Archive for Max Linder

The Sunday Intertitle: The Last Gun

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on October 22, 2017 by dcairns

Charley Chase (of all people) talks tough in SITTIN’ PRETTY, directed by Leo McCarey in 1924. A typically well-ordered yet lunatic farce plot, in which Charley impersonates a police officer (borrowing his prospective father-in-law’s uniform) in order to dispel a particularly shameless carjacker from his auto, then gets roped into police business — capturing a rampant lunatic (played by Charley’s brother, James Parrott).

This leads to the most famous bit, an early run of the mirror sequence from DUCK SOUP (1933, also McCarey). Charley confuses his prey by donning a false beard and impersonating his reflection.

Clearly, McCarey must have seen Max Linder’s rendition of this gag in 7 YEARS BAD LUCK (1921). Or some other version now lost to time.

While much shorter than Groucho and Harpo’s version, this sequence contains many of the same ideas, including business with hats, and the crazy man retreating to one side to formulate his next plan, slightly undercranked. It doesn’t play on a gradual escalation of mistakes by the reflection, which reach such lunatic heights in the Marxian routine — surely, we think, Groucho must have got wise by now… or by now…? In this version, Charley’s first ridiculous mistake causes his whole act to be rumbled.

Instead, the comedy comes from Charley’s supernatural adeptness at anticipating what the madman will do next, so that he appears in a derby, a top hat and a straw boater just as his opponent does. No explanation is possible as to how he manages this, so McCarey simply stays with the bamboozled loon for the duration.

Here too, we may see the 1933 refinement of the routine as a big improvement — rather than temporarily leaving his hero’s viewpoint, McCarey makes one hero (Groucho) the one who’s being tricked and another (Harpo), the trickster, so the comedy comes from the tension generated by Groucho’s failure to get smart and Harpo’s illusion-jeopardising blunders.

Nevertheless, the short (one-reel) SITTIN’ PRETTY is an uncommonly satisfying little comedy.

 

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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.

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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.

Swingalonga Max

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on October 16, 2013 by dcairns

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The very early Max Linder vehicle LE PENDU was translated at Pordenone as A YOUNG CHAP HAS HANGED HIMSELF. an arresting title for a comedy, but one which has the advantage of saving the filmmakers the need of any intertitles. Max, rejected by his lover’s parents, heads for the woods, produces a handy length of twine from his jacket (no gentleman is ever without) and suspends himself from a suitable branch. There follows the film’s only pan, which discovers a young village boy, who spots the dangling Max as he appears to be entertaining second thoughts. But Max finds rescue indefinitely deferred as each character alerted to his situation rushes off to report the situation to a superior, rather than attempt a rope-cutting on their own recognizance. The boy fetches a woodsman, who fetches a policeman, who fetches his officer, until eventually the mayor is roused, struggling into his ceremonial sash and proceeding to the forest with most of the town in tow.

Max gives as extraordinary an impression of turning crimson, then purple, as any monochrome film could contain (hand-tinting might have been invented expressly for this subject). The ghastly twitching of his extremities, in a hilarious yet appalling parody of death throes, manages to convey exactly how many brain cells he’s lost at any given point in the narrative, just by the power of acting.

Finally, the empurpled hero is de-treed and revived with a bicycle pump. In real life, Max was not so fortunate.

Louis J. Gasnier, the director, who does a fine job here, is most remembered for making REEFER MADNESS thirty years later, which is artistically almost as tragic a fate as Linder’s.