9 user 5 critic

The '?' Motorist (1906)

A British trick film in which a motorist ends up driving around the rings of Saturn.


Walter R. Booth

On Disc

at Amazon


Learn more

More Like This 

Comedy | Short
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.9/10 X  

A man, objecting to being filmed, comes closer and closer to the camera lens until his mouth is all we see. Then he opens wide and swallows camera and cinematographer. He steps back, chews, and grins.

Director: James Williamson
Stars: Sam Dalton
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6/10 X  

A boy looks through glasses at various objects, seen magnified.

Director: George Albert Smith
Stars: Harold Smith
Short | Comedy | Romance
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6/10 X  

A humorous subject intended to be run as a part of a railroad scene during the period in which the train is passing through a tunnel.

Director: George Albert Smith
Stars: Laura Bayley, George Albert Smith
Documentary | Short
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.3/10 X  

A black and white short in which a moving rear facing camera documents people running towards it on the street.

Director: Gabriel Veyre
Short | Comedy
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.7/10 X  

Smith casts his wife as a sluttish housewife who is mutilated by lighting her oven with paraffin.

Director: George Albert Smith
Stars: Laura Bayley
Short | Comedy
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 5.6/10 X  

An elderly gentleman in a silk hat sits on a stool in front of a store on the main street of town. He has a telescope that he focuses on the ankle of a young woman who is a short distance ... See full summary »

Director: George Albert Smith
Animation | Short | Fantasy
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.6/10 X  

An enthusiastic young couple is astounded with modern technology's giant leaps in the fascinating field of electricity.

Director: Segundo de Chomón
Stars: Segundo de Chomón, Julienne Mathieu
The Black Imp (1905)
Short | Comedy | Fantasy
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.1/10 X  

A traveler at an inn is harassed by a mischievous devil in his room.

Director: Georges Méliès
Stars: Georges Méliès
Short | Comedy
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.1/10 X  

A band-leader assembles an orchestra by mystifying means.

Director: Georges Méliès
Stars: Georges Méliès
Short | Comedy
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7/10 X  

The adventures of an inattentive man. He's at his kitchen table, reading. A woman brings his hat and points to the clock. He continues reading and pours coffee into his hat. He leaves, ... See full summary »

Director: James Williamson
Drama | Short
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.4/10 X  

In this story set at a seaside fishing village and inspired by a Charles Kingsley poem, a young couple's happy life is turned about by an accident. The husband, although saved from drowning... See full summary »

Director: D.W. Griffith
Stars: Arthur V. Johnson, Linda Arvidson, Gladys Egan
Short | Drama
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 5.4/10 X  

A barmaid plies a swell with smiles and with cherries from a box that's just been delivered. When she refuses a cherry to a roughly-dressed tradesman who runs a tab at the bar, he pays off ... See full summary »

Director: Robert W. Paul


A magical glowing white motorcar dismembers policemen, drives up buildings, flies through outer space and can transform into a horse and carriage. This was a British effort to top Melies at his Sci-Fi/fantasy/comedy trick films. Written by Scott Hutchins <scottandrewh@home.com>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »






Release Date:

October 1906 (UK) See more »

Also Known As:

A sofőr See more »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Robert W. Paul See more »
Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


In the film's final shot, a woman observing the crew is visible. See more »


Featured in Silent Britain (2006) See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

This FAQ is empty. Add the first question.

User Reviews

England's answer to Melies!
24 August 2015 | by Film_NitrateSee all my reviews

One of the unfortunate things about early cinema is that we can only judge that which is currently available to us. The vast majority of silent films are now considered lost, and though some directors' later fame ensured that their films endured (Hitchcock for one), some, such as Robert W. Paul – one of the pioneers of cinema – have been less fortunate. Still Paul has fared better than many of his contemporaries, but much of his work sadly remains lost.

