Retracting a lady at the Robert-Houdin theater

Retreating a lady at the Robert-Houdin theater , made in 1896 by Georges Méliès , is the first film in the history of French cinema using special effects . This film is a transposition of the most famous illusion buatier de kolta called The Vanishing Lady ( La Femme evanescent ), the most imitated scene feat in the years 1880 1 . It was shot in the very premises of the Robert-Houdin theater, owned by Méliès.


A conjurer covers a beautiful lady with a tablecloth, performs magical passes, removes the tablecloth: the lady has disappeared, in its place a skeleton. The artist repositioned the tablecloth, made passes, removed the tablecloth again: the lady reappeared. They salute together.

Technical sheet

  • Original title: Retreat of a lady at the Robert Houdin theater
  • Director: Georges Méliès
  • Scenario: Georges Méliès, after The Vanishing Lady , the trick of Buatier de Kolta ( 1880 )
  • Sets: Georges Méliès
  • Photography: Georges Méliès
  • Sound: mute
  • Production: Star Film
  • Country of origin: France
  • Format: 35mm, 1.33: 1, black and white
  • Genre: special effects
  • Duration: 2 minutes
  • Release dates: 1896


  • Georges Méliès: the conjurer
  • Jeanne d’Alcy : the lady


This first faking is the ” camera stop “, which had been used before Méliès, two collaborators of Thomas Edison , William Heise and Alfred Clark, for a decapitation scene in their film The Execution of Mary, Queen of Scots ( The Execution of Mary, Queen of Scots ), shot August 28, 1895. The transformation, or the disappearance, or the appearance, are obtained by a camera stop and a resumption of the filming without moving the camera, after modifying elements of the scene. After development, a weld is necessary to eliminate the overexposed images caused by the stop and restart of the camera. In his film, Méliès stops his camera three times, to obtain respectively the disappearance of the lady, the appearance of the skeleton, then the reappearance of the lady.”The story is simple, on a music hall stage, in fact a painted canvas stretched in his garden, Méliès, who plays the role of conjurer, introduces a lady to the public (the camera) and asks him to take a seat on a chair. He then seizes a tablecloth and covers the beautiful. Some magic gestures … Méliès abruptly removes the fabric, the chair is empty, the lady has vanished. In the same way, he shows it again 2 ” .

In some of his films, Méliès brilliantly manages up to 24 substitutions of clothes or accessories, with so many stops, restarts, and repairing welds with acetone, for comic films, such as Le Déshabillage impossible , realized in 1900 .

Notes and references

  1. ↑ Georges Méliès – found 199 movies  [ archive ]
  2. ↑ Marie-France Briselance and Jean-Claude Morin , film grammar , Paris, New World ,, 588 p. ( ISBN  978-2-84736-458-3 ) , p.  47

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