Madame Mystery • Another Nice Mess




  Madame Mystery  
 
18 April 1926
Pathé Exchange
silent short
2-reels

 

Directors: Richard Wallace, Stan Laurel  Producer: Hal Roach  Titles: H.M. Walker
Cinematography: Floyd Jackman, Harry Gerstadt, Len Powers  Editor: Richard C. Currier  Supervising director: F. Richard Jones

A struggling artist (Tyler Brooke) is in his studio painting his latest portrait, a young lady.  Desperate, he suggests he can sell the picture in order to buy some food.  The woman subject stands down from her perch but trips and knocks the painting into the fireplace, burning it up.  The clumsy woman is given a swift kick up her rear end for her troubles.  Except, the "woman" is actually a man dressed up - the struggling author, James Finlayson.
The artist tries to blow the ashes from the scorched painting, which now resembles a comical caricature of the original image.  He is enraged and accuses the author of ruining their chances to get any money.  The artist paces to his window and opens it.  Out in the street, a woman drives her car at speed with her scarf waving in the wind.  She is Madame Mysterieux (Theda Bara).  The title card reads that her secret activities have baffled the keenest minds in all of Europe.
Whilst driving at high speed, she looks behind her to notice she is being pursued by another vehicle.  "The Man Of A Thousand Eyes" (Fred Malatesta) has a sinister look on his face as he drives after her.  As the two cars drive past the artists' window, the artists calls for the author to come and observe the chase.  The villain in the pursuing car pulls out a gun and aims it at the woman.
Madame Mysterieux crashes the pursuing car onto its roof as he tries to overtake her on a tight corner, then speeds off.  The artist and author rush into the street to assist the villain.  Whilst the tall co-occupant of the car lies injured on the floor gasping for air like a dying fish, the villain is led into the artists' home.  The author hoists the tall man onto his back and carries him off into the apartment also.  When the artist checks the man's clothing he discovers the man is in fact a Secret Service agent.
Still dazed from the crash, the agent sees the author (still in drag costume) through blurry eyes and remarks on how beautiful (s)he is.  The author humours the agent for a while until the agent decides to assert himself and take up his bedding right there on the floor.  The artist and the author discover a letter in the clothing of the agent and read it.  A hefty reward is being offered for the recapture of a container being carried by the woman whom the agent was chasing in his car.  Of course, needing the money, the two men decide to pursue the woman themselves and claim the reward.
Madame Mysterieux arrives at the American Consulate with her container - a rubber explosive powerful enough to blow up an entire city.  In yet another twist, the official there praises her efforts and informs her that she will earn the respect of the government if she safely delivers the device in New York.  Back at the apartment, the villains awaken to discover they have been "hijacked".
Madame Mysterieux arrives at the dock to board the HMS Royal.  As she walks up the walkway her foot gets stuck in the runs.  Captain Schmaltz (Hardy) comes to the rescue by removing her foot from her shoe but then drops it through the hole left in the walkway and it falls into the ocean below.
The artist and the author arrive to board the boat in search of their woman.  Both men have robbed the villains of their passports and try to board using them.  After Finlayson is given an on-the-spot health check, the two men have to try and justify their passport photos to the stewards (Charlie Hall does a brilliant double-take!)  The two men are refused permisison to board because Finlayson doesn't have the whiskers as seen in "his" passport photo.  This is quickly addressed when the artist (Brooke) paints a face - with whiskers onto the author's bald head.  With Finlayson's head tilted backwards, he re-boards the boat with his new face drawn onto his cranium.
The two men waste no time in seeking out the woman's state room but she notices them lurking about.  On deck, the captain is also suspicious when he sees one of the men facing forwards but with his feet facing backwards!  "Rheumatism" says the artist!
All of this under the watchful eye of Mysterieux, who tricks the author into revealing his true identity.
The villain from the beginning of the film manages to board the boat unseen in order to carry out his mission to find the woman.  As she sleeps, the two imposters (Finlayson and Brooke) drill a hole through her door in order to spy on her.  As they stand outside looking through the hole, the villain enters her room from the far side.  This disturbs the woman into waking up, who is then held at gunpoint by the villain.  She recovers her formula from the vase she keeps in it and begins to back up to the door.  The formula is then taken out of her hands through the hole in the door by the men on the other side.
Finlayson quickly hides the formula in his mouth as panic breaks out in the ship.  Unfortunately for him, the villain manages to shoot him from behind, through the door and causes him to swallow it!  Madame Mysterieux busts in with the captain and explains the formula is helium-nitrate, the most powerful explosive known and that he has swallowed enough of it to blow up the entire ship.
Finlayson beings to feel sick and twitchy, and walks out onto deck where the villain declares "for his country" and kicks him in the rear.  This starts the reaction of the formula to expand inside Finlayson, who then starts to expand rapidly.  As the artist tries to keep his friend from floating upwards, filled with helium, the two men hook up and float away into the sky.  A pelican pecks at Finlayson's bloated stomach and the obvious happens.

