[Les Incendiaires]



[Les Incendiaires]

A Desperate Crime

1. Nightfall.-The drama is unfortunately real and we are going to give a faithful and exact reproduction of it in all its details. The first scene takes place in the court-yard of a farmhouse, just at the close of day. The gateway leading to the highway is closed, and the farmhands spurred on by the farmer’s wife are hurrying their labors to an end. The little daughter of the farmer is running around trying to assist the laborers, but her tiny hands, unused to work, are of little avail. Darkness has crept on, the day’s work is done, and each one withdraws to take his well-deserved rest.

2. Reconnoitering.- Four bandits, their faces covered with black masks, enter the yard by scaling the gate and they examine the place with the intention of robbing it. Between the boards of the half rotten shutters upon the windows of the living-room, they observe the farmer’s wife putting her child to sleep.

3. The Farmer’s Return.-At a command from the leader, who has heard some noise on the highway, the four robbers sneak out of sight. It is the farmer returning from market, bringing back in a bag the receipts from his sales. The farmer, in the moonlight accompanied by his wife, who came out to greet him, returns to the house, while his men put the horse in the stable and push away the carriage. Just when one of the hostlers passes by the leader of the robbers concealed behind the curb of a well, the latter jumps out and gags him before the poor fellow has time to call for help; with the aid of his confederates he throws the man to the bottom of the well. Then seeing everything in the house is quiet, they begin their bloody work by breaking open the door and window.

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4. The Interior of the Cottage.-At the right of the scene one may see two beds, placed one above the other like bunks on ships; these beds are very common in certain country districts of France. In one the farmer is sleeping, and in the other the hostler. The wife was working at her spinning wheel, but she has now dozed to sleep. Peace reigns where sleep has overcome all. A feeble light is burning.

5. The Triple Murder.-The robbers enter by the door and window. They then gag the woman and bind her firmly to a chair placed by the window. A ray of moonlight lights up her terrified countenance. The farmer awakes at the din, he leaps out of bed. He sees his dwelling invaded, his wife bound. He immediately seizes his hunting gun, suspended at the head of his bed, but before he has had time to use it, he is disarmed, bound thrown brutally upon the floor and rendered helpless. A man servant and a maid, attracted by his cries, rush boldly to his aid, but both die victims of their devotion, stabbed by the assassins.

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6. The Torturers.-The bandits then return to the farmer. They threaten him with their revolvers and daggers, while demanding of him the place where he keeps his money concealed. The farmer persistently refuses to speak. They drag him before the fireplace and stir up the smouldering embers. They burn his feet before the eyes of his terrified wife, who is helpless and an unwilling spectator of the cruel proceedings. In spite of the atrocious sufferings, which he has to endure, the farmer utters not a word. Although his will is stronger than pain, physical agony triumphs and he faints away, without divulging the secret.

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7. The Robbery.-The plunderers are furious at having been foiled in their operations. One proposes to burn the feet of the woman, because she is not as strong as her husband and cannot endure so great torture as he. But the chief is more cruel than the others: he orders the child, who is asleep in the next room to be brought, so that they may burn her feet. The strong maternal affection will force her to give way under the tortures of the little girl and to divulge the hiding place of their savings. This treatment is effective, for at the moment when fire is about to be applied to the feet of her daughter, the mother by superhuman efforts frees her arm and points distressfully to the large vase over the fireplace, which contains the money. The robbers triumph. They hurriedly gather up the booty, while the little girl throws herself into the arms of her mother and helps her get free of the cords which bind her. Laden with the money, the rogues start to escape, but just as the leader goes by the window the woman, with a sudden dash tears the black mask from his face, thus disclosing the features of the villainous chief. Mad with rage at having his face exposed, the latter immediately takes measures to avenge himself in a terrible way and to annihilate those who could accuse him and bear witness against him.

8. The House on Fire!-With the assistance of his accomplices, he heaps up things that make a quick, hot fire-straw, wood, and fagots. They are piled up at every exit, and then the conflagration is stated. Huge clouds of smoke foreshadow it’s work of destruction.

