Saturday, March 19, 2011

Fairbanks, Linder and the Three Musketeers

[post 111]

Max Linder produced, wrote, and directed three feature films for his own company: Seven Years Bad Luck (released Feb. 1921), Be My Wife (Dec. 1921), and The Three Must-Get-Theres (Aug. 1922). I've already written about Seven Years Bad Luck, and I guess I really do have some readers because I learned shortly thereafter that there was a short wait to rent it on Netflix.  The pen is indeed mightier than the sword.

Speaking of the sword, in 1921 Douglas Fairbanks released one of his popular swashbucklers, The Three Musketeers, based on the classic French novel by Alexandre Dumas père.  A year later, Max Linder released the above-mentioned The Three Must-Get-Theres — get it?—  his 55-minute parody of the Fairbanks two-hour epic. The French title, L'Étroit Mousquetaire, is also a pun, but with the less satisfactory literal meaning of "the narrow musketeer," though apparently étroit can also mean petty.

[AN ASIDE:  Dumas père is not to be confused with his son, Alexandre Dumas fils, the playwright who wrote Camille, the basis for Verdi's opera La Traviata. You can download the original Dumas père novel for free from Project Gutenberg by clicking here.]

Douglas Fairbanks was Hollywood's first big action hero and co-founder in 1919 of United Artists with D.W. Griffith, Charlie Chaplin and Mary Pickford. Though no clown, he was a comic action hero, more Johnny Depp than Mel Gibson, with an eye for physical comedy.  If you haven't seen his work, check out his acrobatic prowess in the video of him on my parkour post.

[AN ASIDE:  Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. is not to be confused with his son, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., also a movie star, though in the 1930s and 1940s, and not so much the action hero.]

Here's the entry on the Linder film from Europa Film Treasures, penned by no less an authority than David Robinson, author of the definitive Chaplin biography and other notable works:

Linder is said to have considered
The Three Must-Get-Theres the best film of his career. It came out almost exactly one year after the release of The Three Musketeers, but the success and furore of Douglas Fairbanks’s opulent spectacle were still fresh enough in the audience’s memory to justify Linder’s parody.

With his wig always a little awry, Max parodies Fairbanks’s elegance, athleticism, and beaming self-satisfaction. The story and characters are directly caricatured from the original: Richelieu becomes Rich-Lou, and Buckingham, Bunkumin, while Max becomes Dart-in-Again, and Athos, Porthos, and Aramis are whimsically renamed Walrus, Porpoise, and Octopus.

The best-remembered moment of Max’s emulation of Fairbanks’s balletic athleticism is his deft and lethal stratagem when surrounded by a ring of swords. Much of the humour depends on surreal anachronism, so that Max is inclined to change his faithful donkey for a motorcycle, or cross the channel on a sailing horse. Fairbanks clearly appreciated the parody, and is said to have sent Linder a gracious congratulatory telegram.

The first time I watched The Three Must-Get-Theres, I didn't find it as funny as I had hoped to.  Then I watched Fairbanks' movie, followed by a second viewing of the Linder parody, and enjoyed it much more.  Likewise, audiences viewing Linder's comedy would likely have been very familiar with the Fairbanks blockbuster.

So here are a few clips, showing you Fairbanks scenes followed by the Linder version.

Here's Fairbanks as D'Artagnan, tearfully leaving his small village and his dear papa to seek fame and fortune in Paris:

Romantic, sentimental, and noble, n'est-ce pas?  And now here's Linder's extended exit, with the father-son affection being mirrored by the cow-horse farewell.

Next up is a Fairbanks sword fight:

And here are two slightly less gallant sword scenes from Linder:

So you get the idea.

Since this is a physical comedy blogopedia, I have to include one of my favorite Linder moves from this film, a nifty pass-through maneuver:

Finally, to switch gears, a quick comparison of a Linder 3-high elopement and  a parallel scene in Keaton's Neighbors.

Just for the record, Neighbors was released December 22, 1920; The Three Must-Get-Theres in August, 1922.  For more on physical comedy involving 3-highs and other assorted human pyramids, check out this On the Shoulders of Giants blog post.  One of my personal favorites.

After all this, I'm hoping you'll want to see The Three Must-Get-Theres movie for yourself, and now you can thanks to the good folks at Europa Film Treasures.  Just click here — and enjoy the whole movie, with original music composed by Maud Nelissen in 2009, performed by The Sprockets.

Finally, for  a review in Spanish from the excellent Circo Méliès blog, click here

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