Le manoir du diable (1896)
Director: Georges Méliès
Cast: Jeanne d’Alcy, Georges Méliès
Synopsis: A bat flies into an ancient castle and transforms itself into Mephistopheles himself.
The thing about Georges Méliès, and the reason why he ultimately failed in the movie business, is that he was incapable of adapting to the changes in public taste. He did make occasional elaborate movies as he grew more experienced, with Le voyage dans la lune (1902) proving to be the peak of his achievements, but too many of his films featured the same tricks recycled over and over again so that contemporary audiences must have grown thoroughly sick of them. Le Manor du diable is a good example of its type, and as it’s one of Méliès’ earlier movies it is a highly impressive example of just how quickly the Frenchman came to grips with the trick photography potential of the camera. But more than ten years down the line he was still churning out the same type of movie using the same tricks. The sheer number of these movies still in existence means that the relative sophistication of Méliès’ early movies tends to be under-appreciated.
Le Manor du diable has the Devil transform from a bat into a man in a house which is visited by two men. One of the men is so frightened when the devil starts playing pranks on them both that he does a runner. However, his mate is made of sterner stuff and braves the eerie goings on. As Devils go, it has to be said that this one isn’t too frightening. The tricks he plays aren’t exactly on a par with eternal damnation in a fiery pit. He prods one chap up the backside with his trident, moves furniture around, makes a skeleton appear and disappear, that sort of thing. It all looks very primitive today, and the moments at which Méliès stopped his camera in order to move props around are painfully obvious, but it really must have wowed its intended audience which, back in 1896, was still coming to terms with the mere concept of moving pictures, and it’s far more entertaining than the actualities the likes of Lumiere and Edison were putting out at the time.
(Reviewed 25th July 2014)