THE RED SPECTRE (1907)
aka Le spectre rouge
Directed by Segundo de Chomon and Ferdinand Zecca
What it is: Magic short plus
A devilish skeletal figure presents his magic act; unfortunately, he may be thwarted by a good spirit.
This short can be described as a variation of Melies's many magic-themed shorts in which a magician appears and does his act. What sets this one apart is that the magician is a devilish skeletal figure whose tricks are surrounded by a hellish atmosphere, and the presence of the whisper of a plot involving his conflict with a good spirit. The plot as such isn't much, but the vivid hand-coloring of the print and the macabre atmosphere add so much flavor to the proceedings that this becomes one of the most entertaining variations I've seen of this theme. I think my favorite moments involve the main character advancing to the camera to perform some of this tricks up close; this is an approach that I don't think Melies ever tried. It's not as slickly done as the Melies shorts at their best, but this still may be my favorite example of the early silent era magic short.