Spotlight: The Films Of Max Linder

Spotlight: The Films Of Max Linder

"...every expression and gesture counts"

Max Linder made several hundred short films (most now lost) as 'Max', a dapper and loveable upper-class twit. The films stand apart from most other comedies of the silent era, relying less on physical humor and more on story, situation and character. When Max is bedeviled by everyday trivialities in modern life, he seems closer to modern sitcom characters. As a handsome and romantic buffoon, Max brings to mind the comic characters of Marcello Mastroianni.

One critic at that time accurately placed Linder's work in the context of his contemporaries:

Max Linder (as Max) is an adroit and able comedian. It is a mistake to cast him in burlesque, knockabout farce. He is at his best in finely tempered comedies, where every expression and gesture counts. In fact, Linder is a relief after the exaggerated, hurried action comedy work which many American directors think necessary. (The New York Dramatic Mirror, Jun. 25, 1913)

Max, the familiar unknown

Comically darting around in a semi-squat was made famous by, and is now named after, Groucho Marx. But before Groucho even started in comedy, and was still a teenager in a straight singing act with his brothers in vaudeville, Max amused his international audience with what we now call "The Groucho Walk".

And when Max goes full-on wacky, it becomes easier to see where those nutty Looney Tunes characters came from (and maybe why toons always wear gloves!).

Watching Max Linder films it becomes clear how he was unlike other comics before him (from what we can determine in the remaining archives), yet - directly or indirectly - influenced so much of comedy that came after him.


Jane Renouardt

Max And The Leading Ladies

Even within the limited roles they were confined to, these actresses distinguished themselves and left their mark on the Max Linder films.


Max Gets Rank

During his early period, Linder was required to film a new comedy each week. So it should be no surprise that quality varies widely: a random walk through his work can easily lead to disappointment. To counter that, here is an introduction that ranks Max films as Mandatory, Masterful, Major, or Minor - based solely on my preference (which constantly changes). Within each rank, films are ordered by date.

checkmark icon Mandatory Max (3 works)

These films illustrate core rules of the Max films:

  1. Max frequently must get sloppy drunk
  2. Max often must outwit the obstacle between him and his sweetheart: her father
  3. Max finds it difficult to leave bachelorhood and settle down (remember Rule #1?)
  4. When joy strikes, Max must dance
* If none of these films tickles you, then no need to read further: Max Linder probably is not the jester for you.
exclamation icon Masterful Max (5 works)

Ready for more?
These films can convert a viewer from "Max-curious" to "Max-committed".

Max Takes A Bath (Max prend un bain)

Max does a nervous twitch so effectively, it is almost contagious. When doctor prescribes hot baths, Max buys a tub which, hilariously, leads to a wall-scaling chase, as first seen in the 1906 "The ? Motorist", adding to the the wonderful absurdity of it all.

Max And The Fowl (Max reprend sa liberté)

Max flips the bird to his chick, but then flips his wig over a chicken. A darker remake of the 1908 "Troubles of a Grasswidower" - in both lighting and humor - yet even more zany. But here Linder plays against character: although Max is normally a loveable upper class twit, here he is a complete cad from the first scene to the last.

Max and the Flirtometer (Le Baromètre de la Fidélité)

The Linders are given a long tube filled with clear liquid and told that their fidelity is proven as long as the liquid stays clear. It is missing the opening scene, as described at the Film: Ab Initio blog, which notes “Its brand of humour makes it a forerunner for the screwball comedies of the thirties and forties”. Features the Max Slide.

star icon Major Max (19 works)

The more subtle aspects of Linder's style of humor and charm can elevate what otherwise would be a simple gag into a major work.

The Torn Trousers/In A Difficult Position (Mon Pantalon Est Décousu)

Max uses finesse to try to hide a rip in his trousers during a dance. This is quintessential Max: the dapper and loveable upper-class twit whose efforts to impress ladies crash and burn while he tries to keep face, in the modern man's dilemma of maintaining the delusion of stability as his world falls apart.

Troubles Of A Grasswidower (Vive La Vie de Garçon)

Max has a wife who tires of his annoying behavior and returns to her mother. At first, Max is quite pleased to have the house all to himself. But he quickly discovers that even the most basic domestic chores can be fraught with difficulty. Introduces the Crazy Max dance

The Little Vixen (Petite Rosse)

Max must learn to juggle three balls to win a mischievous maid. Includes one of the craziest of the Crazy Max dances. The title of this print "Max Jongleur par Amour (Juggling for Love)" is probably a re-release title, for there is no film with that title in the Pathe catalog. The description of the plot, down to the wording of the intertitles, identifies it as "Petite rosse". The film was originally also released in Pathecolor.

question icon Minor Max (37 works)

Mainly for the Max-obsessed.

Beginning of the Serpentine Dance (Création de la Serpentine)

Here Linder pays his dues in a way familiar to many comics: as merely the comic lead-in to the girlie show.

In Love With The Bearded Woman (Amoureux de la Femme à Barbe)

This is not Max, the dapper and loveable upper-class twit, but appears to be the same schoolboy in His First Cigar (same uniform and still living with parents), who now has lovesick eyes for big bush.

The Surprises of a Flirtation (Les surprises de l'amour)

A father and two sons pursue the same dame. Even though this release date is not in Linder's early period, this is not Max, the dapper and loveable upper-class twit.

Max Linder As A Toreador (Max toréador)

Max sees a bullfight, then wants to become a toreador. Long, with few laughs. WARNING: Scenes of animal abuse. Not only the bulls, but also the pair shown above, that were forced to perform - despite clearly exhibiting zero comic aspirations. But one of them does commit at least one act of revenge, that Max quickly improvises on.

Love Me, Love My Cat (Max n'aime pas les chats)

Max loves Jane, but Jane loves her pussy - and it's driving Max mad. Too long, but hang in there til the end...

Max Takes A Picture (Max fait de la photo)

Max goes nuts when he sees big butt. Max tries to sneak snapshots of a Rubenesque beauty on the beach, but she gets payback - as Max ends up frantic with guilt. Too little content, dragged out too long.

Max And The Lady Doctor (Max et la doctoresse)

In the first act, Max must overcome his shyness to declare his love for a lady doctor. Some funny stuff here. In the second act, he faces numerous obstacles on his wedding night. Not much Max here, just lots of strange medical practices. In the final act, he restores his privileged position of malehood, as in the Alice Guy-Blaché film “The Consequences of Feminism (1906)” - sans the profound irony. But the major shortcoming here is too much angry Max, not enough lovable hapless twit.

Max In Monaco (Max à Monaco)

No story - just funny Max-drunk-again gags, this time on a boat.

Max And His Mother-in-law (Max et sa belle-mère)

Max has a new bride, but can't escape his mother-in-law. Twice the length, but fraction of laughs. Virtually every moment of the film shows Max in anger, yet that is not where Max's comic attraction dwells - he is lovable as a hapless twit. But it does provide historic confirmation for an axiom of comedy: your act is in trouble when you find yourself resorting to mother-in-law jokes.