on August 16, 2020 by dcairns

SUDDEN CHIMPACT

LE MANOIR DE LA PEUR (1927 or thereabouts) chimpressed me no end. Though the story of Alfred Machin & Henry Wulschleger’s thriller is fairly naive, mainly an opportunity to exploit the services of chimpanzee actor Monsieur Schey, the photography (by Mario Badouille), design (unknown), editing (maybe the directors?) and performances are terrific.

A mysterious stranger moves into the MANSION OF FEAR (turn left at the cemetery). Soon, the village is plagued by a crime spree. But we’ve already been shown who’s doing it: the sinister stranger’s servant (Cinq-Leon) has been training a lab chimp, Hello (Monsieur Schey), to burgle the burghers. He chalks a kind of HOBO SIGN on the door of each home to be ransacked, then dispatches the chimpetuous Hello to do his hairy bidding.

Cinq-Leon, a self-described wretch, is a remarkable presence. Every part of him is in an advanced state of decay, from his teeth to his face to his walk, a scuttle that’s equal parts infantile, senile, rodent and crustacean.

He seems to be playing his part in English, as you can see his hideous mouth parting wide in a repeated exhortation of “Yes!” as he instructs his chimpressionable protege. I imagine this being delivered in a fervent, Ben-Kingsley-in-SEXY-BEAST manner.

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Hello chimplements his crimes with chimpetuous chimpiety. What are they gonna do, lock him up?

Look how beautiful the photography is, though.

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Most of this joint is location-based, but we get some terrific interiors when we visit the town hall, which has seen better days. Unsightly ducts, heaps of neglected books, and a massive fissure in the ceiling. Plus terrifyingly tall doors. It’s expressionist in its exaggeration, but very solid and tactile and real at the same time. And we’ll probably never know who was responsible.

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SLIDESHOW!

The mayor gets his flunky to check the town’s history to see if something like this has happened before. And you know what? Something like this has happened before! Only that time, the stranger was the devil and they got rid of him by burning him in the town square. Simpler times.

I was struck that this plot idea — a demonic force descending periodically upon a small town, its backstory discovered in the archives — anticipates Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes (and Stephen King’s It, but we know where HE got it from).

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One of the wacky and advanced things about the film is the sudden appearance of the Devil and the scary house during the opening titles. Spliced in without warning. They ought to be subliminal flashes I suppose, but the filmmakers didn’t quite have the nerve for that. But you could argue the non-diegetic and pseudo-subliminal Satan anticipates THE EXORCIST. Or I’ll argue it. Hold my coat.

Dig that zigzag

Hello the Chimp has been trained in one more trick — when Cinq-Leon is worried that he’s going to be unmasked, he sends his chimplacable avenger out with a bottle of poison to spike the ale of his potential denouncer. But Hello goes astray, murders a signalman instead, thus sending a locomotive hurtling towards a collapsed viaduct… Cue exciting rail chase…

So there’s a lot going on here. It’s a film of sensations. Many of them involving a chimpanzee. I really want to see more by this team. They all collaborated with the versatile Monsieur Schey in LES HÉRITIERS DE L’ONCLE JAMES (1924 or thereabouts) but alas that isn’t readily available. But I’ll let you know what I find.