Industrial Espionage

Le trust, ou les batailles de l’argent
R: Louis Feuillade. D: Renée Carl, René Navarre, Paul Manson. P: Société des Etablissements L. Gaumont. Fr 1911

Le trust, ou les batailles de l’argent has a most unusual plot. The film involves the detective Julien Kieffer helping the industrialist Jacob Berwick spy on his rival Darbois in order to steal Darbois’ discovery of a formula to manufacture artificial rubber. This is the earliest example of a film that is based around corporate espionage; surprisingly, the film transcends its plot and proves to be compelling viewing.
This is because Feuillade employs a number of devices that one would expect to find in detective fiction (it is worth remembering that Sherlock Holmes was created in 1887 and that the Golden Age of Detective Fiction is still a decade away). There is cross-dressing, mistaken identity, double-crossing, kidnapping and even invisible ink. All of these are conventions that we anticipate when we encounter a ‘detective film’, but it worth noting how novel such ideas would have seemed to contemporary audiences; the plot is constructed in a fluid manner that allows the film to captivate the modern audience as well.
The film lacks a moral centre, and is all the more interesting for undertaking such a bold decision. Although Darbois and his secretary are the victims of Kieffer’s plotting; the film’s opening shot of Darbois, with his bulging eyes and expensive surroundings (see image below) ensure the audience do not identify either him or his secretary as the protagonists of this film. In fact, the setting reminds us one of the great early cinematic villains, The Wheat King in D.W. Griffith‘s A Corner in Wheat.”
Film: Ab Initio