R.W Paul was more an engineer than a filmmaker, and at first his only real incentive to produce his own films was to demonstrate their potential. He began by manufacturing replicas of Thomas Edison's revolutionary Kinetoscope in 1894, though by the turn of the century he had set up his own studios in London and was producing short films at a furious rate. After filming such historic events as Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee and the ill-fated launch of HMS Bulwark, in 1900 he was commissioned by the army to produce what would now be called a 'recruitment' film, showing what it was like to be in the British army. The finished film, Army Life, was an epic 50 minutes long, making it by far the longest film produced in the world up to that point. Sadly, it's all but lost now, with just a short fragment remaining.

From this point on Paul moved away from covering notable occasions and army reenactments, and moved towards short stories, such as those George Méliès was successfully making in France (incidentally, it was Paul who sold Méliès his first camera in 1896). As well as producing an incredibly ambitious adaptation of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol – most of which is now tragically lost – in 1901, he would go on to popularise a number of effects over the next few years such as screen wipes, closeups and double exposures. The culmination of this experience over the previous decade was in Paul's most famous film, The '?' Motorist.

After watching the short film, certain similarities are obvious between The '?' Motorist and his old customer Méliès' A Trip to the Moon (1902). Though not necessarily more sophisticated, Méliès' space film was longer (14 minutes compared to barely over 2 minutes) and after going to the considerable effort of hand-colouring each of the films' individual frames, it's no surprise that A Trip to the Moon has endured far better than The '?' Motorist. There's certainly a whimsical humour here which is only enhanced by the inspiration for the film – Paul's frustration at being issued a fine for excessive speeding in his motorcar, a crime he tried unsuccessfully to defend himself from.

However, though R.W. Paul is the better-known name here, the directing duties were carried out my another character who has become all but forgotten – Walter Booth. Like many of the early filmmakers Booth had begun his career as a magician, and had been collaborating with Paul on some of his more technically impressive films since 1899. By the time of The '?' Motorist in 1906 – his final film with Paul – he was a highly competent director and more than capable of filming some of the challenging effects that were hugely popular with audiences who wanted to see things on the screen which were impossible in real life. He was then recruited by Charles Urban – the most successful film producer and distributor in Britain – where he continued to refine his techniques, and in 1911 made The Automatic Motorist – a more sophisticated remake of The '?' Motorist. It's conceivable that Booth made an appearance in 1901's stop-motion masterclass Undressing Extraordinary – being able to know the exact position to hold as an actor would have required considerable knowledge of the techniques involved – though as no photograph is known to exist of the director we many never know for sure.

The '?' Motorist – like many of Paul's films – is a great, charming little film which was still, even in 1906, ahead of much of the cinema in the rest of the world. The title though, is completely nuts. There doesn't seem to be any information on where it came from, but it seems it was the actual title given by Paul, no typos. Its ambiguity certainly gives almost nothing away, and the moment when what seems like a routine runaway film takes a turn as the carriage drives up a building, over the moon and around Saturn's rings cannot have ceased to surprise audiences.

With his interest firmly in the mechanics of cinema, Paul's output swiftly reduced after Booth's departure, and by 1910 he had moved away entirely from the film business, concentrating his efforts on more scientific subjects. He died in 1943, living more than long enough to witness cinema emerge as one of the leading forms of entertainment – a form in which he'd played a large role in developing. It's just a shame he's not more widely credited for the advances he made in the medium, certainly in Britain. Maybe one distant day some ambitious director will see the potential in a biographical film about Paul, and it can do for him what Martin Scorsese's Hugo did for Méliès? Or maybe that's just my head in the clouds.

1 of 2 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you? | Report this
Review this title | See all 9 user reviews »

Contribute to This Page

Check Out What's Playing on IMDb Freedive

See what movies and TV series you can watch for free today, and visit IMDb Freedive for even more. Select any poster below to play the movie!

Find more things to watch

Stream Trending Movies With Prime Video

Enjoy a night in with these popular movies available to stream now with Prime Video.

Start your free trial

Recently Viewed