The Melomaniac (1903)

aka Le melomane
Article 4203 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 4-14-2013
Directed by Georges Melies
Featuring Georges Melies
Country: France
What it is: Musical trick short

A bandleader uses his head in creating music for his band to play.

This is one of the easier Melies shorts to find, as well as being one of his better and more creative ones. In it, Melies (initially disguised as a clown bandleader, but he ditches the disguise to reveal himself) writes the melody of “God Save the Queen” on a musical staff over his head; he throws a musical instrument up there to create a treble clef, tosses batons up to separate the measures, and then uses his own head (which he pulls off several times and pops into the staff) to create the notes. It’s quite fun, especially if the accompanying music chooses to follow the lead and play the appropriate melody. I do notice the French must have some different notes in their “do-re-mi” scale than we do; the musicians display the notes in cards, and one is called “ut”.

La maison ensorcelee (1908)

Article 4200 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 4-9-2013
Directed by Segundo de Chomon
Cast unknown
Country: France / Spain
What it is: Haunted house trick film

Three travelers duck into a deserted house on a rainy night, only to have their night interrupted by weird goings-on.

This title has actually been on my hunt list for quite some time, so I was delighted to stumble across a copy of it on YouTube. Yet, I find that there’s something very familiar about this one; in particular, there’s a moment where the exterior of the house turns into a giant face that I definitely recall having seen before. At any rate, this is the sort of thing I’d expect from Chomon; half of it is very Melies-inspired, while other moments seem original with him. There’s a scene where the items on a dinner table prepare themselves that is pretty fun; a knife cuts up sausage and bread on its own, coffee pours itself, etc. There’s a demon-like figure that shows up in a painting and then manifests itself as a giant in the final scene. It’s actually a little bit on the scary side, despite the fact that the three travelers appear to be clowns… or, maybe it’s because they are clowns that it’s so scary. Yes, I can’t resist another scary clown joke.

**NOTE** At the time this was written, I thought I was watching THE HAUNTED HOUSE (1906) aka LA MAISON HANTEE, It is now apparent that I was watching a copy of LA MAISON ENSORCELEE that was mistitled, which explains why I found it very familiar; I already had a copy of that one. Thanks to doctor kiss for setting me on the right track.

Malice in Slumberland (1942)

Article 4198 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 4-7-2013
Directed by Dave Fleischer or Alec Geiss
No voice credits
Country: USA
What it is: Cartoon

An anthropomorphic dog is kept from sleeping by a drippy faucet.

I’ve not been very impressed by the Columbia animated shorts I’ve seen to date; this is probably the best that I’ve seen. This may have to do with the presence of Dave Fleischer in the credits, but IMDB credits Alec Geiss as the director and doesn’t list any extra credits, so I don’t know if the entry is in error or if Fleischer worked in some other capacity on the short. It’s a pretty basic cartoon concept; the dog tries everything he can to try and drown out the noise, and when nothing works, he takes increasingly drastic measures to stop the leak. On top of the anthropomorphic dog (I’m not saying talking dog, because other than a shriek at one point, he keeps silent), we have a sentient drip of water and a general air of slapstick outrageousness for the fantastic content. It’s not great, but it’s fairly entertaining.

The Magician’s Cavern (1901)

aka L’antre des esprits
Article 4197 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 4-6-2013
Directed by Georges Melies
Cast unknown
Country: France
What it is: Magic trick

A magician does tricks with skeletons, dancing ladies and furniture.

I found yesterday’s trip into the world of Melies’s magic films to have points of interest that made it more interesting than usual; today’s is, I’m afraid, a much more ordinary example of that type of film. A magician appears, makes skeletons dance and turn into women, makes chairs frolic, etc. It’s cute enough, but if you’ve seen a lot of these, it’s nothing really special.

The Magician (1898)

aka Le magicien
Article 4196 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 4-5-2013
Directed by Georges Melies
Cast unknown
Country: France
What it is: Magic short

A magician sets off a series of magic occurrences.

Given the great number of shorts that Melies made involving magicians doing magic tricks, I’m not surprised one of his earliest films would have the title that this one does. And one odd thing about this one is that it doesn’t quite fit the pattern of his other magic trick films; the magician only appears for the opening couple of tricks and then vanishes from the film permanently, leaving the action in the hands of a succession of clowns, old men, and living statues. It even pursues some very minor story threads, such as the clown looking for something to eat and the old man trying to catch a disappearing woman. It lapses into incoherence at moments, but what makes it work is the sheer volume of special effects packed into a movie that runs just over one minute. It makes some of his later magic trick films seem slow.

The Magic Lantern (1903)

aka La lanterne magique
Article 4194 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 4-2-2013
Directed by Georges Melies
Cast unknown
Country: France
What it is: Musical trick film

Two clowns construct a giant magic lantern which not only projects images, but spews forth legions of dancing girls.

Though technically this is a very well done trick film, I had to admit I found this one a bit on the boring side. It’s one of those which is heavy on the dancing girls of which Melies was so fond, and though there is something to admire in the moves of an acrobatic solo dancer that shows up, I still find these sections a bit tedious. The best bit comes at the end when a troupe of gendarmes shows up and corners the two clowns in their own magic lantern; they transform into a strange creature that looks like a melding between a human and a giant puppet; it’s easily the weirdest moment of this short.

The Magic Book (1900)

aka Le livre magique
Article 4193 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 4-1-2013
Directed by Georges Melies
Cast unknown
Country: France
What it is: Magic trick short

An old magician makes characters drawn in a big book come to life. However, when he brings forth a beautiful woman, they all begin courting her, and he must find a way to get rid of his creations.

This is, in some ways, a typical example of Melies’s magic trick shorts. This one is a bit novel in that it at least has some semblance of a plot, thin as it is. His way of disposing of his characters is to have them go back into the book, but at least one of the characters (the clown, wouldn’t you know?) gives him a lot of trouble in this regard. It’s a simple but fun short from Melies.