22 February 2018

Max Linder

French comedian Max Linder (1883-1925), with his trademark silk hat, stick and moustache, was an influential pioneer of the silent film. He was largely responsible for the creation of the classic slapstick comedy.

Max Linder
French postcard by Helio Paul et Vigier, Paris. Publicity card for the Pathé-Baby projector.

Max Linder
German postcard by Verlag Herm. Leiser, no. 9977. Photo: Gerlach.

Max Linder
French postcard by Pathé Frères. Photo: Felix.

Gentleman Max

Max Linder was born Gabriel-Maximilien Leuvielle in Saint-Loubès, France in 1883 to a Jewish wine growing family.

He grew up with a passion for the stage and at 17 he dropped out of school in order to join a touring theatre troupe, which did not please his parents.

While working in Paris as an actor in the theatre and vaudeville, Leuvielle became fascinated with motion pictures. In 1905 he took a job with Pathé Frères and in the following years he became a comedic actor, director, screenwriter, as well as a producer under the stage name, Max Linder.

His debut was La première sortie d'un collégien/First Night Out (Louis J. Gasnier, 1905). He created what was probably the first identifiable film character: ‘Max’, an elegant, joyful, romantic, top-hatted dandy.

Max appeared for the first time in Les Debuts d'un patineur/Max Learns to Skate (Louis J. Gasnier, 1907) and would return in successive situation comedies. ‘Gentleman Max’ was frequently in hot water because of his penchant for beautiful women and the good life.

When in the credits for Max et la doctoresse/Max and the female doctor (Max Linder, 1909) the text “written by Max Linder and played by the author” appeared, it was the first time in film history that an author was mentioned in connection with a cinematic work.

Max Linder
French postcard by Cinémagazine, no. 24.

Max Linder
French postcard by Cinémagazine, no. 188.

Max Linder
French postcard by Edition Pathé Frères.

Comedy Star No. 1

After comedian André Deed went to Italy, Max Linder moved up and became the comedy star no. 1 for Pathé.

In 1910 he shot one comedy each week. By 1911, Linder was directing all his own films as well as writing the script and the universality of silent films brought Linder fame and fortune throughout Europe. By 1912, he was the highest-paid film star in the world, with an unprecedented salary of one million francs.

His success didn't have any limits: whether Spain, Germany, Italy or Russia, Max Linder was everywhere welcomed with enthusiasm during his live entrances in the capital cities. In Russia the police had to call the Army for help so that Linder was able to leave the Moscow railroad station.

One of the best and more successful examples of his type of humour is the one-reeler Max et la Statue/Max and the Statue (Max Linder, 1912). Max attends a costume ball, dressed as a suit of armor. After drinking too much at the party, he passes out on the sidewalk. Meanwhile, during the evening, a new suit of armour to be unveiled at the Louvre the next day is stolen by a pair of thieves. The police, discovering the theft, stumble upon Max. They take him back to the Louvre where he is unveiled for the Museum committee. They depart, whereupon the thieves return, take Max, and, back in the hideout, attempt to open the armour with tools. Max awakens, scares the burglars, then, in the final frame, strolls away, strumming a guitar.

The weekly adventures of Max were impatiently awaited by faithful and enthusiastic audiences. In 1914 Linder decided to realise one of his old dreams: to start a cinema. He bought a cinema in Paris with 1,200 sears, created in 1912, the Kosmorama. The Ciné Max Linder opened in December 1914.

World War I brought a temporary end to Linder's career in film. Physically unfit for combat duty, he worked as a dispatch driver during the war until he was seriously wounded. He was gassed, and the illness that resulted would blight his career.

Max Linder
French postcard. Photo Pathé.

Max Linder
French postcard by Pathé Frères. Photo: Felix.

Max Linder
French postcard by Pathé Frères. Photo: Felix.


While in the hospital in 1916, Max Linder was visited by George K. Spoor, president of Essanay films. Having lost Charlie Chaplin, Spoor wanted Linder to "take his place" and offered him $5,000 per week to write, direct, and star in 12 three-reel comedies to be made in the studio's Chicago location.

Linder went to the US, but his first few American-made Max films didn't make the same impression as the Chaplin shorts. Recurring ill-health meant that his US films had little of the sparkle of his early French work. After only three films were completed Linder headed back to France.

For the convalescence of his pleurisy, Linder went to the lake of Geneva. In 1919 it seemed like Max was his old self again and his screen version of Le Petit Café/The Little Cafe (Raymond Bernard, 1919) was received enthusiastically by critics and audiences on both sides of the Atlantic.

