I haven’t reviewed too many silent films in these pages, although I have written about them at greater length elsewhere. It was a highly imaginative era, during which science fiction flourished in a modest sort of way, although, sadly, as the vast majority of silent films are now lost, quite a few of these early efforts in science fiction cinema have vanished as well.
But there are more of them out there than most of us realize, and it’s always interesting to catch up with one you haven’t seen yet. While I’d heard of The Extraordinary Adventures of Saturnino Farandola, I’d more or less ignored it until the incomparable Janne Waas at Scifist added it to his list of the 25 best “foreign” Science Fiction films before 1950.
It also ranks as one of the earliest feature length films, as it was made just two years after another Italian film which is generally considered the very first feature, L’Inferno.
However, despite its longer length, The Extraordinary Adventures of Saturnino Farandola doesn’t look much like the more realistic films which were only a few years away. In many respects it resembles earlier films by George Melies and his contemporaries as it features painted canvas backdrops, rather theatrical props, and often rather limited settings.
It was based on an 1879 novel by Alfred Robida, an illustrator and novelist who was a contemporary of Jules Verne. His books were often more of a parody of Verne than a straightforward copy and they were quite popular at the time even if he isn’t well remembered today. He was perhaps more of a cartoonist than a novelist, and his books read more like a summary than a straightforward account, but he had an impressive imagination, particularly when it came to steampunk machinery. He lived until 1926, long enough to see some of his fanciful inventions come to pass, and to provide an impressive poster for this film.
We tend to forget that Verne’s series of novels were billed as “Extraordinary Voyages,” and put a lot more emphasis on travel and unusual places than they did on futuristic inventions. This makes it seem more fitting that Farandola’s adventures come across as something closer to a Picaresque novel, following the absurd adventures of Saturnino as he sails about the world in search of adventure.
Farandola’s parents died in a shipwreck, setting him adrift like Moses. He landed on a remote island where he was found — and raised by a friendly tribe of apes, long before Tarzan.
He is then rescued by a Sea Captain, who trains him as a master seaman and leaves him his ship when he dies.
Now I’ve seen the original length of the film listed as 1400 meters, which puts its original runtime over two hours (rather than the existing 77 minutes), and there are a few gaps in the story, and a few incidents listed in some of the summaries of the film which do not appear in what we have today. I suspect that some of the film is missing, but can’t be certain. What is true, however, is that we leap rather suddenly from Farandola, the new Captain, to his underwater explorations with a wife he appears to have acquired between titles.
I’ll admit that I love this sequence as it has a very Melies-style painted backdrop which reminds me a lot of Robida’s illustrations, as do the little lines animated on top of the scene (which are meant to evoke water). They remind me of the similar scenes in Karel Zeman’s The Fabulous World of Jules Verne [Vynález zkázy] (1958), in which he deliberately tried to copy the look of the engravings in the original Verne novels.
Farandola’s deep sea explorations come to an abrupt end when a giant whale swallows his wife wife, Mysora whole. However, he doesn’t realize that she’s still alive in her self-contained suit, and a passing whaler captures the beast alive and sells it to a Naturalist in Australia.
However, when she emerges from the whale in his giant aquarium, he refuses to let her go as he figures that, when he bought the whale, he got everything that was in it as well.
After Farandola rescues her, he goes off in search of a legendary white elephant, only to discover a land protected by an army of Amazon women. In Africa, he deals with deadly lions with the help of a weird invention, before going off to the United States, where he lives among the Beavers (I’m not sure if they’re supposed to be beaver people, or super beavers, or whether Farandola built the little huts on the pond which have doors and do not look like any beaver lodge you ever saw). He then has to fight the evil Phileas (not Phineas!) Fogg, who has a grand scheme to move Niagara Falls to his state.
It all climaxes in an incredible battle, featuring Farandola’s wacky inventions, and stunning aerial war between armies of balloons. It is a marvellous piece of modelwork combined with full-sized sets and a lot of imaginative effects.
The Extraordinary Adventures of Saturnino Farandola is a charming little film which doesn’t take itself too seriously. Most of the big set pieces look quite good and it is on a grander scale than Melies ever managed. Its director and star Marcel Perez (working under the name Marcel Fabre) started as a circus performer before he moved into film, which would explain the sheer physical energy and theatricality of so much of the film. By today’s standards it looks incredibly primitive (and it wasn’t long before this style of film was hopelessly out of date), but it is a funny and watchable effort — even if a lot of viewers in our age of movie “realism” may have a hard time time accepting its manic absurdities.
But I’m sure you’ll survive. Ignore the terrible monkeys and try to watch it with a little of the wonder and awe those who watched it back in 1913 must have felt.
After all, it’s on Youtube, so you have no excuse for not giving it a try…
4 thoughts on “Le avventure straordinarissime di Saturnino Farandola [The Extraordinary Adventures of Saturnino Farandola] (1913)”
Good one, as usual!
A detail though: It IS the same Phileas Fogg as in Verne’s novel. Outside of the English-speaking world we all know him as Phileas. Only in some English translations has he be re-christened Phineas, and nobody seems to know why.
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I didn’t know that! But it makes sense as Phineas is a common English language name!
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Wellllll…maybe not exactly “common,” but it is an English language name…