carrying the gag to its limits
by Douglas Messerli
Alice Guy (Blaché) and Romeo Bosetti Le Matela alcolique (The Drunken Mattress) / 1906
Alice Guy’s and Romeo Bosetti’s Gaumont production of Le Matelas alcoliqe (The Drunken Mattress) (1906) is certainly of her best early comedies, and is quite clearly the most physically engaged of her works. In this 10:15 short, a man playing in drag a maid cleaning and stitching up of an old mattress in need of repair.
Guy determined to put her central character in woman’s clothing more out of necessity
than comic intent; surely no everyday woman might be able to lug around a double mattress with a drunken
man stitched up within. Even the male behind the character is challenged by the piece of bedding as
she transfers it from a couple’s bedroom into a field in order to re-stuff and sew
it together before returning it in an almost impossible voyage back into the village
Somehow the drunken lout survives, along with maid, both of whom are carted away by local police in reward for their remarkable endurance.
The gag here is taken so far that eventually it loses its comic potential so that it almost seems necessary to bury it before, bringing it back to life, it grows funnier than ever, particularly as the proper couple crawl nicely into bed with the all-too-human prop. By film’s end one has to wonder who of this bedtime threesome is the most offended by the situation: the wife, her husband, or the now probably sober man sewn up into the “sack.” Groucho Marx might have simply curled up and made the best of it.
Los Angeles, June 18, 2021
Reprinted from My Queer Cinema (blog) and World Cinema Review (June 2021).