Cast & Crew
Returning from his last bachelor supper somewhat inebriated, Max goes to bed. In a chase for a kiss, his valet and parlormaid break a cheval glass and try to conceal the loss. When a new glass arrives, Max, afraid he is "seeing things," throws his shoe at the mirror and the bad luck begins: his fiancée abandons him, and his efforts to leave town are thwarted by a mad mishmash of adventures in which policemen, railroad employees, burglars, and wild beasts conspire to make life miserable for him. Finally, matters are adjusted, and Max wins back his sweetheart.
F. B. Crayne
Seven Years Bad Luck
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
Seven Years Bad Luck
Laugh With Max Linder
Leuvielle took the name Max Linder when he entered the movie trade in 1905, only ten years after film was first projected on a screen. He reserved his real name for the stage. At that time, actors did their best to hide their movie work, ashamed to be associated with what was seen as nothing but cheap spectacles for lowlifes. Watching the early films that preceded him, it is easy to see why. French comedy, then considered the best in the world, consisted of little more than extended chase scenes with leaping and gesticulating gendarmes and errant husbands running through the streets, crashing through windows and doors, before collapsing in a heap.
Max added a new ingredient, character. His role was that of the Parisian dandy, an elegantly dressed boulevardier with an eye for the beautiful demoiselles. Comic situations sprang from the everyday events in his character's normal surroundings. In Troubles Of A Grasswidower (Max reprend sa liberte - 1912) an argument with his wife leads her to run home to Mother. Max has to deal with housework for the first time leading not only to chaos, but a chaos instantly recognizable to any wife whose husband has made a mess of a simple cleaning.
Max even introduced touches of social satire in these early movies. In Max Sets The Style (Max lance le mode, 1911) Max is forced to trade his elegant shoes for the decrepit boots of a man on the street. When his society friends laugh at him, Max insists that his huge, floppy footwear is the latest style, and then sets out to make them a necessary element of high fashion with hilarious results.
Max's comedic inventions inspired Charlie Chaplin who used them to make himself the greatest comedian of all time. The debt is obvious. Chaplin's first role as a down-on-his-lucky dandy in Making A Living (1914) is a slight variation on the Max character while his classic One A.M. (1916) is so close to a Max Linder comedy, it can only be considered an homage, if not an outright steal. Max did not mind, considering Chaplin his superior: "He calls me his teacher, but, for my part, I have been lucky to get lessons at his school."
However, the resemblance of his style to Chaplin's may have backfired. He came to America in 1917 to replace Chaplin at Essanay Studios but his shorts did not find an audience. Perhaps, to American audiences, he seemed another of the then ubiquitous Chaplin imitators. After some feature films in the 1920's, Max returned to Europe. He and his wife committed joint suicide in 1925. He may have been depressed over his declining popularity but he could also have been suffering the lingering effects of gas poisoning he underwent during his service in World War I.
Image Entertainment's new DVD Laugh With Max Linder has no relation to the similarly titled film his daughter compiled in 1963, but does contain an excellent collection of Max's work including his complete American feature Seven Years Bad Luck (1921), scenes from another 1921 feature Be My Wife, four of his early French shorts and a newsreel clip of Max boxing with director Maurice Tourneur. Robert Israel accompanies the movies on piano using period arrangements. The liner notes are unfortunately skimpy, but there is no stinting on the comedy. While many movie pioneers, whose work seemed fresh and inventive at the time, seem cliched and dated now through overuse of their ideas, the same cannot be said of Max's comedies. They are still hilarious and one can only hope this is merely the first volume in a series that will restore Max Linder's work to its former prominence.
For more information about Laugh With Max Linder, visit Image Entertainment.
by Brian Cady