Film Scouts Reviews

"Discovering Max Linder"

by Kathleen Carroll

With his dark moustache, roving eyes and wide grin he had the matinee idol good looks of a young Omar Sharif. But although he liked to dress like a leading man of his day in a well-tailored morning coat and a silk top hat the always debonair Max Linder was a complete cut up on screen.

The French film industry was already in full swing in 1905 when an aspiring classical actor, Gabriel-Maximilian Leuvielle, as Linder was first known, stepped in front of a camera and discovered his true gift was for making people laugh. In 1910 he originated his trademark character - the rakish "Max." Grinding out a film per day he became the first screen comedian to gain international recognition. Such devoted fans as Charles Chaplin, Harold Lloyd, Buster Keaton and W.C.Fields perfected their art by watching Linder's comic antics.

DISCOVERING MAX LINDER, a giddy 90-minute compilation of some of Linder's precious film shorts, is, thus, a rare treat. The program also represents a labor of love for it was put together by Maud Linder, the comedian's daughter. Adding immeasurably to the the experience is the witty piano music of French composer Jean-Marie Senia.

"I was 20 when I first discovered the films of Max Linder," admitted his daughter in introducing the film at the press screening. "He was my father but, because of family reasons, I didn't know him." What saddened her at the time was the discovery that this brilliant film pioneer, who died with his young wife in an apparent double suicide in 1925, was not "well known." Having decided to personally promote his contribution to filmmaking she faced an additional problem. Most of Linder's films have been either lost or destroyed. "During the war the Germans were melting them to make combs," Linder explained.

Even so Linder has managed to find seven shorts that are so hysterically funny and cleverly shot that they provide the perfect introduction to this gifted comic "auteur." In MAX AND HIS MOTHER-IN-LAW an understandably mad Max is forced to take his clinging, overweight mother-in-law on his honeymoon. In what amounts to an extended mother-in-law joke Max tangles with the poor woman in a futile effort to teach her how to ice skate. He then pushes her down a ski slope with predictably comic results. Some of the stunt skiing is astonishing for its time. The facial reactions of his victim are priceless and just as enjoyable is his scenic tour of one of the first winter resorts - Chamonix.

"He wrote his scenarios not by sitting down but by looking around when he was on vacation," Linder explained between reels. Linder continues to make full use of such locations as the then totally elegant Monte Carlo. In one hilarious vignette Max tries to overcome his fear of the ocean by putting his toes in two water-filled dishes in his hotel suite. In yet another he pokes fun at Paris fashion crazes when he's forced to show up for his own wedding in a simply dreadful looking pair of casual shoes. As for his FORCED MARRIAGE it ends in a drag wedding and it includes a comical horse-and-buggy chase sequence.

"Films like this are just like little anecdotes of the century, " Linder declared. She is right and that is why they must be preserved and cherished.

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