Un monsieur qui a mangé du taureau: slapstick comedy film short with a possible ulterior message

Eugène Deslaw, “Un monsieur qui a mangé du taureau” (1935)

We all know of people who spout a lot of BULL but what happens to people who accidentally or deliberately swallow some of that BULL? This is the premise to a silent film made in 1907 by a film-maker unknown, to whose film Deslaw added some introductory titles and a voice-over commentary by French comic artist Bétove. The film I saw did not have the commentary. The film demonstrates what happens when you eat the flesh of some exotic animal whose nature you know nothing of.

With a total running time of seven minutes, the plot is simple: a lady serves her guests the flesh of a bull. While relaxing after dinner with some cognac, cigars and a few jokes, one of the guests takes down some bull horns from his hostess’s wall, puts them over his head and instantly transforms into a raging taureau. After headbutting the other guests who scramble for safety onto furniture which then promptly falls over or off the walls, the maddened guest terrorises the neighbours and runs out into the streets attacking passers-by and the local gendarmes. The panicking authorities place a call with Paris Central Police HQ who transfer it to Madrid Central Police HQ who in turn promptly despatch a team of matadors and toreadors the same day. (Ah, how efficient French and Spanish police were in those pre-EU days! Ah, how wonderful and speedy was Samuel Morse’s telegraph technology, faster than the Internet!) Meanwhile our Raging Bull takes on a man dressed as a donkey and the two, erm, monkey around quite a bit before going on their separate ways. When los señores de la corrida arrive by walking into town (as you do: the Pyrenees obviously were no trouble crossing over) from Madrid, they promptly do battle with the gentleman. They successfully “subdue” him – for once, I won’t spoil the ending by giving it away – and the police promptly march him off into the sunset. Olé!

It’s a wonderful piece of pure slapstick comedy based on the notion that you literally are or become what you eat. Maybe there is an ulterior, perhaps rather racist premise insinuated here: don’t absorb yourself too much in other people’s culture (especially if it’s a Third World culture) in case you become like them and go savage. The original film is self-explanatory and hardly needed an additional commentary or titles from Deslaw and Bétove. I imagine the commentary as a sarcastic send-up and criticism of the racism that might be implied in the film’s premise: that French people should beware of adopting aspects of other people’s cultures lest the exotic values of such cultures degrade French culture itself and turn French people into savages. Considerable acrobatics are involved with people, ladies especially, somersaulting over cupboards and street furniture. The bull horns end up quite bloody and one shudders to think of the carnage and the blood trail left along the way. I didn’t see anyone actually being poked or prodded or pin-pricked to death by the horns but the agility of the actors to avoid such a fate is nothing short of dazzling. The action is quick, the editing sharp and no-nonsense, and the whole story is wrapped up in five minutes.

I’ve heard the voiceover commentary actually demeans the original film so it’s just as well I didn’t experience Deslaw’s superfluous additions. Usually with silents, there would be piano accompaniment so viewers can add their own musical or voice-over accompaniment if they wish! Perhaps this would be an amusing film to show as part of a film festival with a vegan or vegetarian theme.

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