The Colonel’s Shower Bath

Douche du colonel, 1902, 0m58s
Star Film Catalogue No. 391

Two men are cleaning the top of a stone archway, standing on a wooden platform. A platoon of soldiers marches under the platform and stands to attention as their colonel passes. He inspects them, and offers several criticisms. A soldier hands him some papers, and he sits down on a stool to read them. One of the workmen descends the ladder to replenish his bucket of water. When moving from the ladder to the platform, he trips and spills the contents of the bucket over the colonel. The soldiers laugh heartily as he rants and raves, quickly adopting poker faces when he turns in their direction.

The Colonel’s Shower Bath is a one-joke comedy whose authorship is almost impossible to discern purely from what happens on screen. In both form and content it’s little different from any number of other one-reel comedies that were being made at the same time on both sides of the Channel (and the Atlantic) - and indeed stretching back seven years to the very dawn of cinema, and such films as the Lumière Brothers’ L’Arroseur arrosé (1895). As with that film, the suspense is engineered by the title: we know from the start that the colonel will be drenched with the contents of the workman’s bucket, so the tension comes from the fact that we don’t know precisely when.

In terms of staging, Méliès is returning to the two-level approach seen in The Doctor and the Monkey (Le Savant et le chimpanzé, 1900) and What Is Home Without The Boarder? (La Maison tranquille, 1901), in that there are two simultaneous activities going on in both halves of the frame, bisected by the workman’s platform (which also helps distract from the fact that the background is clearly painted, as does Méliès’ decision to heighten the impression of perspective by placing a soldier slightly beyond the platform). As before, the bulk of the action happens in the bottom half, with some comic business between the colonel and his recalcitrant charges, who clearly detest his disciplinarian nit-picking and are consequently delighted when he gets soaked later on - though they quickly switch to straight-faced solemnity once he turns to face them directly.

The untinted print on Flicker Alley’s DVD has some very mild surface damage, an almost certainly unintentional jump-cut just before the colonel appears (it’s impossible to tell if this is due to print damage or flaws in the original), and more severe chemical decay right at the very end. However, the underlying image is in very acceptable condition, with plenty of fine detail. Eric Beheim’s electronic score begins with an appropriately military march, but is otherwise completely generic, and makes no musical acknowledgement of the business with the bucket.

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