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Bout-de-Zan et le crime au téléphone (1914)

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Cast

Credited cast:
Renée Carl
René Poyen ...
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Genres:

Comedy | Short

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Release Date:

16 January 1914 (France)  »

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Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
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'Au secours'? More like 'Aw, suckers'...
7 July 2007 | by (Minffordd, North Wales) – See all my reviews

Bout-de-Zan (real name René Poyen) was one of the very earliest screen comedians to play a recurring character in an ongoing series of short comedies. (The very first -- although I stand ready to be corrected on this point -- was André Deed, whose screen character was known in Britain as 'Foolshead'.) Bout-de-Zan's screen name would translate as "a bit of Zanni", the latter being the ancient Roman clown who allegedly gave us the word 'zany'. Unlike André Deed and Will Evans and most other 'character' comedians of the earliest years of film comedy, Bout-de-Zan usually avoided elaborate make-up and costumes, preferring to portray a normal human being.

I viewed a print of the short comedy 'Bout-de-Zan and the Telephone Crime' from the archives of the Nederlands Filmmuseum, Amsterdam. These archives also have an original 1914 full-colour Gaumont poster advertising this film. The poster's artwork depicts a scene from this film ... but, oddly, the tableau is drawn to look entirely like a scene from a straightforward dramatic film: a genuine crime story (which this film isn't) instead of a comedy (which it is). Perhaps the distributors thought they'd sell more tickets if movie-goers thought this was a crime drama. Or perhaps they felt that audiences would recognise Bout-de-Zan's name and realise that any Bout-de-Zan film must be a comedy.

SPOILERS COMING. Here's the plot, such as it is. A hotel room is the rendezvous for Bout-de-Zan and a few friends, including an attractive woman (Renée Carl), and a small boy in an Eton collar (I hadn't known French boys wore Eton collars!). They've come here to rehearse an amateur play involving an armed robbery. The boy makes a quick call to the concierge on a candlestick telephone, and then the rehearsal starts. One of the actors points a revolver at the actress while Bout-de-Zan chokes her and the boy struggles to escape.

However, the boy neglected to ring off the telephone. The concierge overhears everything, and of course she believes a real crime is in progress. A switchboard operator at the central exchange hears it and nearly swoons. (I was fascinated by a brief shot of the 1914 routing switchboard.) The hotel charlady, the postman and various other by-standers all come rushing to the crime scene. The postman (wearing a kepi) looks amazingly like J. Pat O'Malley, the English-born character actor who was later prolific in American television. Eventually, a gendarme shows up and sets all to rights.

I was very intrigued that the actors in this comedy short gave fairly subtle performances. Even in the rehearsal sequence, where the actors (who are PLAYING actors) could legitimately overact, they played it mostly straight. The winsome Renée Carl deliberately ruffles her hair just before she starts acting like a damsel in distress: a gesture which wouldn't make sense in real life, but which cues the audience here that what she's going to do next is fake.

'Bout-de-Zan and the Telephone Crime' is genuinely funny without ever sinking to the level of slapstick or pratfalls, and I'll rate it 8 out of 10.


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