La Maison tranquille, 1901, 1m19s
Star Film Catalogue No. 325-326
A genteel couple try to take tea, but are interrupted first by the sound of their rowdy upstairs lodgers, and then by one of them putting his foot through their ceiling, causing clouds of plaster dust to fall on their table. They quickly leave the room, while their neighbours steal their wine with a fishing line. One of them descends into the downstairs room, wraps up the turkey in the tablecloth, climbs on the table and passes it up through the hole. He then dons a sheet and, with the aid of two improvised props, pretends to be a wild elephantine figure. The woman from downstairs walks back into the room, sees it, screams and runs off. The lodger drapes the sheet over a couple of chairs and climbs back up through the ceiling. The woman runs back in armed with a broom, and hits the sheet, causing the chairs to collapse. She and her husband summon a policeman, and show him the hole in their ceiling. As he looks up, the lodgers pour a bucket of flour over him and drop their bedding through the hole, leaving him trapped and helpless on the table. He gets up and leaves. All three lodgers descend through the hole, barricade the door and begin to trash the place.
What Is Home Without The Boarder? (whose French title translates as the sarcastic ‘The Peaceful House’) is essentially an excuse to revive the split-level set previously unveiled in The Doctor and the Monkey (Le Savant et le chimpanzé, 1900) - in fact, the upstairs bedroom is identical to the one in the earlier film, though the laboratory has now been replaced with a tastefully decorated dining room. Once again, the dominant mood is one of violent slapstick, though here there’s a better creative use made of simultaneous events happening on two levels, and more sense of a structured narrative, even if it concludes just as destructively as its predecessor.
The contrast between upstairs and downstairs is established in the first seconds, with a genteel couple having a quiet meal (the quietness conveyed by their comparative stillness) and their three rowdy lodgers having a wild party upstairs. They quickly make the transition from boisterousness to vandalism, outright theft (of their neighbours’ food and wine), practical jokes, and blatant disrespect for the law. There are no apparent special effects other than the set design and its breakaway floor - even the “transformation” of one of the lodgers into a strange elephantine creature is effected onscreen.
The film is a gleeful celebration of anarchy in its purest form, anticipating the Keystone Kops, the Marx Brothers and the Three Stooges by decades, but very much in the same spirit. No attempt is made to distinguish the lodgers: identically dressed, they’re merely three facets of the same destructive force, as demonstrated by the fact that the other two continue developing bits of comic business with the stolen meal even when all eyes should be on the intruder downstairs.
The untinted print on Flicker Alley’s DVD is generally in excellent condition, with most of the damage restricted to the far left-hand side of the frame - handily, much of the action tends towards the right. Joe Rinaudo’s score has rather more than a hint of a demented fairground calliope, which is entirely appropriate.