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9. The Alarm.-The glare of the conflagration attracts the people of the neighborhood. They take in the hapless mother who with the help of her little daughter has been able to extricate herself, and who has fled through the flames with the child in her arms. The robbers escape, bearing away their loot, while the house falls in, burying in ashes and charred wood the bodies of the farmer and his faithful and courageous servants.

10. The Robber’s Den.-The following scene transports us to the den of the robbers-it is in an abandoned quarry, where they are in hiding. Some are counting the rewards of their thefts, others are drinking, and still others are gambling away their money. A dispute arises between two of the gamblers; daggers glisten, and blood is about to flow, nothwithstanding the intervention of their friends, when the chief of the brigands appears, followed by his companions. He announces that the police are right upon their tracks, and that within a few minutes their abode will be discovered and invaded.

11. Tracked by the Police.-Doors and windows fly into pieces from the shots fired by the police. The armed force appears on the scene, while the brigands are trying to hide in a subterranean cavern everything that would compromise them.

12. The Battle with the Outlaws.-At their refusal to surrender, a terrific struggle ensues. Whatever is at band is used as a weapon of combat. Very soon members of both sides fall dead. One of the robbers reels over with his head split to pieces by a terrific flow of an axe, which remains firmly imbedded in his skull.

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13. The Pursuit in the Quarry.-The leader of the robbers, accompanied by three or four men-all that remains of the gang-manages to escape. The police follow in hot pursuit, for they have determined to capture the gang dead or alive. By one of the openings of the old quarry the robbers dart out, followed by the police in hot pursuit.

14. In the Mountain.-The robbers have reached the fastnesses of the mountains, but they have diminished in number to only two, one of whom is the chief. He displays wonderful powers of strength, skill and agility, in his extraordinary efforts to elude his pursuers.

15. The Capture of the Archfiend.-Finally the chief makes his appearance from behind a hut. He is alone, and thinks that he has succeeded in gaining his liberty. He is not event wounded. He makes gestures of defiance and victory. He has put off the scent the spirited pack that was on his track. But suddenly he is surrounded, seized bound and fettered. In spite of desperate efforts and mad rage he is taken. Now he has got to render account of his unbridled doings to the courts of law.

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16. The Great Court-room Scene.-Several weeks have passed. The day for the beginning of the trial has arrived. We see the Supreme Court in session. The solemn judges arrayed in robes of state, hear the facts of the case. The State first presents its side, and then the attorney for defense argues for his client. There are no witnesses to be found except the farmer’s wife, and she having become raving mad, has been put in an asylum. Acquittal for the bandit seems absolutely certain!

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17. The Accusation.-The prosecutor once more enumerates the charges of which the robber stands accused, and he demands the introduction of witnesses, who desire to be heard.

18. The Sensational Witnesses. “T is He!!”-A woman, dressed in deep mourning, with a heavy veil over her face, enters the hall of justice. The prisoner leans forward and anxiously gazes upon  this apparition, so gloomy and so ominous in aspect, fearful that he is about to combat with truth and inevitable condemnation. At the command of the chief justice the woman raises her veil and the robber in despair recognizes the farmer’s wife. She points with a tragic gesture to him and denounces him as the perpetrator of all the terrible crimes of which he is accused. The dismay of the villain is complete when the sergeant leads in the little girl to identify him. In terror she flees to her mother, and while in the arms of the latter, she points to the cringing bandit as the murderer of her father and the incendiary of their home.

19. The Verdict.-After the sitting has been interrupted by these sensational bits of testimony, the jury withdraws to deliberate upon the case. Within an exceedingly brief period they file back and announce to the court that they have agreed upon a verdict of guilt-murder in the first degree.

20. The Sentence.-After the announcement from the jury, the judge passes sentence with according to law is death by the guillotine. The condemned becomes defiant and struggles with the guards when they start to lead him away.

21. The Cell.-Two months have passed since the trial. We now see the prisoner asleep in his cell, tossing restlessly upon his cot.

