Les Infortunes d’un explorateur ou les momies récalcitrantes, 1900, 0m17s
Star Film Catalogue No. 244
An explorer, clad in pith helmet, wanders into an Egyptian tomb and is struck by a sarcophagus displayed in the centre. After examining it from either side, he opens it, revealing it to be empty. He climbs in… (print ends here)
Surviving only as a very short fragment of some seventeen seconds, The Misfortunes of an Explorer ends just when it looks as though it’s going to get interesting, as the explorer in question climbs into an Egyptian sarcophagus. The fact that it’s not merely empty when opened but completely blank signals some kind of superimposed special effect(s) is/are in the offing, but what form they take must remain conjectural - though the title suggests that they’re hardly going to be pleasant. (The French title translates as ‘The Misfortunes of an Explorer, or The Recalcitrant Mummies’). The explorer appears to be played by Méliès himself, and the backdrop gives an excellent impression of depth in its use of the usual foreshortened perspective, here emphasised by the tomb’s well-defined brickwork receding into the distance.
One thing that is worth noting is that this film predates the discovery of King Tutankhamun’s tomb by some 22 years - which is when the notion of the mummy’s curse decisively passed into the popular imagination after the excavation’s patron Lord Carnarvon died in mysterious circumstances. However, the theme of the Egyptian curse itself was centuries old, so Méliès was drawing on extant tradition.
It’s a particular shame that so little of this film survives, because what’s presented on Flicker Alley’s DVD is generally in very acceptable condition, barring a couple of out-of-focus frames near the start. There are speckles of damage throughout, but the level of detail is impressively high, almost right up to the very end of the surviving fragment. Neal Kurz’s piano accompaniment is a Chopinesque waltz that comes to a conclusion as the explorer steps into the tomb - wisely, it refrains from building any kind of anticipation, given the inevitable letdown at the end.