Seven Years Bad Luck (1921)
Thanks (again) to TCM’s “Silent Sundays” series, I watched my first Max Linder movie, Seven Years Bad Luck. Slapstick comedy typically asks us to accept the outrageous in the name of fun, but in Seven Years Bad Luck, Max Linder engineers a narrative context for the madness, asking us to accept nothing other than that “Max” is a superstitious twit. Where as many of the best silent comedies dwell on the inadvertent or unintended consequences, often stemming from the best of intentions, Max manufactures his own consequences. There’s no marveling at the tenacity as in a Keaton and none of the heartbreaking empathy as in a Chaplin, but there are a lot of laughs at Max unswerving belief in a silly superstition.
In Seven Years Bad Luck, Max Linder’s comic screen character “Max” accidentally breaks a mirror in his home. Believing this to be a very bad sign, Max sets about creating the bad luck he believes he has been curses with. From that simple premise, Max Linder delivers a slapstick powerhouse. This movie is very funny, and Linder has a similiar kind of kinectic grace that you can find in the Charlie Chaplin. Chaplin himself often cited Linder as an inspiration. I always love a comedy that delivers a twist on the slip-on-banana-peel and krazy kop chase slapstick familiars, and Seven Years Bad Luck more than lives up to that standard. This might not be the most innovative silent comedy, but it’s refreshingly fresh.
After watching Seven Years Bad Luck and enjoying it so much, I wondered why Max Linder does not loom larger in silent comedy history. I was vaguely familiar with the name, mostly via mentions from Chaplin, but as I said, I had never seen a Linder flick. A wee bit of research, reveals the sad tale of Max Linder, including substance abuse, war injuries, and ultimately a suicide pact with his wife in Paris. All biographical information specifically notes that he was never very successful with U.S. audiences, even in the film comedy heyday when Chaplin/Keaton/Lloyd were busting the box offices. The questions is why?
I’ve given it some thought, and I think at its heart, Linder’s film persona “Max” may have been unrelatable to the audience of the day. When you think of the successful personae of other silent comedians, the term “everyman” comes up a lot. Linder’s Max is an well-to-do man about town, wearing tails and a top hat. It’s a far cry from Chaplin’s tramp or Lloyd’s hardworking boot-strapper. Perhaps that kind of suave, self assurance just didn’t sit well with American audiences in the 1920’s. Judging by the result of Seven Years Bad Luck, Max is ripe with comedic possibilities, as his assured swagger in the face of wacky situations and inanities is very funny indeed. Linder’s career is well worth revisiting, and he deserves a serious revival. I’m personally looking forward to seeing more of Max Linder’s work when it comes my way. Don’t miss Seven Years Bad Luck, if for no other reason than the famous “mirror scene,” a gag that you may recognize from its many revisits by other comedians.
- Seven Years Bad Luck at IMDB
- Seven Years Bad Luck at The Silent Era
- Seven Years Bad Luck at TCM
- Buy Seven Years Bad Luck at TCM Shop
You can watch Seven Years Bad Luck in five parts on YouTube. Part 1 is below and the complete playlist is here.