The charming Max Linder has a fashion disaster on the way to his own wedding and ends up shoeless. With no proper replacements available, Max must convince the Parisian smart set that the grungy worker boots he is wearing are actually the latest style.
About eight decades ahead of his time…
Chaplin called him his professor. He was one of the very first international movie stars. He was the toast of France back when France was top dog in the movie game. And yet Max Linder remains an obscure figure for many in the moviegoing public.
How do you describe Linder and his Max character? Well, like Chaplin’s Little Tramp, Max was an eternal optimist. Unlike Chaplin, his character often started out at the top of the socioeconomic scale. Some of Linder’s French films had much in common with the works of P.G. Wodehouse, in which a well-to-do fellow must extricate himself from a mess of his own making. Others just involved Max getting into mischief, such as trying to steal a snapshot of a woman in her bathing costume. (We’ll be covering Linder’s American films at a later time.)
Max Sets the Style combines both flavors of Max. He plays a perky young fellow who is going to be married. A groom needs a necktie and he attempts to tie the stubborn thing in front of a mirror. Unfortunately, the mirror is hung above a fireplace and before he knows what has happened, Max’s dainty little high-heeled dress shoes have melted.
Max doesn’t detect a problem until he loses his sole in the middle of the street. (Call a priest! Hee hee heeeeee.) This is a disaster! How can he present himself to his betrothed in bare feet? In a panic, he buys the shoes right off the feet of the first person he sees. Only after the transaction is complete does he realize that he has bought a pair of lace-up work boots.
Max has no choice. He must try to brazen it out. He marches into the drawing room where the bride’s family is waiting, declares his shoes to be the latest style… and promptly gets thrown out. Max has two options: he can either come clean and confess his accident to his fiancée or he can continue his charade. The first option is more sensible but who comes to comedy for sensible behavior? Max is out to make work shoes the stylish accessory of the season!
Max Sets the Style is a featherweight comedy. It practically floats away as you watch it. The plot barely exists, it’s basically an excuse for Max to do his thing. However, no one could do comedy quite like Max Linder. A mercurial creatures, Max dances about giddily when things are going right and descends into sobbing despair when they go wrong. These emotions are communicated eloquently by Linder’s graceful movements and his huge eyes.
The story is told with a minimum of title cards and in spite of language and cultural barriers and the passage of more than a century since the film was made, the simple plot is communicated loud and clear. This is a testament to Linder’s skill as a pantomime comedian.
Max Sets the Style is not Linder’s best surviving short (from his French period, my favorite is The Troubles of a Grass Widower) but it is a light bit of fun and is shows off his charisma and distinct screen personality. The plot has been used time and again in movies and on television but rarely with the magic that Linder’s personality gives it.
Linder was one of the most popular stars of the pre-feature era and it’s high time that more people discover why. Do give him a try.
Oh and one more side note. Ironically, the lace-up work boots that Max dons are far more familiar and stylish to modern audiences than his dainty high-heeled dress shoes. Max was grunge almost eight decades before it hit the mainstream. Not too shabby.
Movies Silently’s Score: ★★½
Where can I see it?
Max Sets the Style was released on DVD as part of the Laugh with Max Linder disc. It’s now out-of-print but is available used.