Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Max prend un bain - 1910

Country: France
Language: French
Director: Lucien Nonguet
Stars: Max Linder
Also Known As: Maxens Bad Austria / Germany
By the Doctor's Orders UK
Max Embarrassed USA
Max Takes a Bath USA
Max has purchased a new bathtub, but bathing in it proves to be more difficult than he anticipated. This is one of the most enjoyable comedies made by Max Linder, the French film pioneer. The story, told without any explanatory titles, is easily understood, the photography is good, and, happily, surviving prints are clear and sharp. Linder himself is charming. Charlie Chaplin cited him as an important influence, and although each comedian had his own individual style one can see parallels between the two. Linder's screen persona "Max," like Chaplin's Tramp, is usually gallant towards the ladies, somewhat fussy about his grooming and appearance, and quick to retaliate when challenged. Perhaps the biggest difference between the two is that Charlie, in his early films, could be aggressive and even sadistic, while Max is generally civil towards others unless provoked. Max is more often a victim of circumstance than a deliberate instigator of trouble.
At any rate, as MAX TAKES A BATH begins our hero has just purchased an ornate bathtub, and is attempting to hail a horse-drawn cab to haul it back to his apartment building. A carriage stops for him, but, once the driver sees the big tub, the carriage moves off again: a Buster Keatonesque moment. So Max hauls the tub home himself (on his back, like a turtle) and then immediately prepares to bathe, but is once more faced with difficulty; apparently, the only spigot to which he has access, bizarrely enough, is in the corridor outside his room, sticking out of the wall on a landing of the staircase. Max attempts to fill the tub one cupful at a time, but realizes that this would take too long, and therefore decides to park the tub under the spigot and bathe in the hallway.
Two points of interest: first, lest you conclude that French architects of the period must have been crazy, the corridor with the spigot is obviously a set made up of painted flats, devised for the sake of the plot. And when Linder lowers himself into the tub, no effort is made to imply total nudity-- his swim trunks are clearly visible. Still, Max's audacity seems to upset the neighbors anyhow, the situation escalates, and of course the law gets involved. If this had been a Keystone comedy made a few years later, the climax would have involved the actors racing across rooftops firing pistols, but instead the finale is fairly low key. Still, MAX TAKES A BATH is clever, well-paced, and-- did I forget to mention this? --quite funny.

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