Georges Melies Titles from the Blackhawk Films Anthologies

Back in the mid-1970s, Blackhawk Films managed to acquire the distribution rights for a number of Georges Méliès films, mostly from his incredibly prolific 1903-1904 period. In those pre-VHS days, that meant Super 8 and 16mm prints sold mainly to the home and library markets, which was pretty much Blackhawk’s whole business.

After acquiring the commercial rights in 1975, Blackhawk assembled a number of one-reel anthologies that each included two to four Méliès films. Several titles were also released individually. These included A Trip to the Moon (Le Voyage dans la Lune, 1901) and Conquest of the Pole (À la Conquête du Pôle, 1912). (You can jump to the title list here.)

The tale of those Méliès prints is actually a rather interesting one (to those who are interested). Georges’ brother Gaston had run the Star Films branch here in the US, which had been set up circa 1903 largely in an effort to staunch the incredible amount of bootlegging that was robbing Méliès of enormous sums. Georges (usually shooting with 2 cameras side-by-side) would ship cut negatives to Gaston in the US, who used these these to manufacture prints — thus circumventing costly import duties levied on individual prints. Gaston also copyrighted many Star Films releases, depositing dozens of 35mm paper prints with the Library of Congress, many of which remain preserved today.

Initially based in New York, Gaston later moved operations out west, where he also began producing his own films, mostly one- and two-reel westerns. (This is somewhat ironic. Many US filmmakers during the period fled to the western states to escape the reach of the genuinely thuggish efforts of the Motion Picture Patents Company [aka the Edison Trust], an international combine of 10 movie producers and manufacturers that sought to control the entire movie industry right down to the cameras. Georges Méliès would be one of the MPPC’s members. The MPPC was ultimately ruled an illegal monopoly after a long litigation.)

In 1912, when Star Films went bankrupt, Gaston was in charge of liquidating the company’s US holdings. Supposedly without the knowledge of Georges (although this seems debatable), Gaston sold to Vitagraph all of the prints and negatives in his possession (numerous films by both brothers). Gaston then set sail for Asia, shooting films along the way. Sadly, he died not terribly long after, and most of his last films succumbed to poor storage and other climatic ills. (Although not a remarkable film artist, Gaston Méliès is himself worth a rediscovery by cinema historians. The only book I know of to discuss him at any length is The Star Film Ranch: Texas’ First Picture Show by Frank Thompson [Plano, TX: Republic of Texas Press / Wordware Publishing, 1996; ISBN 1-55622-481-8]. It includes a comprehensive filmography, numerous rare photographs, and reprints of contemporaneous Texas newspaper articles. But I digress….)

Ten years later, in 1925, Vitagraph was bought by the new Warner Brothers company.

Flash forward to sometime in the 1930s, when none other than legendary producer Leon Schlesinger (best known for Looney Tunes and Merry Melodies cartoons) became interested in the collection of Méliès films stashed away in the Warner Brothers vaults. He managed to convince Warners to sell the negatives of a number of the Georges Méliès films to him. Schlesinger held onto these for the rest of his life.

When Schlesinger died in 1949, his widow donated the films to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences but, for whatever reason, refused to permit access to them. Later, in order to preserve the decaying nitrate negatives, the Academy made fine grain duplicates. In 1975, after 26 years, Mrs. Schlesinger turned over full control of the collection to the Academy. Blackhawk Films purchased the commercial rights, while the Academy made prints for its permanent collection and then deposited the original negatives with the Library of Congress.

Thirty of those 65 films Leon Schlesinger prised from the Warner Brothers vaults proved to be titles thought to have been lost forever. This was a significant recovery, because at the time scarcely 100 of the 500 or so films made by Georges Méliès were known to have survived. (The search has continued over the years, thanks in large part to Georges’ grand-daughter, who was raised by he and his wife. In 2000, the 200th Méliès film to be recovered was screened for the first time in nearly a century at the Pordenone Silent Film Festival in Italy.)

Blackhawk’s Super 8 and 16mm Melies anthologies and individual films circulated widely. Most film libraries had at least one if not more Blackhawk Melies titles, pizza parlors that ran Super 8 film loops (a ’70s lost tradition) always had a couple, and home collectors all over the world bought them up.