He made another attempt at film making in the US for the recently-formed United Artists (one of whose founders was Charles Chaplin). He worked as a film producer, screenwriter, director and leading actor in three films: Seven Years Bad Luck (Max Linder, 1921), Be My Wife (Max Linder, 1921), and the film he considered his best, the inventive parody The Three Must-Get-Theres (Max Linder, 1922).

Endowed with an overflowing imagination, he filled his films with an inexhaustible variety of gags. For example, Max was the original creator of the genius mirror gag in Seven Years Bad Luck, which the Marx Brothers used again so memorably in their film Duck Soup (Leo McCarey, 1933). These later films are now regarded as classics.

However, the work exhausted Max, and after finishing the last film he left the United States once again. Back in France he appeared in only two more films. In Au Secours!/Help! (Abel Gance, 1923) he played a tragic part. Later he forbade the showing because he feared his reputation as a comedian was in danger.

His last film, Der Zirkuskönig/King of the Circus (Max Linder, Édouard-Émile Violet, 1924) with Vilma Bánky, was made in Vienna, Austria. For the film Chevalier Barkas/The Knight Barkas he contacted the in those days unknown director René Clair. But the film would never be realised.

Max Linder
French postcard by Pathé Frères. Photo: Felix.

Max Linder
French postcard by A.N, Paris in the Les Vedettes de Cinéma series, no. 87. Photo: United Artists.

Max Linder
Italian postcard by Casa Editrice Ballerini & Fratini, Firenze, no. 787.

Suicide Pact

The after-effects of Max Linder's war service was that he suffered from continuing health problems including bouts of severe depression.

In 1923, he married the 18 year old Hélène Peters, a wealthy Paris heiress, with whom he had a daughter, Maud. At the same year he sold his Max Linder cinema.

The emotional problems besetting Linder evidenced themselves when he and his wife made a suicide pact. In early 1924 they attempted suicide at a hotel in Vienna, Austria. They were found and were recuperated, but on 31 October 1925 Linder and his wife were successful in taking their lives in Paris.

After Linder's death, Chaplin dedicated one of his films: "For the unique Max, the great master - his student Charles Chaplin". But in the ensuing years, Max Linder was relegated to little more than a footnote in film history.

In 1963, a compilation film titled En compagnie de Max Linder/Laugh with Max Linder was released. Later his daughter made a documentary film titled L'homme au chapeau de soie/The Man in the Silk Hat (Maud Linder, 1983). Max Linder's comic gestures, planned expressions, anachronisms, contrasts, and use of the unexpected, as well as his comic chase scenes (pursuits) became again the inspiration for young comedians.

Max Linder appeared in more than 400 films, mostly short comedies. Only about 80 survive. His daughter and the keeper of his heritage, Maud Linder, passed away on 25 October 2017).

Clip with Max Linder and Maurice Tourneur in Champion de boxe/Boxing Champion (1910). Source: TheBzzz (YouTube).

Max Linder, Paris
A May 2009 photo of the Max Linder cinema in Paris.

Cinema Ritrovato, Bologna, Pathe posters
Left a poster for the Max Linder comedy Avant et après/Before and After, exhibited at the Cinema Ritrovato festival 2009. Atrium of the Lumiere cinema, Bologna, Italy.

Sources: Thomas Staedeli (Cyranos), Michael Brooke (IMDb), Wikipedia, Golden Silents, and IMDb.

21 February 2018

Die Austernprinzessin (1919)

In his early European films, director Ernst Lubitsch alternated between escapist comedies and large-scale historical dramas, enjoying great international success with both. A triumph was Die Austernprinzessin/The Oyster Princess (Ernst Lubitsch, 1919), featuring Ossi Oswalda. It is a sparkling satire caricaturising American manners.

Ernst Lubitsch, Ossi Oswalda
Ernst Lubitsch and Ossi Oswalda. German postcard by Ross Verlag, Berlin, no. 337/1, 1919-1924. Photo: Zander & Labisch.

Victor Janson, Ossi Oswalda and Harry Liedtke in Die Austernprinzessin (1919)
German postcard by Ross Verlag, Berlin, no. 611/3. Photo: Union / Ufa. Publicity still for Die Austernprinzessin/The Oyster Princess (Ernst Lubitsch, 1919) with Victor Janson, Ossi Oswalda and Harry Liedtke.

Julius Falkenstein and Ossi Oswalda in Die Austernprinzessin (1919)
German postcard by Ross Verlag, Berlin, no. 611/5. Photo: Union / Ufa. Publicity still for Die Austernprinzessin/The Oyster Princess (Ernst Lubitsch, 1919) with Julius Falkenstein and Ossi Oswalda.

A miracle of screen acting and directing

Ossi Oswalda plays a spoilt American heiress, the daughter of Mister Quaker (Victor Janson), the oyster-king of America. Quaker cannot be impressed anymore. He is so rich that he even has a special butler holding his cigar while he is smoking.

