Max and the Pets

Max en convalescence
R: Max Linder. B: Max Linder. D: Max Linder, Jean Leuvielle, Marcelle Leuvielle. P: Pathé Frères. Fr 1911

“The story of this film is particularly interesting, because our old friend Max has recently undergone a very serious operation, and this is his first reappearance. He plays this little sketch with a view of assuring his friends that he has entirely recovered, and he is ably assisted by his sister and father and mother. In the picture Max arrives at his home town, is met at the station by his sister, who accompanies him home, where he meets his father and mother and all the pets of the household. The story is built around these pets and is a corking good comedy.”
Moving Picture World synopsis

Max et son chien Dick
R: René Leprince, Max Linder. B: Max Linder. D: Max Linder, Jane Renouardt, Henri Bosc. P: Pathé Frères. Fr 1912
German subtitles


Max n’aime pas les chats
R: Max Linder. D: Max Linder, Lucy d’Orbel, Georges Gorby. P: Pathé Frères. Fr 1913
German subtitles

Print temporarily not available

“Amazingly, some of these films were made in as little as one day – even Mack Sennett rarely matched that record for speed. Max was a talented and subtl a director as he was an actor. It’s impossible to believe how haphazard filming was, but he later claimed, “I told my story to the actors, I acted it out, I explained it – we rehearsed it once, and then we shot.” More thought must have gone into the films, for his camera angles, sets and lighting were far superior to anything being done in America at the same time. In an amazing three hundred sixty films (…) he wrote the emerging language of silent comedy. (…) He worked particularly well with animals, as in Max et son chien Dick (Max and His Dog, 1912),  in which the pup unmasks his mistress’s affairs.”
Eve Golden: Golden Images: 41 Essays on Silent Film Stars. North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc. 2000, p. 75-76


MeToo 1909, or: Pie in the Face

Mr. Flip
R: Gilbert M. ‘Broncho Billy’ Anderson. D: Ben Turpin. P: Essanay Film Manufacturing Company. USA 1909
(Not complete)

Mr. Flip is sometimes credited (either overtly or by omitting all earlier titles) with containing the first pie-in-the-face gag. Not even close. Family Troubles (1900) features a probable pie to the face and the 1905 comedy The Coal Strike contains a confirmed pieing. The joke had been a popular one on the stage for quite some time as pies were easy enough to mock up as props with shaving cream and the like, it would have been a no-brainer for comedians to make use of them. (…) The version of Mr. Flip that is most readily available is missing the final two harassment sequences but, frankly, this is for the best. (At least according to the synopsis found in Moving Picture World.) Turpin’s character tries to arrange an assignation with an actress but she has her African-American maid wear a veil and go in her stead. Turpin’s “punishment” is discovering that the object of his affection is not white. (…) The film originally ended with Mr. Flip receiving his final comeuppance at the hands of laundry workers. As it stands, the picture is more of a loosely connected set of vignettes without much closure. The direction, especially compared to the visual sophistication of other 1909 entertainments like Princess Nicotine, is rudimentary at best.”
Fritzi Kramer
Movies Silently

“The more significant point is that Mr. Flip can ultimately be read as a fable, however farcial, of working women’s struggles to reform untoward masculine behavior. A comparison again proves useful: the psychological reformation of  Griffith‘s drunkard here becomes the physiological reformation of the flirt, and the physicality of the women’s reformist agenda is far from subtl. The flamboyant difference of the ‘average’ working woman’s reformation of the ‘average’ working man effects a wild variable in the filmic discourse as well,  which appears in the second scene. The scene opens with a medium long shot of a manicurist’s parlor, but radically alters the viewer’s perspective by offering a detail cut-in: a close-shot insert reveals a long needle that one of the women places under Mr. Flip’s seat. As he lowers himself unknowingly onto the razor-sharp point he becomes – quite literally – the butt of the joke.”
Jennifer M. Bean: 1909. Movies and Progress. In: André Gaudreault (ed.): American Cinema 1890-1909: Themes and Variations. Rutgers University Press 2009, p. 235-236

Ben Turpin (1869-1940)
“Probably no silent comedian has had so much biographical misinformation gathered about him than scrawny, cross-eyed Ben Turpin. This much we know for sure: Turpin was the son of a New Orleans candy store owner, who moved his family all over the country depending on his financial state. We’d like to believe that, having squandered the hundred dollars his father gave him to make a start in the world, he hopped a freight and went on the bum rather than face his dad’s wrath. Whether or not Turpin really did live a hobo’s existence during his late teens is lost to history; his early career as a comedian in vaudeville, burlesque and stock is only hazily chronicled. (…) It is quite true that, once he became a star, he took out a Lloyd’s of London insurance policy against his eyes ever becoming un-crossed–a wise move, since, in the words of critic Leonard Maltin, ‘To the end, Ben Turpin’s face was his fortune.’ His movie career commenced in 1907 when he was hired by the Essanay studios in Chicago as both utility comedian and studio janitor. Oddly, his early Essanay films did nothing to capitalize upon the comic potential of his facial appearance. His fortunes improved (and his close-ups increased) when, in 1915, Turpin was teamed with Essanay’s newest comedian Charlie Chaplin. Gaining a following thanks to his appearances with Chaplin, Turpin was signed to his own series at Vogue studios in 1917, then began a long association with Mack Sennett.

