Apr 14, 2010
Mystery of the Leaping Fish (1916)
This silent short has popped around for a few years in a bid for Reefer Madness-style camp status, as the video box proclaims it to be the first film ever made concerning cocaine. Back in the days when it was still rare to purchase videos at consumer level, I saw this in Woolworth's, but there was no way in Hell I was going to pay fifteen bucks for a twenty-minute video. However, thanks to the DVD Age of VHS Clearance Sales, little baubles like this can be found at a pittance of a price. So if you can find it, it's an amusing effort featuring Douglas Fairbanks Sr. as a detective who investigates the strange goings-on at a beach resort. Apparently, some evil stuff is being smuggled via these floating plastic fish things that people ride on in the water. Along the way he gets to save silent screen star Bessie Love from the bad guys. The cocaine angle is not in the exposé, but rather Doug's own habit (his character's name is "Coke Ennyday"!)-- he injects himself with the stuff every few minutes of screen time, and pantomimes the effects of the drug before barely removing the needle! As the "plot" unravels, it gets more and more ridiculous (look at the ways in which Doug hides from the bad guys-- apparently they cannot hear because it is a silent movie, or they have no peripheral vision). Alas, this story (written by future horror master Tod Browning!) turns out to be a pitch offered up by the real Douglas Fairbanks to some incredulous producers-- it seems he also wants to be a screenwriter, too. This mildly amusing short is topical, but time has not been kind to it.
(originally published in ESR #9)