Ossi throws a jealous fit because the daughter of the 'Shoe-cream king' has married a count. Quaker promises his daughter he will find her a real prince. He makes an offer to the impoverished prince Nucki (Harry Liedtke) who lives in a one-room apartment.

Nucki sends his friend Josef (Julius Falkenstein) to get a clear idea of the woman. Josef introduces himself under the guise of the prince's name! Mistaken identity in place, the film's madcap humor takes off from there.

Ernst Lubitsch made this wonderful, a bit surrealistic comedy when he was only 27. His co-writer is Hanns Kräly who became an Oscar winner later on for his writing on Lubitsch's films. Highlighta here include a meticulously choreographed 'foxtrot epidemic' and a mass boxing-match among a group of billionaire's daughters.

Gerard Lenz at IMDb: "Ossi Oswalda (...) somehow manages to be tempestuous, spiteful, spoiled, endearing, lovable and sexy at the same time. A miracle of screen acting and directing. Stemming from 1919, the film reflects the coming of a new age of relative sexual freedom, female self-determination and the resignation of the aristocracy as the determining force of Central European society after the defeat of the World War."

Victor Janson in Die Austernprinzessin (1919)
German postcard by Ross Verlag, Berlin, no. 611/6. Photo: Union / Ufa. Publicity still for Die Austernprinzessin/The Oyster Princess (Ernst Lubitsch, 1919) with Victor Janson.

Ossi Oswalda
Ossi Oswalda. German postcard by Ross Verlag, Berlin, no. 529/1, 1919-1924. Photo: Ossi Oswalda-Film.

Ernst Lubitsch
Ernst Lubitsch. German postcard by Verlag Hermann Leiser, Berlin-Wilm., no. 1926. Photo: Fritz Richard. Collection: Didier Hanson.

Sources: Gerard Lenz (IMDb), Wikipedia and IMDb.

20 February 2018

Ruth Weyher

Ruth Weyher (1901-1983) was a beautiful and passionate actress of the German silent cinema. She appeared in 48 films between 1920 and 1930. Among her best known films are the expressionist classic Schatten/Warning Shadows (1923) and G.W. Pabst's Freudian Geheimnisse einer Seele/Secrets of a Soul (1926).

Ruth Weyher
Austrian postcard by Iris Verlag, no. 5059. Photo: Manassé, Wien.

Ruth Weyher,
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 3089/1, 1928-1929. Photo: Atelier Kiesel, Berlin.

Ruth Weyher
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 3318/1, 1928-1929. Photo: Atelier Kiesel, Berlin.

Ruth Weyher
German postcard by Ross Verlag, Berlin, no. 4032/1, 1929-1930. Photo: Atelier Dührkoop, Berlin.

Ruth Weyher
German postcard by Ross Verlag, Berlin, no. 4056/2, 1929-1930. Photo: Atelier Bieber, Berlin.

The Adventurous Or Passionate Woman

Ruth Ellen Weyher was born in 1901 in Neumark, West Prussia (now Nowinjasta, Poland). She was the daughter of law inspector Paul Ferdinand Weyher and his wife Lätitia Theone Weyher-Schulze. She grew up in Danzig (now Gdansk, Poland), until she moved with her parents and brother to Halle in 1914.

She studied painting at the Kunstgewerbeschule in Halle, but she switched to the conservatory to study singing. Due to a serious illness she lost her singing voice and in 1919 she went to Berlin where she visited the acting school of the Deutsches Theater and was a pupil of Max Reinhardt. In Munich, Weyher had her debut as a stage actress.

Already in 1919 she got her first film roles. In countless entertainment films she played the adventurous or passionate woman, as in Die Wahrsagerin von Paris/The fortune-teller of Paris (Hans Heinz Hartt, 1920), Sterbende Völker/Dying people (Robert Reinert, 1922) with Aud Egede Nissen, Das alte Gesetz/This Ancient Law (Ewald André Dupont, 1923) starring Henny Porten, and the classic Expressionist film Schatten/Warning Shadows (Arthur Robison, 1923).

In Schatten, Weyher played the beautiful wife of a jealous count (Fritz Kortner), who suspects her of infidelity. During a banquet, he becomes enraged with his dinner guests when they pretend to kiss his wife's silhouetted shadow. This seemingly innocent romantic indiscretion is met with violent retribution.

Liam O'Leary reviews the film at Film Reference: "Perfect films like this were not without their influence. Much of the innovative camera work and visual style has been absorbed into the accepted techniques of the cinema. But there is a special patina which the pioneer film has that can never be transmitted and that is the excitement generated by an original and creative spirit; Schatten is unique in the history of film, and unlike anything its creator, Arthur Robison, ever attempted again."

