Monday, July 29, 2013

The Mirror Prank

The Schwartz Brothers performed the famous mirror routine during an international tour in 1912 and, in their wake, film adaptations of the routine were produced by at least three companies - Solax, Cines and Pathé. The Solax film, which I discuss in The Funny Parts, was a Alice Guy Blaché film called His Double (1912).

His Double (1912)

The Pathé film was a Max Linder comedy called Max on the Road to Matrimony (1913). Last year, I watched the Linder film as part of a work print of a new documentary by Elio Quiroga. I do not wish to comment on anything in the documentary until it has its official release. That leaves it for me to discuss the third and final film of the bunch. The Cines film, Kri Kri domestico (1913), turned up on YouTube a few months ago.

Kri Kri domestico presents an intriguing variation of the mirror routine. Our comic hero, Kri Kri (Raymond Krau), has no good reason to pretend to be another man's mirror image. He is not trying to thwart a romantic rival, or escape a lunatic, or steal state secrets, or hide the fact that he broke his employer's dressing mirror. Kri Kri, an envious servant, simply wants to play a prank on the master of the house (Gildo Bocci). Comedies that were centered on a prank, whether playful or malicious, were common in the early years of film.

Kri Kri domestico's mirror routine stands out mostly for its clever payoff.  Just the fact that the film offers a payoff is remarkable since most versions of the routine have no clear resolution.  All that happens is that the hoax is exposed and the scene ends.  But Kri Kri domestico provides an interesting twist.  The rich man, who relies on his dressing mirror to tell him if he looks well, is engrossed with his "reflection" while he attires himself for a formal reception.  He has no need to examine the physical items that he is handling as he perfectly trusts what he sees transpire within the frame of the mirror.  He believes that he is dressing in formal wear, including a top hat and black dress jacket, because this is what he sees happening before him.  But Kri Kri is in fact putting on the man's fine clothing while the man is left to put on Kri Kri's clothing - a white sports jacket and an ill-fitting bowler. It is the prince and the pauper changing places, expect the prince is unaware of the switch.  The man is later humiliated when he shows up to the reception in his shabby garb.

Kri Kri domestico (1913)

Mismatched hats create a discrepancy between Groucho and faux reflection Harpo in the classic Duck Soup version of the mirror routine. The hats are different in style and color. The color contrast could not be more distinct - one hat is white while the other is black.

The same light and dark contrast was applied earlier to the jackets in Kri Kri domestico. It brings to mind a negative exposure image.

The black and white jackets and the mismatched hats may have been elements of the original stage version of the routine. Now, with Duck Soup, these elements merged into one. Kri Kri domestico ends the same way that Max Linder ends his second adaptation of the routine.
Max Linder in Seven Years Bad Luck (1921)

Let me now offer a few more recent versions of the mirror routine.

Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs (1966)

The Nutt House (1992)(dubbed in Russian)

Sister, Sister ("The Meeting," 1994)

The Vicar of Dibley ("Celebrity Vicar," 1998)

 The Olsen Twins on Saturday Night Live (2004)

This is the only version I know that involves a busty clone.

Repli-Kate (2002)

Garfield: A Tail of Two Kitties (2006)

I recently wrote about a routine in which Buster Keaton appears to be meticulously cleaning a window but it turns out the window frame is missing a glass pane and Keaton is cleaning nothing but air.  Keaton later applied the same premise to a mirror routine in Sherlock, Jr. (1924).

Other versions of the mirror routine can be found in these earlier posts.

Additional note

Alice Guy Blaché's His Double featured the first known version of the mirror routine to be recorded on film. A precedent for other classic comic business can be found in a variety of Blaché films. I cannot watch the filmmaker's The Drunken Mattress (1906), which features a woman struggling to carry a mattress up a flight up steps, without thinking of Laurel & Hardy struggling to carry a crate up a flight of steps in The Music Box (1932).

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