Archive for Max Linder

Swingalonga Max

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

max linder 5

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.

Max, Mon Amour

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on February 24, 2012 by dcairns

OK, so 7 YEARS BAD LUCK is an American film, but its writer-director-producer-star is Max Linder, who’s as French as you can get. He’s as French as the two men pushing a piano across a zebra crossing we saw yesterday. And they were very French.

Actually, having enjoyed the film hugely, I find I’d rather sample images than say too much about it…

Of course it introduces a version of the Mirror Scene, later borrowed by Leo McCarey for Charley Chase and then the Marx Brothers. The estimable David Kalat points out, in a DVD extra in the box set Becoming Charley Chase, that Chaplin did the first known screen version of two identical characters meeting and one thinking the other might be his reflection… then Charley Chase directed a Billy West short in which that shameless Chaplin imitator repeated the gag. But Linder’s is the first to use an actual empty mirror frame to provide real justification for the confusion.

Max sees his end approaching.

Frizotto the dog pays the price for jeopardising Max’s romantic plans.

The film starts out slow and purposeful, taking its time to milk the mirror gag for suspense (even though nothing’s really at stake in this version, you still bate your breath waiting for a slip-up by Max’s doppelganger) — then it goes hell for leather into a variety of loosely connected sequences, mainly revolving around Max trying to ride a train without a ticket. It’s not a masterpiece of structure by any means, and a chase into a zoo is thrown in to provide some kind of spurious climax… I’m glad of it, though, because it leads to some delirious images and gags —

Max, inexplicably, has no fear of lions, and lions love Max, so he gets into their cage to escape his pursuers (les cops). One intrepid flic dons medieval armour to go after Max, but by the time he’s inside the cage, our hero has slipped away. More chasing, and a brief cutaway to the cop’s armour lying empty on the floor of the lion cage. He’s been eaten!!?

“I’m just crazy about the back of your neck.”

There’s also a hair-raising moment of Max striking a match on his lioness friend’s ear. Now, the ears of all cats are very sensitive, and lions have a way of letting you know they’re annoyed — Harold Lloyd nearly lost another set of fingers that way shooting THE SIN OF HAROLD DIDDLEBOCK.

Every Which Way…

Max is delightful — it’s really hard to process the fact that he and his wife committed suicide just five years later.

It’s standard to say that Max’s high comedy elegance influenced Chaplin, whose masterstroke was to give that dapper quality to a homeless street scoundrel. And Max’s influence also lives on in the wonderful Pierre Etaix, right down to the gap-toothed smile. But when you come down to it, Max is just Max, a one-off, and an original.

Below: Max and manservant; Charley and James Finlayson; Groucho and Harpo and Chico.

The Sunday Intertitle: Animal Crackers

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 12, 2012 by dcairns

Didn’t get around to viewing any Max Linder this week, which had been the plan — but I’ve been delving deeper into the wonderful world of Charley Chase. Ridiculous that it’s taken this long to form an appreciation of this comic. For some reason I’d found him a little bland before, but that was based on a few excerpts. Since some of Chase’s films have quite convoluted plots, they take more time to get going than the usual silent comedies, and there’s a slow-burn effect that doesn’t come across in clips.

DOG SHY is another collaboration with Leo McCarey, whose farce plotting is comparable to PG Wodehouse. He would have been a great man to adapt “Plum”. And I’m not just saying that because here Charley impersonates a butler, which is a very Wodehousian trope.

There’s a lot more to it than that, of course. Charley is trying to rescue a nice flapper from marriage to a dastardly Duke. But Charley is also deathly afraid of dogs. And the family dog is also called The Duke. The lady of the house instructs her new butler to give the Duke a bath. He’s a little surprised, but then, rich people are famously eccentric, aren’t they? She warns him that The Duke may offer resistance, and he shouldn’t be afraid to use force.

Charley, very amused by the whole thing, attempts to lure the human Duke away from his lady friends by enacting various bathtime activities. His versatility as mime gets a good work-out here, and both the Duke’s incompehension and exasperation and Charley’s hilarity add immensely to the pleasures of the scene. Once he finally lures his prey into the bathroom, the ensuing struggle takes on some of the qualities of a homosexual rape, without, thankfully, any of the concomitant vulgarity.

Of course, once the confusion is straightened out, Charley’s problem worsens, as the canine Duke (played by “Buddy”), is much more intimidating and just as resistant to washing.

The plot thickens as Charley’s elopement gets tangled with a burglary and a dognapping, all three schemes depending on a midnight howl signal — it’s remarkable how McCarey uses the absurdity of his plotting to his advantage. Even though this is a comedy, it’s easy to imagine such improbability cause irritation as much as amusement.

As in MIGHTY LIKE A MOOSE, Buddy gets the last laugh, offering a paw of congratulation to Charley upon his eventual triumph, then snapping at him when he attempts to accept it.

We also watched ROUGH SEAS, a Chase talkie enlivened by Thelma Todd being cute as a French stowaway, and Napoleon the monkey being cute as a French monkey stowaway (“Remember how I found you on the battlefield?” asks doughboy Charley, and Josephine lies down and plays dead.) I have to assume that Napoleon either comes from the same simian stable as Josephine, companion to Buster Keaton in THE CAMERAMAN and Harold Lloyd in THE KID BROTHER, or else is actually Josephine in drag (the monkey wears a miniature doughboy uniform just like Charley’s).

Here’s Josephine with Harold in THE KID BROTHER.

It’s a pleasure to hear Charley speak (and sing!). His voice and delivery seem to lower his social standing slightly, although some of that may just be the role he’s playing here. Rather than the middle-class man about town, he’s more of a blue-collar goof, and his “Aw honey” manner seems weirdly to be the inspiration for Bruce Campbell’s entire screen persona.

Directed by Chase’s brother, James Parrott (why Chase didn’t use his real name, which is eminently humorous, when acting, is a mystery to me), ROUGH SEAS lacks the fastidious construction of DOG SHY, preferring just to cram a bunch of silly people and ideas together on a ship, but it’s entirely winning and very funny. Now that most all of Laurel & Hardy’s films are familiar to me, discovering Chase’s world seems like a new lease of life.

Somebody’s helpfully uploaded edited highlights of Charley and Thelma (and Napoleon) in ROUGH SEAS, preceded by its prequel, HIGH C’s…