Ruth Weyher
German postcard by Ross Verlag, Berlin, no. 787/4. Photo: Alex Binder.

Ruth Weyher
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 797/1, 1925-1926. Photo: Kiesel. Collection: Didier Hanson.

Jacque Catelain, Ruth Weyher, Paname...n'est pas Paris
French postcard by EC, no. 543. Photo: Publicity still for Die Apachen von Paris/Paname...n'est pas Paris/Apaches of Paris (Nikolai Malikoff, 1927) with Jaque Catelain. Collection: Didier Hanson.

Ruth Weyher
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 954/1, 1925-1926. Photo: Kiesel, Berlin.

Ruth Weyher
German postcard by Ross Verlag, Berlin, no. 954/2, 1925-1926. Photo: Atelier Kiesel.

Her Own Production Company

Slowly Ruth Weyher moved to leading parts in films such as the title role in the film operetta Die keusche Susanne/The Girl in the Taxi (Richard Eichberg, 1926) which co-starred Willy Fritsch and Lilian Harvey. The cheeky Susanna leads a wild nightlife in Paris, while she plays the chaste woman with her relatives in the countryside.

Other big films of Weyher were Komödie des Herzens/Comedy of the heart (Rochus Gliese, 1924) with Lil Dagover and Nigel Barrie, the William Shakespeare adaptation Ein Sommernachtstraum/A Midsummer Night's Dream (Hans Neuman, 1925), Die Feuertänzerin/The fire dancer (Robert Dinesen, 1925), and Geheimnisse einer Seele/Secrets of a Soul (G.W. Pabst, 1926) – in which she plays the wife of a chemistry professor (Werner Krauss) haunted by his dreams of stabbing his wife's cousin, which he eventually also tries to in real life.

James Travers notes at Films de France: "Viewed today, it is much easier to appreciate this film for its artistic merits – its striking visual design and atmospheric expressionistic photography – than its intellectual content. As a serious attempt to represent Freud’s ideas it leaves a great deal to be desired and almost comes across as a mockery of psychoanalytic theory."

At AllMovie, Hal Erickson adds: "The dream sequences - to which Pabst gave credence by hiring two of Freud's assistants as consultants - elaborate upon existing Freudian symbolism to the bursting point. Pabst had always been fascinated by the subconscious; here he seems intoxicated by the subject. Especially effective is Pabst's use of multiple dissolves and superimpositions, all accomplished 'in the camera' without any post-production lab work."

Other titles of Weyher's films are Die Flammen lügen/The flames lie (Carl Froehlich, 1926), Die Hochstaplerin/The Impostor (Martin Berger, 1926), the Swedish-German coproduction Parisiskor/Dr. Monnier und die Frauen/Doctors' Women (Gustav Molander, 1927) with Fred Louis Lerch, and the Carlo Aldini film Einer gegen Alle/One Against All (Nunzio Malasomma, 1927).

In 1928 Weyher founded her own production company Ruth Weyher-Film GmbH, but after only one film, Was ist los mit Nanette/What's the Matter with Nanette? (Holger-Madsen, 1928), with herself in the title role, she quitted producing. Late silent productions were the Italian film La grazia/The grace (Aldo De Benedetti, 1929) with Weyher as femme fatale opposite Carmen Boni, and the French romantic drama L’appassionata/Appassionata (André Liabel, Léon Mathot, 1929) starring Fernand Fabre and Léon Mathot.

Weyher rarely acted in sound films. One example is the Carlo Aldini production Im Kampf mit der Unterwelt/In the battle with the underworld (1930), which he directed and in which he played the lead as well.

In 1932, Ruth Weyher married the Munich based publisher and printing plant owner Hans Geiselberger and according to his wishes she ended her career. She died in Munich in 1983.

Ruth Weyher
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 3247/1, 1928-1929. Photo: Ufa.

Ruth Weyher
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 4056/1, 1929-1930. Photo: Atelier Bieber, Berlin.

Ruth Weyher
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 5037/1, 1930-1931. Photo: Atelier Manassé, Wien (Vienna).

Ruth Weyher
Austrian postcard by Iris Verlag, no. 5058. Photo Manassé, Vienna. Collection: Didier Hanson.

Ruth Weyher
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 7306/1, 1932-1933. Collection: Didier Hanson.

Sources: Liam O'Leary (Film Reference), James Travers (Films de France), Thomas Staedeli (Cyranos), Hal Erickson (AllMovie), Dan Pavlides (AllMovie), The Androom Archives, Filmportal.de, Wikipedia (German and English), and IMDb.

NB Filmportal.de does not indicate Einer gegen Alle as a film with Weyher while IMDb does. Im Kampf mit der Unterwelt (IMDb) is not mentioned at all by Filmportal.de.