22. A night of Terror.- Every night his sleep is disturbed by horrible dreams. He sees again and again the spectres of his victims. The recollections of his crimes harrow him, and the thoughts of the punishment which awaits him produce gloomy forebodings. He seems to see the guillotine stretching forth its red, sinister arms to grasp him. He awakes haggard, covered with sweat, dazed, trembling from fever and fear. He hopes that the petition which he has addressed to the President will be favorably acted upon. This thought consoles him and he falls asleep.

23. The Rejection of the Petition.- When he is sound asleep, a man enters his cell, and with a slight tap on his shoulder awakens him. It is the warden who has come to inform him that the hour of expiation has come. He exhorts the condemned to have courage. Several persons enter; they are accompanied by a priest, who offers to him the consolation of religion. It is announced to him that his petition has been rejected. The executioner with his assistants overcome his resistance, and bind him with fetters. The gloomy procession starts on its way to the court-yard, where the execution is to take place.

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24. Morning in the Courtyard.-The first rays of dawn appear on the horizon. By the uncertain light of a smoky lantern, the assistants of the executioner set up the direful machine, which is soon to rid society of so undesirable and bloodthirsty an individual.

25. The Guillotine.-The servant of the law, who carries out its mandates stands by, cold and impassive, watching the setting up of the apparatus. He gives occasional orders to the men, when they do not work to his satisfaction and finally he tests the machine to assure himself that it works perfectly. The fatal hour has come. The executioner rings and disappears within the prison.

26. The Last Resistance.-The door of the prison opens again. The priest first appears, walking backwards before the condemned, thus concealing from the latter the sight of the guillotine. The robber and murderer, attended by guards, advances slowly and with difficulty. At the moment when the priest moves aside, the wretch sees the instrument of death and shudders frightfully. He makes a last effort to escape, but in vain.

27. The Execution.-The body is quickly tied to the plank. The board swings in its place and the neck is placed in the frame under the knife. The executioner pulls the lever and down slides the knife, severing the head from the body. It falls into the basket. Justice has at last been done! The basket containing the remains of the criminal is put into a wagon and hurried off to the graveyard.

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28. The Cemetery of the Executed.-In a corner of the cemetery two gravediggers under the superintendence of a sexton are just finishing the excavation of a trench, which is to contain the remains of the murderer, who has just expiated his crimes.

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29. Three Feet Under Ground.-A coffin is brought in and the body is placed in its final resting place without the presence of a friend, without a wreath, without a single flower and without a single flower and without a souvenir of any sort.

30. The Nameless Grave.-While those who have borne in the body withdraw the grave-diggers throw earth upon the coffin and fill up the grave. At the head of the grave they set up a plain stone, with no name or inscription, thus blotting out to future generations the existence of all traces of this bandits career. Law and justice are above crime and disorder and in the foregoing scenes we have truthfully represented the punishment for “A DESPERATE CRIME!”

MEL 1905-A


1 Méliès 824-838  
2 Georges Méliès   

Montreuil 3 avril 1906
Monsieur le Maire
J'ai l'intention de faire demain une scène de cinématographe dans les anciennes Carrières de Montreuil, qui représentera une poursuite de Chemineaux par les gendarmes, lesquels tireront des coups de feu, à blanc, bien entendu sur les malfaiteurs. Je viens, en conséquence, de peur que les appariteurs de la commune ne prennent, s'ils viennent à passer par là, la chose au sérieux, ce qui pourrait nous amener des désagrements.
Voyez-vous nos braves artistes, qui pour la circonstance, se font des têtes patibulaires, emmenés au poste pour de bon  !! Cela ferait une révolution dans le pays..
Nous choisirons, bien entendu, un endroit désrt et éloigné des habitations, pour ne pas effaroucher les habitants.
Je compte, monsieur le Maire, sur votre habituelle bienveillante, et vous présente mes sincère salutations, en même temps que mes remerciements.
G. Méliès.

  0824-0837 01 0824-0837 02
  Lettre manuscrite de Georges Méliès, Montreuil, 3 avril 1906
© Archives Municipales de la Ville de Montreuil
3 03-04/1906 280m/1000ft
4 France, Montreuil-sous-bois  


05/05/1906 États-UnisNew York
The New York Clipper  A Desperate Crime 


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E. M., 4083, Montreuil-sous-BoisLes Carrières (début XXe siècle)