Which, at last, brings me to the point of this post. It seems that nowhere online is there a complete list of the Méliès titles included in the Blackhawk anthologies. So…here it is. Some of these I own, but most I’ve culled from various stray library listings online as well as the Em Gee Film Library catalog. To aid anyone who comes a-Googling in the future, I’ve mostly eschewed the accents in the Blackhawk titles.

If you know of any that I’ve missed or mangled, post a comment and let me know. (And thanks to Bruce Calvert for having done just that.)

La Comedie et Magique de Méliès (aka The Comedy and Magic of Melies)
The Witch’s Revenge (Le Sorcier, 1903) and The Inn Where No Man Rests (L’Auberge du Bon Repos, 1903)

Extaordinary Illusions of 1904
The Mischievous Whiskers (aka Untamable Whiskers; Le Roi du maquillage, 1904) and Tchin-Chao, The Chinese Conjurer (Le Thaumaturge chinois, 1904)

La Fantasie de Méliès (aka The Fantasies of Melies)
Extraordinary Illusions (Illusions funambulesques, 1903), The Enchanted Well (aka The Magic Well; Le Puits fantastique, 1903), and The Apparition (Le Revenant, 1903)

The Imaginative George Melies
Bob Kick, the Mischievous Kid (Bob Kick, l’enfant terrible, 1903), The Oracle of Delhi (L’Oracle de Delphes, 1903), The Drawing Lesson (aka The Living Statue; La Statue animée, 1903)

The Magic of Melies
Jupiter’s Thunderbolts (Le Tonnerre de Jupiter, 1903), The Mermaid (La Sirène, 1904) and The Magic Lantern (La Lanterne magique, 1903)

Melies at the Opera and Elsewhere
Faust and Marguerite (Damnation du docteur Faust, 1904), A Moonlight Serenade (aka The Miser Punished; Au clair de la Lune ou Pierrot Malheureux, 1904), The Apparition (Le Revenant, 1903)

Melies Prestidigitator
Ten Ladies in an Umbrella (La Parapluie fantastique, 1903), Tit for Tat (aka a Good Joke With My Head; Un Preté pour un Rendu, 1903), The Wizard Alcofrisbas (aka Alcofrisbas, The Master Magician; L’Enchanteur Alcofrisbas, 1903).

Melies’ Tales of Terror
The Melomaniac (Le Mélomane, 1903), The Monster (Le Monstre, 1903), The Terrible Turkish Executioner (Le Bourreau Turc, 1904)

Mysterious Marvels of Melies
The Mad Musician (aka The Melomaniac; Le Mélomane, 1903), The Terrible Turkish Executioner (Le Bourreau Turc, 1904), The Magic Well (aka The Enchanted Well; Le Puits fantastique, 1903), and The Wizard Alcofrisbas (aka Alcofrisbas, The Master Magician; L’Enchanteur Alcofrisbas, 1903).

The Mystical Magic of Melies
Jack and Jim (Jack et Jim, 1903), Jack Jaggs and Dum Dum (Tom Tight et Dum Dum, 1903), and The Mystical Flame (La Flamme merveilleuse, 1903)

The Supernatural of Melies
The Infernal Caldron (Le Chaudron infernal, 1903) and The Damnation of Faust (Faust aux enfers, 1903)

The Surrealism of Melies
The Ballet Master’s Dream (Le Rêve du maître de ballet, 1903) and The Fairy Kingdom (aka The Kingdom of the Fairies; Le Royaume des fées, 1903). The latter is probably a truncated version.

Transformations by Melies
The Clockmaker’s Dream (Le Rêve de l’horloger, 1904), The Cook in Trouble (Sorcellerie culinaire, 1904), A Spiritualist Photographer (Le Portrait spirite, 1903)

4 thoughts on “Georges Melies Titles from the Blackhawk Films Anthologies

  1. Blackhawk also sold BARON MUNCHAUSEN’S DREAM (1911), CONQUEST OF THE POLE (1912), THE IMAGINATIVE GEORGE MELES [Bob Kick, the Mischievious Kid, The Oracle of Delhi, The Leson or the Living Statue], THE IMPOSSIBLE VOYAGE (1904), MELIES AT THE OPERA AND ELSEWHERE [Unknown films], MELIES PRESTIDIGITATOR Ten Ladies in an Umbrella, Tit For Tat, The Enchanter Alcofrisbas], PARIS TO MONTE CARLO (1905), TRANSFORMATIONS BY MELIES [Unknown films], and A TRIP TO THE MOON (1902), .

