"Translation" [in progress] of: Max Linder, le roi du rire, La Nación, 16. Jun. 1940
MAX LINDER, THE KING OF LAUGHTER
by PABLO C. DUCROS HICKEN
In the early twentieth century existed in the cinema a predilection for the comic films. It's ensured that at least a good half of each program constituted of comedies; completing the rest of the show were the dramas, the documentaries, contemporary films and fantasies. These last two topics also sought in footnotes to reiterate an undertone that screenwriters deemed necessary for the comfort of the public.
Comic films were suddenly invigorated by good performers whose popularity spread much faster than their colleagues in the drama. Toribio and Max Linder brilliantly encouraged this repertoire, following shortly after, Polidor, Robinet, Tontolini, Cebollino, Rosalie, Little Mortiz and the American John Bunny. The dramatic actors were not even taken into account from 1905 to 1908.
That deep fascination that the cinematograph exercised in its early days, born in the pestilential barracks and summer fairgrounds, allowed to open some central little rooms, whose hesitant doorbells invited the passerby. Among the comedians who gave life to the cinema was certainly Max Linder, the king of the film comedy, a comedian whose "vis" comica enjoyed the most spontaneous applause. To him falls a good part of the baseline values of the cinema in its infancy, which is also ours.
Max in a wardrobe (Pathé 1907)
The course of his successful career can be divided into four periods. The first starts since his introduction in the perennial studios of Pathé towards 1905 with "First departure of a schoolboy", which is immediately followed by "Unexpected meeting" and soon after "Debut of a skater". Twenty francs for every interlude ties this actor, who had left the Ambigu Theatre to join in a risky attempt, at the new wonder of the twentieth century, which include "The Flea", "Max Aeronaut", "Max in the closet" "Max chiropodist", "Max in society", "Max dance teacher", films of much action and speed.
There are plenty of complications creeping up, misunderstandings, gendarmes, weapons, anonymous informers. In this first period, Pathé knew how to allow him to compose his own themes, some of which were outlined with Michel Carré and also with Louis Gasnier, his director. He had an excellent collaboration of extras, including the very Toribio (André Deed).
Films that Pathé offered for a Franc and a half for the meter, arrived by dozens to Buenos Aires, and one or two films by Max were included rigorously in the Sunday program of the old Opera cinema, of the Buckingham or the National Cinematograph.
Much plot and lots of action were the characteristics of the famous Pathé comedies, in which Max Linder, Toribio and later Prince (Salustiano) created three different personalities within the same genre, the gallant vaudeville, the hilarious absurdities and the endless misadventures of the timid man.
Max Linder brought for the first time to the popular Buenos Aires salons a complete view of "chic" Parisian, an eloquent and graphic look of elegant French performance in environments of the big world in all its aspects. Nervous, agile, frivolous, always boasting a silhouette swallowed up by the best tailor of the boulevard. It was an immaculate fashion plate and an example of good manners, a gentleman of the salon, wearing the rich "smokers" overcoat with ...
He knew how to behave .... Bow tie and taking a seat on the edge of an armchair. Within that fashion plate of culture he had a gigantic spirit of cinematic art modelling himself and his judgment, with a subtle touch for the Vincennes operators. His interpretations of wealthy, gallant and witty men until now had no rival. He moved in bejewelled environments, bachelor departments, always waiting for perfumed letters or visiting concurring petty bourgeois house, sometimes dazzle "nouveaux riches" with often ironic gallantry of his movements. Had appointments in the park, accepted a dangerous challenge or escaped the creditors.
On one occasion I was deeply disappointed when I saw him appear ragged and drunk in a miserable attic. That human rag, dominated by tuberculosis, struggling in the last sips of absinthe. But this drama did not last long. Perhaps for the first time in the domains of art (1908-1909), the running in reverse of the camera was used while it continued to operate. The scene of the pigsty was away and we settled down to verify that it was a theatrical performance, in which Max played the lead role. On one side, in a balcony-box, his future mother-in-law grotesquely applauded the artistic talents of her possible son-in-law. The film was called "Max theatre actor", and then continued with a thousand follies. These small reels of two and three minutes in duration were instilled twice in the second period of his life. Filmstrips in two parts! There was an improvement in the photography. The camera moved to capture gestures sharper. It was already in 1912. At this time "Max in the convent", "Original bet", "Max cook", "Asthmatic Max", "Max and his mother-in-law", "Vacation of Max", "Max Linder against Nick Winter" and also re-iterated in a second version, more detailed and more stylized, those more successful subjects of six or seven years ago "The flea", "Max chiropodist"," "The guest", "Max dance teacher" which now is called "Max professor of tango".
In "The Flea" Max was attending his wedding in the bride's house. A flea dominated him in a way that made it necessary to take refuge on the balcony to take off his pants and shake it out. But they fell onto the street, and Max could find no other solution than to cross the large hall, wrapped in a curtain, which in turn became entangled in an ornament and fell to the ground. Brought before the courts and for his rehabilitation, Max throws his judges a large number of those parasites, whose virulent action stirred judges in a chaotic pandemonium and forces them to spontaneously strip their robes from other clothes.