Though he turned out fewer films than Sennett’s other top comedians, Turpin rapidly became the studio’s most popular star. In addition to headlining such 2-reel gems as The Daredevil (1924), he was starred in several Sennett features, including A Small Town Idol (1921) and the legendary Rudolph Valentino spoof The Shriek of Araby (1923). Because Turpin regularly lampooned such personalities as Valentino and Erich Von Stroheim, some historians have lauded Turpin as a satirist of the highest order. In truth, Turpin was merely performing the routines written for him by such ace Sennett gagsters as Mal St. Clair and Frank Capra; though his comedies were surefire laughgetters, he himself was only as good as his material. (…) In his twilight years, Ben was far too wealthy to care that the parade had passed him by; in his heyday, he’d made $3000 a week (a fact that he enjoyed trumpeting to complete strangers on the street), and what he didn’t squirrel away in banks he wisely invested in real estate and property. It is said that he personally worked as a janitor in the posh Los Angeles apartment houses that he owned, just to save an extra few bucks per week. Appropriately enough, Ben Turpins last film appearance was as a myopic apartment-house plumber, whose crossed wires and pipes result in music-playing refrigerators and ice-covered radios, in Laurel & Hardy’s Saps at Sea (1940).”
Hal Erickson

686-Ben Turpin

Suffragettes: Types of Caricature

The Strong Arm Squad of the Future
P: Mutual Film Corp. USA ca. 1912
Print: UCLA Film & Television Archive

“At the close of the nineteenth century, women had won full voting privileges in just four sparsely populated western states, and there would be no further progress for more than a decade. However, between 1910 and 1912, thanks to new leadership and more activist tactics by the women’s movement, five more states passed voting statutes. As documented in On to Washington, (…) suffragettes took to the streets—and provoked open backlash. The battlegrounds included newspaper editorial cartoons, the spirit of which was carried into such animated films as this one. The Strong Arm Squad of the Future originated within the early newsreel ‘The Mutual Weekly’ and survives only as an undated fragment.
Suffragettes inspired two distinct types of caricature, both incorporated in The Strong Arm Squad of the Future. The ‘new’ suffragette type, drawn as a lovely Gibson Girl, is only glimpsed in the film — the third in its little parade of six uniformed women — and she is statuesque enough here to have to step down into the frame. In newspaper cartoons such caricatures were seen, for instance, seducing rough frontiersmen into granting voting rights at the time of the 1911 California referendum. The other women in The Strong Arm Squad of the Future, however, are mannish and grotesque, especially the truncheon-wielding fifth woman with her odd wandering eyeball. That older caricature tradition paralleled attitudes still expressed, as in a 1912 Brooklyn Citizen editorial informing its readers that ‘the strong-minded and hard-featured woman, as most suffragettes are, repels the male.'”
Scott Simmon
National Film Preservation Foundation


Alice Guy – shifting between genres

Le fils du garde-chasse
R: Alice Guy. P: Société des Etablissements L. Gaumont. Fr 1906
Print: New Zealand Film Archive / Cinématheque Royale Belgique

“Alice Guy makes a daring shift from comedy to drama in this short, which may be one of the first ‘revenge movies.’ It shows the complexity that audiences were beginning to expect as the Nickelodeon era progressed, but also tests the limits of that complexity in a short format. (…) For a little while, the movie follows a fairly standard chase format, where the pursued run across the screen, followed by their pursuer (and then the son, who in one instance picks up the gun his father has dropped but leaves his hat). But, then, the men cross a ravine which is traversed by a plank, and the second one turns the plank, allowing it to fall into the ravine. When the father runs into the shot, he is looking at the poachers, not at his feet, and he also falls into the chasm. His son stops in time, having seen his father plunge out of sight. Now, the tone of the movie changes. What had seemed a fairly light-hearted chase through the woods has become tragic. (…)
The simple set up and chase at the beginning makes you expect a comedy, or at most a fairly conventional action picture, and the sudden death of the father in the middle leaves you groping for a resolution. Up until the end, I kept expecting him to come back, having somehow survived the fall. It just seemed like that kind of a movie. But, it’s not. (…) It’s also reasonably sophisticated for the time – where the chase scenes seem set up to be formulaic, Guy throws narrative surprises at us and keeps the movie from falling into obvious ruts.”
Century Film Project