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Silent Sunday Nights - July 2013
Remind Me

Seven Years Bad Luck

Synopsis: Soon-to-be-married Max returns home drunk from a bachelor party. The next morning, his valet and maid inadvertently break a full-length mirror, hastily order a replacement mirror and try to conceal it by having the cook pose as Max's reflection while he shaves. Max accidentally breaks the replacement mirror, which precipitates a string of bad luck--or so he believes. When he goes to visit his fiancée Betty, his rowdy behavior eventually causes her to return her engagement ring. He takes the train out of town to get away from his problems, but is promptly robbed of all his money and his luggage. Back in town, his best friend, who also carries a flame for Betty, tries to convince her to drop Max and marry him instead. Max's attempts to sneak aboard a train to return home leave him on the run from the police. Will he return home in time to prevent his fiancee from marrying another man?

Seven Years Bad Luck (1921) is the great French comedian Max Linder's first American feature and one of his most highly regarded films today. Although its plot is relatively lightweight compared to the greatest films of Chaplin or Keaton, it still has a number of memorable gags and displays to full advantage Linder¿s comic persona of the witty, well-to-do bachelor with too much time on his hands. In particular, the gag in which the cook poses as Max's reflection in the empty mirror and imitates his every movement is probably the most deftly executed version of this classic gag ever put on the screen, uncanny in its precision. Also of note is the scene in which Max, on the run from the police, winds up inside the lion cage at the zoo. This scene, as some critics have observed, was a likely influence on a similar scene in Chaplin's The Circus (1928).

Born Gabriel-Maximilien Leuvielle, Max Linder (1883-1925) was the son of wealthy vintners in the Bordeaux region. Interested in acting from a young age, he studied at the Bordeaux Conservatory and played in classic French drama at a local theater before moving to Paris and playing in comic venues such as the Olympia. Starting in 1905 he worked at the Pathe studios, playing in a number of shorts, mostly comedies. As Richard Abel points out, at that time the French "almost single-handedly created film comedy" with literally hundreds of shorts produced by Pathe-Freres and Gaumont. Some of the better-known comedy series included Boireau, Rigadin, Bout-de-Zan, Onesime, and of course Linder's "Max" films. In 1907, Linder adopted his now-classic outfit of a silk hat, cane, coat and tails, and spats. His dapper brand of comedy soon made him the most popular comedian in the world before the heyday of Keaton and Chaplin. The shorts that he directed himself are usually regarded as his best; indeed, his subtle performance style and many of his gags had a direct influence on Chaplin, as Chaplin himself would acknowledge, referring affectionately to Linder as his "Professor" in an autographed photo.

In 1916, Linder moved to the U.S. and joined the Essanay studio, which had just lost its biggest star, Chaplin, to Mutual; not finding the popular success in America that he had hoped for, he returned to Paris. There he starred in his first feature film, The Little Cafe (1919), which was a huge success in France. Using the money he earned from that feature, Linder started up his own production company in Hollywood and directed his first American feature, Seven Years Bad Luck. Unfortunately, that and his next two American features--Be My Wife (1921), a sequel that also starred Alta Allen as his fiancee, and The Three Must-Get-Theres (1922), a parody of The Three Musketeers--were not very successful. He returned to Europe and made a few more features before committing suicide with his wife in 1925. Their daughter, Maud Linder, later championed the rediscovery of his work and produced the compilation films Laugh With Max Linder (1963) and The Man With the Silk Hat (1983).

Charles Van Enger (1890-1980), a leading cinematographer of the silent era, worked with Maurice Tourneur on films such as The Last of the Mohicans (1920) and with Ernst Lubitsch on The Marriage Circle (1924) and Lady Windermere's Fan (1925). Although credited as an assistant cameraman on The Phantom of the Opera (1925), he reputedly set up many important shots in that film. He spent much of his later career at Universal, working on everything from Never Give a Sucker an Even Break (1941) to Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948). By the late 1950s, he was working mainly in television on shows such as Gilligan's Island.

Producer/Director: Max Linder
Writer: Max Linder
Photography: Charles J. Van Enger
Cast: Max Linder (Max), Alta Allen (Betty, his fiancee), Ralph McCullough (John, his valet), Betty Peterson (Mary, his maid), F. B. Crayne (Max's false friend), Chance Ward (the conductor), Hugh Saxon (the station master), Thelma Percy (the station master's daughter), Cap Anderson (jailbird).

by James Steffen



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