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May 26, 2014

The Max Linder Collection

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"Max Wants a Divorce"

Four films directed by Max Linder
Kino Classics Region 1 DVD

Done in conjunction with Serge Bromberg's Lobster Films, this collection of four films might be best understood as representative of Linder's late Hollywood period, from 1917 through 1922. What is not explained to anyone coming in cold to Linder, like myself, is that the films here are from a period mostly of commercial and critical decline. Which is not to say that this set should be dismissed, but that these films do not represent Linder at the height of his fame, prior to World War I, when he was one of the most popular, and well-paid comic actors in the world, and a serious rival to Charles Chaplin who looked at the few years older Linder as his "professor".

Three of the films feature Linder's on-screen persona, also named Max Linder, a man about town, wealthy, and not a little foolish. My favorite of these films is the earliest, from 1917, "Max Wants a Divorce", where the just married Max gets a letter informing him that he stands to inherit three million dollars if he is still single. He convinces his wife to get a divorce with a promise of a string of pearls, and remarriage once he gets the loot. This agreement only follows the after the wife has thrown some vases and several hard bound books at the flummoxed Max before stomping away in her wedding dress. Made before the existence of no-fault divorces, the pair concoct an elaborate scheme involving Max being caught with another woman by a detective. Things get more complicated when Max rents a love nest and it's on the same floor as an apartment used by a psychiatrist with half a dozen extremely eccentric patients. Max's plan to get caught cheating on his wife fails when the detective is assumed to be yet another lunatic patient. "Max Wants a Divorce" is another example where shorter, in this case under half an hour, is funnier.

"Seven Years Bad Luck" from 1921, features two scenes that may have proved inspirational for other screen comics. Early in the film, a butler canoodling with the maid, accidentally break a very large mirror. Instead of admitting to a hungover Max that the mirror is broken, the butler arranges for the cook, who faintly resembles Max, to pose as his reflection in the mirror. It wouldn't surprise me if some brothers named Marx caught a showing of this film. Max almost catches on to the fact that he's not looking at his own reflection, when the mirror is, unbeknownst to him, replaced. Thinking he's about to bean the impostor, Max instead breaks his new mirror. A later scene involving Max in a cage with a friendly leopard and a couple of equally amiable lions might well have inspired Chaplin to create a similar kind of scene in The Circus, although in the latter film, the lion is less than hospitable.

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"Be My Wife"

Linder sometimes made use of silhouettes for comic effect, and one of the nicest sight gags of "Be My Wife", also from 1921, is that of Max watering a flower pot. As a silhouette, it appears that Max is pouring water on a woman's head. There is also a gag involving a doorbell that triggers a series of moving walls and a trap door. With his career waning, Linder jettisoned his usual cast, crew and on-screen image for the parody, "The Three Must-Get-Theres". Taking some of the basics of the classic Dumas store, the film gets some laughs from some deliberate anachronisms, such as a jazz band in King Louis' court, as well as telephone lines seen in exterior shots. Linder's last ditch attempt at regaining commercial viability in Hollywood also failed, although the parody was reportedly appreciated by the object of Linder's spoofing, Douglas Fairbanks. What is apparent here is Linder's own athleticism and acrobatic skills. Some of the gags here may not have aged well, but the ability to take a tumble never goes out of style.

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"Be My Wife"

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at May 26, 2014 07:27 AM