In "Max chiropodist" the hero was surprised at the feet of a young girl by her father, a very stern man. Max pretended to be a podiatrist, as this professional by being distracted had left there his instruments. The father took the opportunity of his presence to have his feet retouched. The follies of Max to save this situation were great.
A certainly memorable film success was "Max tango teacher". It was precisely the time that the Argentine tango triumphed in Paris. Max could not help but deal with it. This coincided with a contract that Max and Pathé conducted with Berlin, and the comic moved to the German capital to film there. Max appeared in the snowy streets of Berlin, figuring out an address. It was a German fan who had invited him because they wanted instruction in dance fashion. But the cold had forced Max to ingest some brandy glasses, and the glasses had accumulated in more than regular number. He found the house and was greeted by the hosts and other guests. Max, trying to hide his abnormal state begins the lesson; enthusiastic the couples mimicked his movements. Because of his drunkenness, Max took on unexpected positions, naively imitated by his admirers. He staggered and fell, dragging his companion. So did others. His partner wanted to get up, but Max reached with a clap, action repaid by the young woman with a slap. Both movements were reproduced by the guileless apprentices, who finally repaired the state of the teacher, and threw him into the street.
All this happiness and fame that Max was radiating to the public, was relative and limited in his private life. Health would play a bad game and he often had to retreat to the mountains to rest. In Chamonix during a forced stay, he requested an operator and composed "Max makes sport". Later he continued with a good batch of farces: "Max has a duel", "Max toreador", "Max wants to have a child".
Buenos Aires enthusiastically followed the career of this mime. I remember – I returned from school, loaded with items – a great "poster", signed by the famous Barrère. The title was not translated, for it was unnecessary: "Max et la Tulipe merveilleuse". They showed the film at that time. Inside the crowded parlour, the laughter of happy observers came in closed volleys, in unison. A lively polka and the rowdy commenting, I spent in front of the poster a long time, listening to the piano, listening to the laughter, hearing the outrageous laughter, that afternoon for some reason, I could not enter the cinema.
Max Linder as painter artist (Pathé 1912)
War broke out in 1914 and the activities of the comedian ceased immediately. He was assigned as a driver to a regiment on the Front: transporting chiefs and wounded soldiers. He was named Knight of the Legion of Honour. But France could not afford to risk such a popular and beloved actor, and took him to the rear. They said he was hurt. He retired and for a long time he did not feel inspired to face the camera, as before, fresh and optimistic. He returned to Vincennes long after. Studios were empty; sounding hollow. The dim light, the racks covered with dust and cobwebs. Many workers had died in the campaign and the organization was paralyzed.
When the conflict ended, we got a couple of short films. Max appeared as before; he approached cheerful and tore the envelope of a letter. He brought with him a little "As we said yesterday ..." and we found the spiritual gear of his comedies marched again.
The actor then received the visit of George K. Spoor, chairman of the Essanay, in whose studios in Chicago Chaplin had spent a short time ago. With an interesting contract he sailed for America, where he shot two films: "Be My Wife" and "Seven years of bad luck". Here opens a third and brief period. Never until that moment had stretched a comic film character to seven reels. The Chaplin comedies filmed right there, at Essanay, not exceeded two acts. The sensation that the journey of Max caused to his arrival in the United States caused that they prepared two separate arguments, very well calculated, but at a pace never practiced by him. Seven acts required detailed scenes, to extend them and to maintain interest during a revolutionary period. Also, the atmosphere was different and lacked the Louis XVI sitting rooms, the bearded antiquarians, the pompous and diligent "maître-d'hotel", the distrustful gendarme... Max did what he could. The films interested, but missing those Latin, French characteristics, which served as vignettes in hundreds of his earlier comedies.
He returned to Paris. The Pathé plants worked again. There he filmed "Le petit cafe" by Tristan Bernard, and "The Three Musketeers". But France wanted to use now the American technique, the feature film, games of artificial lights, close-ups, and Max again had to abandon his hopes of repeating those short comedies whose frivolity had given him the sceptre of laughter. He was tired, ill; he had aged. His marriage to a beautiful girl, granddaughter of a potentate of the press, had filled him with jealousy, concerns. The age difference between them was very large. One evening, the telegraph announced a double suicide based on narcotic drugs. Max and his wife ended up with a film drama in their lives.
From that deep tragedy – Charles Pathé wrote me – was whimpering in a pink crib a beautiful baby that years later the courts entrusted to a brother of Max Linder, taking it away, to the surprise of all those who knew the subject, from the mother of the unhappy suicide. Today she is a young lady, and almost of age and heir to a discreet fortune, heir to the gallantry and compliments in the fiction of her famous father.
Max Linder had represented the gallant and witty social world in problems of local environment in those years when Paris was the centre of the attractions. He left to posterity a number of comedies that will not go out of fashion ever, original films of vaudeville of all times, that in their drafts have the immense value of creation. Moreover, customs and tastes of a bygone era will always be highly interesting for the future. (La Nación, June 16, 1940) [Original (Spanish) article published 11th June 2015 by Mariano Ducros]