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PERHAPS THIS title “Auto Rendezvous Adventure” reminds you of the 1976 cinéma-vérité cult flick by Claude Lelouch, C’était un Rendez-Vous, English: It Was a Date.
But actually the movie I have in mind is much earlier, 1904, and ironically it has a more definitive history.
There’s a good deal of flim-flam about Lelouch’s eight-minute high-speed drive through Paris streets: Maybe a Mercedes-Benz 450SEL was used for the filming, with the Ferrari 275GTB sound track added later. Though Lelouch claimed speeds exceeded 140 mph, others calculate the film car never exceeded 140 km/h (87 mph). Maybe the real driver was a Formula 1 ace. Maybe a taxi driver. Maybe Mario Andretti. Or maybe Lelouch himself was arrested after the film’s first screening.
By contrast, it is well documented that the movie Le Raid Paris–Monte Carlo en Deux Heures was produced by pioneer filmmaker Georges Méliès in late 1904. The 10-minute 12-second film displays his innovative use of models, stage machinery, pyrotechnics, and stop-modify-resume scenes. These state-of-the-art production techniques had been popularized in Méliès’ earlier A Trip to the Moon, 1902; The Kingdom of the Fairies, 1903; and The Impossible Voyage, 1904.
By the way, Méliès, his films, and collection of automata appear in Brian Selznick’s charming 2007 book The Invention of Hugo Cabret.
Le Raid Paris–Monte Carlo en Deux Heures, An Adventurous Automobile Trip its English title, began as a cabaret revue for Paris’s Folies Bergès theater. It satirizes Belgian King Leopold II’s automotive exploits, many notoriously less than adept.
The flick’s plot is straightforward: On holiday in Paris, the king decides to visit Monte Carlo. In lieu of the 17-hour express train ride, he choses an automobile supposedly capable of making the trip in two hours.
High points include a brief slapstick bit in the first scene between diminutive actor Little Pich and the Giant Swede Félix Galipaux. There’s also a chaotic refueling stop culminating in a flattened policeman. A tire pump reanimates the guy, but agg!, he gets overinflated—and bursts!
Like Alfred Hitchcock a half-century later, Méliès makes a cameo appearance in his own movie; indeed, twice. Early on, Méliès is the white-haired mailman knocked over by the king’s driving; later he portrays the police chief at the gateway to Dijon.
As the king is in sight of the sea, his driving causes mayhem at an open-air stand that quickly degenerates into a food fight. It predates by three decades scenes familiar to Marx Brothers’ fans.
There’s a scene when you just know that stack of wood isn’t going to stay stacked for long. Another pokes fun at a wagon delivery of coal tar, crucial at the time for reducing the dust of unpaved roads.
Everything ends happily, albeit chaotically, at the Monte Carlo Controle. There’s even a brief dance by a pair of the era’s grid girls.
And if that isn’t encouragement enough to view Le Raid Paris–Monte Carlo en Deux Heures, I don’t know what is. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2018