Monday, November 30, 2015

Short Film: The Mystery of the Leaping Fish (USA,1916)

So here we have a truly odd fish of a public-domain film. (We couldn't resist saying that.)
In the simplest of terms, The Mystery of the Leaping Fish is a silent two-reeler comedy, a burlesque, one of many in general as well as one of the very few that the great silent (and later talkie) film star Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. (23 May 1883–12 Dec 1939) ever made. Also of note: the list of names involved aside from Fairbanks — script, Tod Browning (The Unknown [1927], Dracula [1931 / trailer], Freaks [1932 / trailer], Mark of the Vampire [1935 / trailer], The Devil Doll [1936 / trailer], and more more more); subtitles, Anita Loos (The Women [1939 / trailer]); direction, John Emerson and the fired Christy Cabanne* (The Mummy's Hand [1940 / trailer] & Scared to Death [1947 / trailer]); co-star Bessie Love (who began headlining films like The Lost World (1925 / full film) and ended as a character actress in movies like  the original Children of the Damned [1964 / trailer] and José Ramón Larraz's classic Vampyres [1974 / trailer]) — is exceptional to say the least.
And of note among the names of the background bit-players:  the beautiful but long-forgotten Alma Rubens  (19 Feb 1897 – 21 Jan 1931), whose career, ironically enough, collapsed due to her drug problems. Ironically, we say, because this pre-code comedy is all about drugs, and it's definitely not anti-drug either.
And what is The Mystery of the Leaping Fish about? Let's let the Worldwide Celluloid Massacre explain the film: "A short slapstick spoof on Sherlock Holmes from 1916 made into a cult item by its heavy use of drugs. Coke Ennyday (Fairbanks) is a detective who literally sets his clock by his drugs and carries syringes with him in order to function. He also eats opium paste right out of a can and disables assailants with drugs. He investigates the mystery of a man literally rolling in money to find out his secret and befriends a fish-blower: a woman (Love) who blows air into inflatable fish for people on the beach."
The short is, of course, normally silent; we know nothing about the music added to the background of the version found on YouTube below. 

* Christy Cabanne: a forgotten and unknown name now, but notable for being, along with Sam Newfield (The Monster Maker [1944]) and William Beaudine, one of the most prolific directors in the history of American films.

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