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The Fine Art of Bourgeois Buffoonery

Les Timidités de Rigadin (A Shy Youth)

Georges Monca, Société Cinématographique des Auteurs et Gens de Lettres (SCAGL), France, 1910

In Les Timidités de Rigadin (A Shy Youth—left), the well-mannered but overly shy Rigadin (Charles Prince) has been sent to pay a call on a proper bourgeois family (with a particular eye on their marriageable daughter). Unfortunately, the family is out for the evening and the servants have seized the opprtunity to throw themselves a party in which they burlesque the antics of their employers. Finding the housemaid (Mistinguett) dressed in the daughter’s finery, Rigadin mistakes her for the object of his visit, whereupon she decides to have a little fun at his expense. She flirts with him in decidedly unladylike fashion and plies him with wine, and before the evening is over, she has him singing a Wagner aria in a costume composed of kitchen utensils.

The housemaid (far right) who teases the hero with a generous expanse of shapely leg is played by the popular singer-comedienne known as “Mistinguett” (b. Jeanne Bourgeois, 1875-1956), who had also enjoyed great success in the French music hall. In 1908, both Prince and Mistinguett signed with the Pathé affiliate SCAGL to act in contemporary story films, but Prince had become so popular by mid-1910 that Pathé gave him his own comedy series. He was soon in charge of the weekly series, in which the character of “Rigadin” differed little from the one he had created for the music hall: a poor man’s bourgeois whose efforts to achieve respectability and find romance were usually wrecked by a girl or her mother.

Rigadin peintre cubiste

Georges Monca, Pathé-Frères, France, 1912

In Rigadin peintre cubiste (right), Rigadin is so impressed by a visit to an exhibition of modern art that he decides to create his own cubist canvas; as naïve as he is earnest—he assumes that cubist painters work from live models—he reconfigures his mother-in-law as an image of angular body parts.

Prince’s extremely popular character was successful not only in France, but in England (where he was known as “Whiffles”), Spain (“Selustiano”), Italy (“Timofeo Tartufini”), Germany (“Moritz”), and Russia (“Prenz”). Hence the English title of Rigadin peintre cubisteWhiffles, Cubic Artist.

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