1900s – Part 1

Early Cinema – The 1900s

(1900-1909)

Bluebeard (1901)

Title: Bluebeard
Country: France
Year: 1901
Director: Georges Méliès
Writer: Georges Méliès
Stars: Georges Méliès, Jeanne d’Alcy, Bleuette Bernon

This occasionally humorous but ultimately rather dark film was Georges Méliès take on Charles Perrault’s version of the French folktale Bluebeard (first published in 1697).  Bluebeard, with Méliès taking the title role, is a relatively complex film for the time and runs to over ten minutes in length.

Brief Synopsis: A reluctant young woman (Jeanne d’Alcy) is persuaded to becomes the eighth wife of the fabulously wealthy aristocrat Bluebeard. His first seven wives have disappeared under mysterious circumstances, but after an extravagant wedding feast all seems normal at Bluebeard’s castle. One day Bluebeard goes away leaving the key to a forbidden room with his new wife warning her never to go inside it. But persuaded by a horned demon/imp creature, who appears magically in the room, she opens the door and steps inside. In the dark room she discovers to her horror the bodies of her husband’s previous  seven wives swinging from the rafters. She pleads to her Guardian Angel who now appears (much like the Queen of the Fairies in Méliès’s earlier films) in the room but is ignored and leaves the room in horror.

After this disturbing discovery D’Alcy begins to have nightmares of giant bloody keys and the ghostly figures of her husband’s dead ex-wives.   On Bluebeard’s return home he finds out about his wife’s gruesome discovery and drags her down a flight of stairs by her hair intent on killing her. Escaping from his clutches she finds her sister who calls her brothers to the rescue.  After a brief sword fight Bluebeard is impaled on the end of a sword and dies. The dead wives are brought back to life by the Guardian Angel and subsequently married to seven noblemen.

See the film here –

 


haunted_curiosity_shopTitle: The Haunted Curiosity Shop
Country: England
Year: 1901
Director: Walter R. Booth
Writer: Walter R. Booth
Stars: Unknown

The Haunted Curiosity Shop was the work of film pioneer and amateur magician, Walter R. Booth (1869-1938).  It is one of a number of short trick films (it runs to a mere 1 minute 56 seconds) directed by Booth for another English cinema pioneer, the producer of The Haunted Curiosity Shop Robert W. Paul (1869-1943). This interesting but limited film exhibits the influence of Georges Méliès trick photography from several years earlier. Although it could be said that the idea behind it prefigured A Night at the Museum by more than a century.

Brief Synopsis: An elderly curiosity shop owner discovers that the assortment of curios in his shop are taking on a life of their own. The unfortunate man is bedevilled by a host of spectres including an animated skeleton, a floating skull, Egyptian mummies, dancing elves and a medieval knight.

See the film here –


The Monster (1903)Title: The Monster
Country: France
Year: 1903
Director: Georges Méliès
Writer: Georges Méliès
Stars: Unknown

Interesting as it is one of the first films to show the fascination for all things Egyptian current at the time in the arts. Georges Méliès’ Le Monstre (running time 2.07) is another of his films demonstrating his skillful use of trick photography. The action is set against a painted scene of the Great Sphinx below a full moon, with the Nile and the Pyramids in the background.

Brief Synopsis: An Egyptian prince/pharaoh has lost his wife and has gone to a priest who lives beneath the sphinx for help. The bearded priest performs magic and manages to resurrect the dead wife. He then covers her in white linen and a mask, but she turns into a skeletal monster and begins to dance manically in front of them. She grows to an enormous size only to shrink back to normal at the behest of the priest, who then throws a white sheet over her. With this the pharaoh’s wife is revealed as she was when alive. The pharaoh is ecstatic but before he can act the priest throws another veil over the woman and she is transformed back into a lifeless skeleton.

See the film here –


The Infernal Cauldron (1903)Title: The Infernal Cauldron (UK) 
Country: France
Year: 1903
Director: Georges Méliès
Writer: Georges Méliès
Stars: Georges Méliès

Le Chaudron infernal is another of  Méliès’ short, single-scene trick films (it’s less than two minutes long). Perhaps the most interesting thing about this simple film is that it survives in a vivid hand-coloured print. The colour is particularly effective in making the fire seem extremely realistic. Apparently, the colouring of the film was done by an all-female staff run by Elisabeth Thuillier,  who managed a workforce of over 200 female colourists.

Brief Synopsis:

Satan and a demon helper throw a series of helpless captives into a boiling cauldron in an attempt to summon their spirits. Satan then stirs the pot and ghostly figures emerge hovering above the cauldron, before turning into fireballs and pursuing him around the chamber.  Finally, Satan jumps into the cauldron himself to escape immolation.

See the film here –


Oracle at Delphi (1903)Title: The Oracle of Delphi
Country: France
Year: 1903
Director: Georges Méliès
Writer: Georges Méliès
Stars: Georges Méliès

Original French title L’oracle de Delphes. A short (less than two minutes) rather simplistic but fast-paced offering from Georges Méliès. Although the film is named after the famous Greek oracle, the action appears to takes place in ancient Egypt.

Brief Synopsis: A priest and two priestesses place large, ornate box of valuables inside a tomb/temple at Delphi. Soon after a bearded thief breaks into the tomb and steals them. But the white-bearded spirit of Delphi appears and curses the thief.  As he does so the two sphinxes guarding the entrance to the tomb come to life  in the form of two priestesses. The priestesses attack the thief and turn his head into that of a donkey’s.  The priestesses turn back into statues and the bearded spirit disappears. The thief is left staggering around, struggling with his donkey head.

See the film here –