Favourite bit
As James Finlayson and Tyler Brooke attempt to board the ship, the steward takes a look at Fin's passport photo - which looks nothing like him!  It's the double-take from the steward that is hilarious the first time you see it!

Facts
•Production S-8 - All Star series with Theda Bara.
•According to Rob Stone's list, this was filmed December 1-24, 1925, but according to his book, filming began on the 10th.
•Copyrighted March 15, 1926.
•Foreign version released in 5 reels.
•This was the only time Theda Bara and Oliver Hardy shared screen time together.
•The full 2-reel version of the film exists but is extremely rare and only in the hands of private collectors.  I have a DVD print of the complete version.
•A few seconds of footage from this film (with Theda Bara) was later inserted into 45 Minutes From Hollywood (1926).
•Theda Bara was paid $15,000 for her appearance in the film.
this lobby card/still which was used to advertise/promote the film shows Charlie Hall, Charley Young, Ed & Chet Brandenburg and Harry Bowen in the pile-up.  None of these guys appear to be in the actual film; and neither is this scene.
Did you notice?
•When the artist looks out of his window and sees the two cars chasing, he signals to the author to come and see.  Shortly afterwards, when The Man Of A Thousand Eyes pulls out his gun, a close-up on the two cars in the street shows them approaching the same corner as seen previously.
•There are two big surprises in the opening 3 minutes of the film.  Firstly, the "woman" being painted in the opening scene is actually a man - and secondly, the "villain" chasing Theda Bara whilst shooting at her is actually a Secret Service agent.
•A reward of 50,000 rubles is offered for the return of the container being held by Madame Mysterieux.
•The name of the ship is the H.M.S. Royal.
•Oliver Hardy is introduced as Oliver "Babe" Hardy -- on 9 mins 27 secs into the film.
•The guy on the right in this lobby card/still, standing next to Theda Bara... is actually James Finlayson with his head tilted back!  The "face" you see is actually drawn on to his bald head to give the impression of his resemblance to the man whose passport he has stolen in order to board the HMS Royal.
•The steward who initially refuses James Finlayson on board because his face did not resemble his passport photo tells him to come back when his whiskers had grown back.  A few moments later Finlayson presents the exact same passport to the same steward, who then lets him board.  Given that the photo in the passport is quite unusual, I would suggest that the steward must have been very dumb to have not remembered it so soon after first seeing it.
•The life preserver on the boat says SS Royal, though references throughout the film mention it being the RMS Royal.
•Theda Bara hid her formula in a vase.
•Fred Malatesta appears to be left-handed.
•Theda Bara's acting in the film is both unrealistic, slow and overplayed for dramatic expression (opinion).
•There is a problem with the continuity regarding the hole in the state room door.  When the guys drill the hole it is at eye-height.  But when Theda Bara backs up later she is able to pass the formula backwards through the hole with her hand.  This doesn't make sense due to the height.  If the hole was at eye-height she would have had to lift her arm up into the air and would not have been able to simple pass it through the hole at the height of where her hand was in relation to the door.
•James Finlayson inserts the ball-shaped formula into his mouth in order to hide it.  There is a similar scene in Laurel & Hardy's "Our Relations" some ten years later where he does a similar stunt with a garlic bulb.
•When James Finlayson is seen floating on the boat, the strings holding his stomach up can be seen.

Theda Bara
Madame Mysterieux
James Finlayson
Struggling author
Oliver Hardy
Captain Schmaltz
Tyler Brooke
Hungry artist
Fred Malatesta
The Man Of A Thousand Eyes
   
UNIDENTIFIED
Agent
UNIDENTIFIED
American Consulate butler
UNIDENTIFIED
American Consulate official
UNIDENTIFIED
Telegram messenger
UNIDENTIFIED
Porter (*Harry Bowen?)
UNIDENTIFIED
Steward
   
UNIDENTIFIED
Passenger who asks for match

CREDITS POSTER & LOBBY CARDS





SHOT ON THE LOT
The following scenes were filmed on the Hal Roach Back Lot and are included in the TOUR


Acknowledgements:
Max Lanzisera (help in obtaining print)
Jorge Finkielman (lobby cards + cleaning)

This page was last updated on: 22 December 2017