I have to admit I have problem to watch silent movies. Well, I guess it‘s quite hard for a guy, watching sound movies from the very early age, to switch and get used to the lack of dialogues, with the only sound provided being the orchestral score.
But for the sake of getting acquainted with some early actors of the cinema, one can escape the quest of finding the obscure short movies made a century ago, when the cinema was still a novelty viewed with gasps and a fascination. But doesn‘t that fascination last to this very day?
It‘s just amazing to see people long gone made immortal by capturing them on the celluloid, and although some might wonder – OK, so what‘s the big deal, there are many of those – you know, The Oubliette was released 104 years ago, in 1914. That‘s a very very long time ago, and when I think about those actors of old, they appear like from a totally different world.
Even more amazing is the survival of the print, being found in 1983 by a couple rebuilding their front porch steps in Georgia, U.S.A.
The movie is the first episode of the series „The Adventures of Francois Villon“and for the fans of cult cinema and B-movies it‘s of interest because of the small role of Lon Chaney, as the Chevalier Bertrand de la Pagne. His role is just brief, because he is killed in a row with our main character, Francois Villon.
I‘ve almost written „main hero“, but considering the actions of Villon (played by Murdock MacQuarrie), I don‘t know…well, let‘s see what has actually happened:
A poet and a philosopher Villon and his friend Collin are on their way to Paris, when they see an elderly couple being evicted from their home, so they help them by giving the money to bailiff to help them. But, alas, being hungry, they jump a duo of monks and stole their purses.
Being as it is, usually, they are arrested and thrown to prison. Our guys murder the prison guard bringing them the food and Villon, dressed as the guard, escapes the prison. Collin, on the other hand, sacrificing himself to help Villon escape, is hanged.
While weeping under his hanged body, Villon gets into the row with Chevalier de Soissons (Millard K. Wilson) and he kills the knight with the big stone. He dons his armour and sets off.
On his way he stops at the inn, where also stops Philippa de Annonay (Pauline Bush) and her no-good guardian Bertrand de la Pagne (Lon Chaney). Well, upon hearing Philippa screams for help, Villon tries to get to her and in the row he kills de la Pagne.
Villon is arrested again and thrown to a prison cell. There he meets King Louis XI (Doc Crane), called Little, who has entered via secret door in the wall masked as a priest, and he tests Villon‘s loyalty trying to bribe him with freedom in exchange to helping him overthrow the King (i. e.himself). Villon refuses, being loyal to the King and for his loyalty he‘s knighted by Louis.
Well, that‘s the 29 minutes of The Oubliette, a fascinating short movie (although I guess the length of the movie was probably a standard back then). It deserves to be seen, if for nothing else than an experience of the age long gone. And the beginning of the cinema as we know it.