A late Hallowe’en Treat from Max Linder & Abel Gance

Yesterday was not only Halloween, but also the 90th anniversary of Max Linder’s tragic death. It’s hard to believe that the films he made are almost (and in some cases, more than) a century old. They still remain fresh, innovative and funny to this day.

In Linder’s last years, his illnesses made it hard for him to summon the strength to complete films. After returning from his attempts to make films in America, he made only a couple more films. Both AU SECOURS (1923) and ‘KING OF THE CIRCUS’ (1925) exist, but have remained in obscurity. A shame, as they’re both worthy films.

AU SECOURS! is especially interesting, as it was directed by Abel Gance, the young film-maker who would soon make NAPOLEON, one of the most celebrated silent features. Gance’s interest in working with Linder shows the high regard Max was held in as a performer and film-maker. The two collaborated on the script, with Gance taking director credit. The cameraman, ‘Specht’ also deserves a good deal of credit.

This short film (3 reels) is an example of that tired genre, the horror comedy. But, far from the usual haunted clichés, it is one of the few such examples that succeeds as both comedy and horror. Gance uses the film as a showcase for lots of bizarre and disturbing camera effects, making the image turn negative, or making the whole picture vibrate. In fact, if anything AU SECOURS! is more successful a spooky film than a comic one. Max, for his part, turns in his usual excellent performance; few other comics would have been so restrained in the circumstances.

I’d seen this film before, but only in grainy VHS. This print is much nicer to look at, and with an excellent live score

Now, dim the lights and enjoy a bizarre and sinister meeting of two masters…

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