Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
Laugh With Max Linder is a pleasant introduction to a comedian of whom most people have
never heard. A French music hall talent who made three American pictures in the early 1920s,
Max Linder is a comedian as polished as Charlie Chaplin and as lighthearted as Harold Lloyd. He
also shows some
of the technical virtuosity of Buster Keaton. Once again, David Shepard quietly adds another
DVD rung to the ladder of silent discoveries.
The disc consists of one 65-minute feature, several extra short subjects and a fragment of a
film called Be My Wife. The shorts are earlier, brief blackout sketches that don't show the
same level of camera sophistication.
Seven Years' Bad Luck, from 1921, is a fully-fleshed feature comedy with a solid premise
and excellent execution. Most notably, Linder's screen persona comes off as the equal of
the American silent legends. Always dapper and poised, Max is a sleek and handsome nice guy,
often seen in tie and tails, with an agreeable smile and jaunty attitude. Confusion, mistaken identity,
and all-around bad luck get him into the predictable kind of trouble. Like Harold Lloyd, his
persevering optimism and blindness to adversity get him out of it.
The farce begins with a well-developed gag (the separator between Mack Sennett comedy and big-time
silent work) of a broken mirror. Max is a somewhat spoiled rich bachelor. His servant accidentally
smashes the mirror, and substitutes a look-alike cook to fool the sleepy Max into thinking he's
looking at his own reflection. As the notes say, it's a gag we've seen in dozens of permutations
since, from the Marx Brothers in Duck Soup to Red Skelton. Then there's a series of
mishaps with Max's fickle fiancee, a couple of dance scenes, and an extended chase from the police
that ends up in a startling zoo scene with Max making a new friend in a Lion's cage.
The age of the film and the now-relative obscurity of Max Linder (he died in 1925) make this one
for silent film addicts, but casual viewers will be impressed with Linder's poise and presence.
Unlike some other lesser names from the twenties, you don't forget Max after seeing him. Like Chaplin,
he directed his own work, and he's very good at placing the camera and pacing his scenes. His
screen alter-ego is much more consistent and polished than, for instance the (roaringly funny)
Fatty Arbuckle; Seven Years' Bad Luck comes off as a classic rather than an artifact.
If there's anything that separates Linder from Chaplin, it's the latter's introduction of
emotional depth to the comedy. Linder's persona is charming, but even more lightweight than the
average Harold Lloyd character.
The other goodies on the disc are less stellar and show more of the creakiness we expect from
The shorts are four titles from the 'teens in France: Troubles of a Grasswidower,
Love's Surprises, Max Takes a Picture and Max Sets the Style. All are essentially
one-gag situations with an elaborate master shot and perhaps a couple of cutaways. The gags are
standard - a woman greets a series of suitors, hiding them one after another in various parts of
the room; Max wears old boots to a party and starts a fashion trend. They're not particularly funny
now but show what the younger comedian's work in France was like. Be My Wife is a surviving
excerpt from another American release, with Max once again having suitor trouble with a fickle female.
I first saw Max Linder in a collection of shorts on an early laser disc, and was startled not to have
heard of him before. If you already are the kind of collector eager to see new Arbuckle or Harold
Lloyd films, this Laugh With Max Linder disc will definitely please.
Blackhawk/Image's transfer of Seven Years' Bad Luck is in very good shape, considering its
age. The image is sharp and well composed and there's little in the way of deterioration. Accompanying
the film is archival musician Robert Israel on a nickleodeon instrument called a Fotoplayer. The liner notes
describe it as a combo organ/player-piano/sound effects machine.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Laugh With Max Linder rates:
Movie: Very Good
Supplements: Four French short subjects; excerpt from Be My Wife
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: October 24, 2003
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson