For fans of early haunted house thrillers this short subject could serve as an offbeat Halloween appetizer, an ideal curtain-raiser to THE OLD DARK HOUSE or something along those lines, but for film buffs it is a fascinating artifact that offers more than meets the eye. AU SECOURS! was the product of a collaboration between director Abel Gance, best remembered for his wildly adventurous cinematic tribute to Napoleon, and Max Linder, remembered as the first great comedy star of the movies. By 1907 Linder was starring in and directing his own brief comic films in France while Charlie Chaplin was still a teenager trying to break into the English music-halls. Linder was eventually overshadowed by his younger rival, and by the 1920s, after a harsh tour of duty in the First World War, he was an emotionally troubled man who told friends that he no longer felt funny. Abel Gance, meanwhile, who had acted in some of Linder's comedies early in his career, had since emerged as one of France's most iconoclastic young film-making talents, a director who vigorously experimented with film and loved to devise new visual techniques and optical effects. In 1923 an exhausted and depleted Linder combined his abilities with those of the energetic Gance, and the result was this eerie horror-comedy.
The premise of AU SECOURS! will be familiar to everyone who has ever heard a ghost story: Max plays a man who accepts a bet that he cannot remain in an allegedly haunted castle for one hour (11 PM to midnight) without having to call for help. During his time in the castle Max faces a relentless barrage of nightmarish experiences. He encounters a waxwork servant who carries his own head, snakes that crawl into his clothing, a walking skeleton at least ten-feet tall, an alligator, furniture that comes to life, etc. And just when Max believes he's survived everything and is on the verge of winning his bet, he finds there's one more nasty surprise awaiting him.
This haunted house tale allows Gance full opportunity to play with the basic techniques of cinematic trickery such as slow motion, reverse footage, high-speed montage, negative image, and other devices, while it allows Max Linder the opportunity to explore a deeper and darker screen persona. Although in the opening scenes he is essentially reprising the usual 'Max' character we know from his many short comedies, the twists of the tale soon reveal a Max we haven't seen before: tense, frightened, eventually distraught. Despite the comic moments scattered along the way Max plays his role with a grim intensity that is disturbing and striking.
Although he appeared in one more movie, AU SECOURS! is Max Linder's last surviving work. Its morbid imagery and creepy atmospherics feel all the more macabre today, considering what Fate had in store for its leading player: less than two years after the completion of this film, ill and deeply depressed, Linder died in a suicide pact with his wife on Halloween Day. AU SECOURS! has a happy ending, but Max Linder did not.
Source : IMDb