The anarchic Onésime is back and this time he enters a marriage lottery. Chaos ensued, obviously, with our hero escaping his intended via bicycle.
If this doesn’t scare you away from gambling…
One of the happiest discoveries of my time as a silent film fan has been the wonderful cinematic madness of director Jean Durand. A popular filmmaker at Gaumont pre-WWI, he doesn’t enjoy the same level of recognition as his fellow directors Alice Guy and Louis Feuillade although he was considered to be their equal at the time. His specialty was comedy, particularly the Onésime series with Ernest Bourbon in the lead, but he also dabbled in drama and some gloriously violent westerns shot 100% in France. (Needless to say, this was half a century before the Spaghetti Western craze.)
To describe Onésime to someone who has never seen the series is a challenge. The films are strange, surreal, breaking the laws of time and space and gleefully embracing death, dismemberment and wild animals. Onésime, You’ll Get Married… or Else has some of those ingredients—a wild chase serves as the climax of the picture, but it also employs tropes that will be familiar to any comedy fan. Durand’s pictures have a manic lightness that sets them apart from Keystone films of the same period and I recommend them for anyone who, like me, is not exactly in love with slapstick.
The film opens with Onésime spotting a newspaper advertisement for a romantic auction—a group of young ladies have agreed to be paired with a gentleman by lottery. Object: matrimony. I’ve never seen a straight up bachelorette auction in American comedy but notion is sometimes employed as the more innocent picnic basket auction (with bidders buying a picnic lunch and the company of the lady who packed it with the idea that she is the main attraction) and you can see a silent era example of this in the Charles Ray baseball picture The Busher. The bachelor auction is the more common variation and many sitcoms of the last three decades or so are incomplete without one.
In this case, it’s a blind lottery with only the ankles of the ladies being visible to the excited gentlemen. (It’s worth mentioning that none of the fellas at the auction are exactly oil paintings.)
In a twist most of us will see coming a mile away, the excited Onésime is presented with the lady who matches his ticket number (lucky number six!) and… she is at least twice his age. This strikes me as rather stretching the definition of “jeunes femmes” as worded in the advertisement and that Onésime would have grounds for declaring a cheat but our hero is not noted for his calm contemplation.
Before you can say, “Onésime, you’ll get married… or else!” our title character has been dragged to church with his happy bride by his side. When he is called on to sign the marriage certificate, he refuses and flees on a borrowed penny-farthing high-seater bicycle. This mode of transportation would have been seen as outdated and humorous in 1913, by the way, as day-to-day cyclists had abandoned it in favor of the modern “safety bicycle” by the late 1880s.
His admittedly hipster choice of vehicles proves too cumbersome for a quick getaway and Onésime is quickly recaptured. (Spoilers) However, the auctioneer interferes—the bride is a number nine and not a number six! The real number six, as comely a jeune femme as ever has graced the Gaumont screen, is brought forth and all ends well.
The real number six.
Mm-hmm. Well, we won’t say anything if you won’t, Onésime.
Onésime, You’ll Get Married… or Else doesn’t reach the surreal heights of Onésime vs. Onésime or Onésime, Clockmaker but it does bend things just enough to keep the audience guessing and having a good time. Further, we get a touch of fourth wall breaking—well, maybe cracking—with Onésime rejoicing over his discovery that number six will still win a number nine.
The post-WWI film industry was not kind to either Jean Durand and Ernest Bourbon and they did not enjoy the same success in the world of feature films. Further Durand was not championed with the same enthusiasm as his contemporaries and his reputation is still playing catch-up. He is yet another example of the buried treasure just waiting to be discovered by modern silent film fans.
Onésime, You’ll Get Married… or Else is not the wildest of the Onésime films or the Durand films but it is a nice bit of fun, especially considering that it runs about seven minutes. We get comedy, anarchy and fun with old-timey bicycles, what more could you want?
Where can I see it?
Available, along with a generous selection of other Jean Durand films, on DVD as part of the Gaumont Treasures Volume Two box set released by Kino Lorber. The entire set is well worth checking out as it will fill in some gaps in cinema history and provide much entertainment too.
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