The Merry Frolics Of Satan (Les 400 Farces Du Diable) 1906

Director: Georges Méliès

Adventurer William Crackford and his valet John are invited to the laboratory of Alcofrisbas. The sorcerer offers a demonstration of his powers and sells Crackford some magic pills that will enable him to travel anywhere he desires. The price is his soul...

English speed enthusiast and engineer William Crackford and his valet John visit the animated chamber of the sorcerer Alcofrisbas and purchase the magic pills that will enable them to travel the world with ease. After they leave, Alcofrisbas reveals himself to be Satan, and proceeds to heap mischief and torment upon the travelling Englishman at every stage of their journey.

A first pill transforms into a huge set of luggage, complete with footmen, which in turn becomes the train that takes Crackford across Europe. The footmen, in reality the Devil's imps in disguise, cause chaos for both the travellers and the staff of the hotel where they make their first stop. As they continue their journey, their transport becomes an 'infernal carriage' which takes them up for a ride through the heavens before finally crashing down to earth, depositing them safely back in their home. Their relief is short-lived, as the Devil then re-appears to call in his debt. . .

Of all the roles that Georges Méliès performed, both in front of and behind the camera, one can assume that his favourite was the Devil. His Satanic Majesty was a character transplanted from the stage of the Robert-Houdin theatre (as was his current alter-ego Alcofrisbas, who also appears in A Trip to the Moon), where the caped and goatee'd Mephisto-Méliès would assume a devilish persona to spice up the illusions he performed.

Not that he was alone in this. In his book 'The Satanic Screen', Nikolas Schreck (probably not his real name) points out that in decadent fin-de-siecle Paris, a taste for diablerie was considered chic. The Parisian Devil was a beguiling, sophisticated cultural figure, an exotic villain who featured in both fine art and popular entertainment, in a hedonistic city where Black Masses were not uncommon as a diversion in high society circles.

Since filming the interplanetary adventures of A Trip To The Moon or An Impossible Voyage, Méliès had improved his studio, broadening the set and adding a pit beneath the actors. Consequently, the cast of Merry Frolics regularly disappear into the scenery or are swallowed up by the floor. As the film's title suggests, the mood here is a light-hearted one, and the Devil is less a villain than a mischievous trickster.

It's also a good example of showman Méliès' consistent focus on the grand finale. Often he would strive for a single compelling image or dramatic device, only afterward constructing a narrative to showcase it. Here, we have the celestial coach ride. The "astral carriage", driven by "an apocalyptic horse", is shoved into a smouldering Mount Vesuvius by the Devil's automobile and then blown into space, where Crackford and his valet are greeted by a typically "Mélièsque" array of shooting stars and other animated heavenly bodies.

Unfortunately for them, Mephisto-Méliès has one final spectacle to reveal; a vision of Hell, where our unfortunate hero is dragged to spend eternity being roasted on a giant spit!

End Credits:
Georges Méliès (Alcofrisbas/Satan), Extras from the Théatre du Chatelet et. al.
Producer/Editor/Designer: Georges Méliès
Star Films, France
Running time 17 mins.

Georges Méliès - First Wizard Of Cinema (Flicker Alley)

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