The Devil and the Statue

Le Diable géant ou le miracle de la madone, 1901, 2m03s
Star Film Catalogue Nos. 384-385

In a lavishly appointed room, a woman is serenaded by a man playing a lute while balanced on a ladder propped up just outside her window. After they clasp hands and gaze lovingly into each other’s eyes, he descends to the ground. She crosses the room, beside herself with emotion. A devil appears in the alcove, causes bars to appear on her window, taunts her, and then performs a suggestive dance, gradually growing in size until he towers above her. In desperation, the woman pleads to a statue of the Madonna, who comes to life and shrinks the devil back to his original size, causing him to disappear. She then banishes the bars, and the lovers are reunited.

The Devil and the Statue is a variation on a theme established by The Man with the Rubber Head (L’Homme à la tête en caoutchouc, 1901), in that once again the narrative is essentially an excuse for a living creature to appear to grow to gigantic size, by dint of superimposing a shot with the camera tracking in over a shot of a static room. (In this case, the joins are more obvious, and the floor on which the expanding and contracting devil is standing is all too visible).

Here, the effect is in the context of a love story, in which a courting couple is forcibly separated by the devil before being brought back together by a statue of the Madonna coming to life - a rather simpler effect than was the case in earlier Méliès films like The Magician (Le Magicien, 1898), as it only seems to involve the actress in question standing very still for most of the running time. However, it’s unlikely the audience would have been looking at her given the attractions of the increasingly imposing devil. Whereas the title character of The Man with the Rubber Head consisted entirely of a head, and therefore posed no threat, the newly gigantic devil is much more alarming.

However, despite the impressive build-up (in every sense), the dénouement can’t help but be a little disappointing, consisting largely of a reversal of the previous effect, at the end of which the devil simply fizzles out. Compared with the Grand Guignol head explosion of the previous film, one is entitled to feel a little short-changed, and for all the elegance of the set (the Renaissance Italian ambience is very effective), this is one of Méliès’ minor efforts.

The untinted print on Flicker Alley’s DVD opens with severe chemical damage, but quickly settles down to present an image that’s generally in very good condition, with plenty of fine detail visible (including, as mentioned above, the floor on which the devil is standing), only occasionally beset by tramlines. Joe Rinaudo’s electronic-organ accompaniment uses scales to create the impression of things growing and shrinking in size.

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3 Responses to “The Devil and the Statue”

  1. Mischa von Perger Says:

    This is a trip to Venice. The window at the left displays a view of the Canale di San Marco, complete with gondolas and wooden posts jutting out of the water.

  2. Luke McKernan Says:

    The man and woman by the window at the start of the film are, I believe, supposed to be Romeo and Juliet. Presumably this is referred to in the Star-Film catalogue. Robert Hamilton Ball picks up on the reference in his Shakespeare on Silent Film.

  3. Gareth Walters Says:

    The Star-Film catalog does indeed identify the lovers as Romeo and Juliette, and the location as “A beautiful Venetian oratory … with views of the Grand Canal.”

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