    FPA currently sells THE ECLIPSE (1907) and THE GOOD SHEPARDESS AND THE EVIL PRINCESS (1908), but they were never sold by Blackhawk originally. FPA also sells about half of the above listed films in 16mm.

    http://www.filmclassic.com/BlackhawkSilentShorts.htm
    http://www.fesfilms.com/dw.html

  2. Hi Bruce — Welcome! It’s lovely to have another Melies devotee stop by.

    Thanks very much for suggesting the additional anthology titles. A couple were previously unknown to me, but I’m a little embarrassed not to have originally included Melies Prestidigitator since it was one of the Blackhawk offerings that first enlightened me to Melies.

    I’ve updated the post to include the anthology titles you offered. I hope you (and others) will be pleased that I was able to track down the titles of the individual films that comprise those collections.

    I happen to own a 16mm FPA (Film Preservation Associates, for those who don’t know) print of The Good Shepherdess and the Evil Princess (La Bonne Bergère et la Mauvaise Princesse). It’s been a while since I’ve watched it, but my now-vague recollection is it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense in its current form — I suspect this may be due to the absence of the live narration that Melies often delivered while showing his films. I should pull it from the archive and take another look and see whether memory is serving or failing me.

    If you don’t know already, Bruce, then I suspect you definitely will want to: Glenn Photo (the sales arm of the wonderful EmGee Film Library) offers a gorgeous color tinted 16mm print of The Merry Frolics of Satan (silent) for purchase. Worth every cent. It’s one of Georges’ best, tho inexcusably lesser known. Fwiw, I don’t believe this was a Blackhawk/FPA offering, but I could be mistaken.

    Unfortunately, for various reasons it’s getting harder and harder to obtain new prints of Melies’ films, even from the fine sellers whose URLs you posted (and whom I also recommend). The part-color version of Paris to Monte Carlo is no longer available at all. The Blackhawk edition of the US cut of Conquest of the Pole is also no longer available — which really bums me out since it works perfectly with a certain album by The Residents — although one can still obtain the French version (short edit) on 16 if persistent and timely. (Try Glenn Photo.)

    Now if only the folks at Lobster Films would offer a color 16mm edition of the original 20 min. tinted version of A Trip to the Moon that they recovered a couple years back! Alas…let’s not hold our breath…

  3. Speaking of Gaston, I believe that one of the American Star Films, produced in San Antonio, was once available to 16mm collectors — “Under the Stars and Bars” (1910). For a proposed documentary on the Star Film Ranch, I’ve been trying to come up with the surviving films made by Gaston but I’ve been unable to find that one. The others that survive are “Mary’s Strategem,” “Salt on the Bird’s Tail,” and “When the Tables Turned.” Not much, considering they made over 70 films in San Antonio in 1910-11.

    If anybody can point me toward “Under the Stars and Bars,” I’d be most grateful.

    And thanks for mentioning my book.

    Frank
    http://www.frankthompson.tv

  4. Hi Frank — What a pleasure to have you stop by. Thanks for writing Star Film Ranch, by the way. It’s an invaluable piece of film scholarship, and I enjoyed it greatly. I’m especially pleased to learn you’re working on a possible doc about Gaston.

    I’m not personally aware of any sources for “Under the Stars and Bars”, but I’ll nudge some folks who may know more and see what shakes out.

    If you haven’t already, you may try querying the Library of Congress, which is currently in the process of opening a whole new National Audio-Visual Conservation Center. They no longer will make 16mm prints, but they are aggressively pursuing digitizing and transfer to 3/4-inch tape — either of which would be useful for assembling a documentary. Be a little patient, though — the new nitrate facility in particular is still being completed and thus things there are still very much in flux.

    And I imagine you probably already know this, but there are surviving copies of “The Gipsy’s Warning” [sic, aka "The Gypsy's Warning"]. All of the few actual film prints I’ve seen around (including my own copy) are Regular 8, but I know it’s included on some old video anthologies, typically erroneously attributed to Georges.