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The Egyptian Mummy (Vitagraph, 1914)

The Egyptian Mummy screenshotThe Egyptian Mummy (Vitagraph, 1914)
Directed by Lee Beggs
Starring Lee Beggs, Billy Quirk, and Constance Talmadge

Dick (Billy Quirk) is in love with Florence (Constance Talmadge), but her father, Professor Hicks (Lee Beggs), won’t see his daughter married to some penniless schlub. Besides, he’s too intent on his current scientific project: resurrecting the dead.

Dick doesn’t respond well. He takes the pipe — literally. He goes to his bedroom, sticks one end of a tube into the gaslight, the other end in his mouth, and he lays down to sleep, expecting never to wake up. He does wake up, though; the gas meter is coin operated and he was only paid up for a quarter’s worth.

Meanwhile, the Professor has made a breakthrough. In one of his books, he finds a formula for a drug that promises to restore life even to an ancient Egyptian mummy. Naturally, that’s just the test subject he needs. The Professor places an ad: $5,000 for whoever brings him a mummy. When Dick reads the paper, he knows exactly what to do — and it’s so simple, too: find a filthy old bum (Joel Day), bribe him with liquor to lie still, and present him to the Professor.

Dick immediately takes his newfound $5,000 to the stockbroker. The Professor begins preparing the drug. The “mummy”, starting to dry out, is getting antsy. No sooner does the Professor administer the drug than the mummy jumps to his feet and starts ransacking the office in search of booze. Terrified, the Professor flees.

Dick’s investments pay out — $5,000 has turned to $50,000 — and he returns to see the Professor as a man more suitable to marry his daughter. The Professor is busy throwing his books and experiments out the window, but takes a moment to toss Dick and Florence together with implicit approval of the match.

This was a delightful little comedy perfectly suited to Quirk’s style of acting. Beggs was no slouch, either. Vitagraph had recently acquired both from Solax, where they had worked together on great, similarly themed films like Canned Harmony (1912). At Solax, Quirk was usually paired with Blanche Cornwall, but at Vitagraph, his love interest was wet-behind-the-ears Constance Talmadge. She was still an unknown at the time — don’t quote me on it, but The Egyptian Mummy may well be her earliest surviving work — but she would soon become a major star, disdaining short comedies for serious dramatic roles and features. It was comedy’s loss. Films like The Egyptian Mummy and Billy the Bear Tamer (1915) show how adept she was at being funny.

My rating: I like it, unreservedly.

The Missing Millionaire (Triangle, 1917)

The Matrimaniac slideThe Missing Millionaire (Triangle, 1917)
Directed by Paul Powell
Starring Douglas Fairbanks

Having acted on the stage for over a decade, Douglas Fairbanks broke into pictures by joining the Triangle Film Corporation in 1915. Audiences immediately took to his handsome looks and lively acting. As a rising star, he quickly outgrew Triangle and left for greener pastures in 1916. Not wanting to lose out on the profits that a film headlined by Fairbanks would bring in, Triangle took one of the last movies he made while he was still under their employ – the 1916 five-reeler The Matrimaniac – and used it along with some outtakes to assemble a new two-reeler that they released under the guise of a completely new Fairbanks picture in 1917: The Missing Millionaire.

If you’ve seen The Matrimaniac, you’ll surely recognize the footage, but not the story, as The Missing Millionaire follows an entirely different plot.

It starts with quite a cold opening – an old man in a bathtub, a couple of people standing around looking suspicious, Douglas Fairbanks slashing somebody’s tires – and it’s actually about five minutes in before we’re given the slightest clue what’s going on, but it turns out that the story isn’t too complex. Jonas Byng (Fred Warren), a seller of patent medicines and a hypochondriac himself, has just inherited a million dollars. His cousin Zeke (Clyde E. Hopkins) is eager to get his hands on the money, which he plans on doing by having Joe declared insane and naming himself the executor of his estate. Jim Lawton (Douglas Fairbanks), a shoe-salesman, is in love with Joe’s daughter Mildred (Constance Talmadge) and very much wants to prevent Zeke from robbing her and her father of their fortune. The bulk of the film (and by bulk, I mean all) is a race to the judge, with Jim and Joe on the one side and Zeke and Mildred (who he’s taken hostage, I guess) on the other.

Fairbanks gives an acrobatic performance as Jim – scaling walls, running on rooftops, tightrope-walking on telephone lines, clinging to the underside of a moving train – and Warren plays the doddering, absent-minded old man convincingly, but perhaps unsurprisingly, the characters’ actions made a great deal more sense in The Matrimaniac. Even as simple as they’ve tried to keep the plot, the movie still feels like it’s about to come apart at the seams any minute. It’s an obvious cut-and-paste job that only barely stays coherent.

The film ends with an abrupt twist that I’ll admit was unexpected, but it’s the sort of twist that the film treats as a resolution, but when you stop to think about the situation even for a moment, you realize it doesn’t resolve anything at all. At the conclusion of the film, pretty much all of the main characters, with the exception of maybe Mildred, should be in prison given all the laws they’ve broken up to that point.

It has the elements of a good film (and I mean that literally), but The Missing Millionaire isn’t a good film itself. I don’t recommend it, apart from as an oddity owing to its curious creation.

Incidentally, The Missing Millionaire wasn’t the only re-edit of The Matrimaniac: the one-reeler A Telephone Marriage (1926) was also edited from it. All three films survive. It’s interesting watching them back to back to see all the different takes on the same footage.

My rating: I don’t like it.