The Temptation of St. Anthony (1898)
Director: Georges Méliès
Cast: Georges Méliès
Synopsis: The pious St. Anthony is tormented by visions of seductive women.
The Devil has all the best dames, it seems, and in Georges Méliès’ 1898 film La tentation de Saint-Antoine he sends them upstairs to the cave in which the pious old Saint Anthony is quietly studying his scriptures in an effort to tempt him over to the dark side. The cave in which Anthony studies is pretty basic, with only a small stool, a jug, a loaf of bread and a large crucifix, on the base of which sits a human skull, so you’d think perhaps the good Saint wouldn’t take too much persuading. There again, to be perfectly honest, Saint Anthony, dressed in a monk’s habit and sporting a long grey beard, looks like the days when he might be troubled by fragrant temptations of the flesh are a good few years behind him. Old Nick might have met with more success if he’d sent up a blanket, a comfy chair and a tot of rum…
Anyway, as Anthony studies his bible we see a young lass scantily dressed in white appear from nowhere. She’s perched on the edge of the stone base on which the crucifix stands and she wastes no time trying to get Saint Anthony to notice her. She‘s quite a looker, too, a fact that doesn’t go unnoticed on our beleaguered Saint who crouches on the floor in his attempt to be rid of her. The actress playing the temptress looks lovely but she doesn’t really seem to know what she’s supposed to be doing and briefly smiles uncertainly at the camera before disappearing courtesy of one of Méliès stop-cuts. A flustered Saint Anthony attempts to immerse himself in his bible, but he sits on his stool with his legs wide apart, providing our comely temptress and a not-quite-so-comely mate with a perfect place on which to park their posteriors. Once again, the temptress taunts the holy man in a rather timid fashion, and this goes on for the rest of the picture, which lasts no longer than one minute.
Méliès saves his neatest — and most controversial — trick for the finale when the temptress, wearing a scanty white costume which reveals a daring amount of leg (for the time), replaces Jesus on the crucifix as Saint Anthony prays to it. It’s quite an effective (and subversive) trick which must have provoked quite a reaction when first released, and caps off one of Méliès more unusual and interesting films.
(Reviewed 18th August 2014)