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That Fatal Sneeze (1907)


Main image of That Fatal Sneeze (1907)
DirectorLewin Fitzhamon
Production CompanyHepworth Manufacturing Company

Cast: Thurston Harris, Gertie Potter

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A man plays a practical joke on his nephew, who takes revenge in similar - but far more devastating - fashion.

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That Fatal Sneeze (d. Lewin Fitzhamon, 1907) was one of the most popular subjects by the Hepworth Manufacturing Company. It was released under the Hepworth brand name of Hepwix, which appears as the name of the shop with the exploding glass window (this is not done so much an in-joke as it is to protect the copyright - no-one seeing the film could fail to notice that it was a Hepwix film).

The film combines three popular early film forms. The first is the comic staple in which a mischievous child plays a trick upon an old man (in this case involving pepper). The second is the chase: each time the old man sneezes, causing havoc to a shop owner or a passer-by, that person joins the ever-growing crowd pursuing him.

The third element is the trick film, in which the capacity of the camera to show the seemingly impossible is exploited for comic or dramatic effect. Several different tricks appear in the film. Firstly there are the various 'sneeze' effects. As the old man sneezes in each location, various items are rigged with wires to fall over or jump up. The two most spectacular tricks are left for the end, after the chase is over. Unusually, the chase sequence does not end with the capture of the old man, or with him fooling the crowd. Instead, two shots before the end the pursuing crowd are dispensed with, to allow for the two final spectacular sneezes. In one, the sneeze is so great is causes the world to sway back and forth, an effect achieved by placing the camera on a rocking board. The final effect has the old man explode with the force of his sneeze, enacted by stopping the camera, moving the actor and placing at the same spot a small device that gave off a puff of smoke.

Simon Brown

*This film is included in the BFI DVD compilation 'Early Cinema: Primitives and Pioneers'.

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A Year in Film: 1907