The Execution of Mary, Queen of Scots

The Execution of Mary, Queen of the Scots is an American film directed by Alfred Clark and filmed by William Heise , released in 1895 . It restores the beheading of Mary Stuart , Queen of Scotland , condemned for high treason to death by her cousin Elizabeth I re of England in 1587 .

The director and author of this film imagines and thus uses for the first time in the cinema a trick (or tricking) that is called camera stop , which will make the happiness of Georges Méliès . The American historian Charles Musser says of this film that he brings “a remarkable innovation to the cinema” 1 .


Mary Stuart (interpreted, according to the American film historian Charles Musser 2 , by Robert Thomae, secretary and treasurer of the Kinetoscope Company), kneels in front of the executioner behind which men in arms are standing. She puts her head on the block. The executioner brandishes his ax, shoots it, the head rolls on the ground, the hangman presents it to the spectators (the camera).

Technical sheet

  • Original title: The Execution of Mary, Queen of Scots
  • French title: The Execution of Mary, Queen of Scots
  • Director: Alfred Clark
  • Scenario: Alfred Clark
  • Production: Edison Manufacturing Company
  • Photography: William Heise
  • Duration: 18 seconds
  • Format: 35 mm double set of 4 rectangular perforations Edison, black and white, silent
  • Released: United States August 1895


  • Mary Stuart: Robert Thomae


The camera stop is done in two stages:

  1. Mary Stuart kneels in front of the executioner and puts her head on the block. The executioner raises his ax. At this moment, the director of the shooting orders everyone to stop, “queen”, extras, executioner, freeze in their position. William Heise immediately stops the electric motor of his camera, the kinetograph , the camera that was used to shoot the first films of the cinema.
  2. Mary Stuart in flesh and bone gets up and is replaced by a mannequin wearing the same dress and a headpiece separable separable, which is available in the same. The kinetograph is set in motion, the ax falls down, the false head rolls on the ground, the hangman picks it up and shows it to the public. “After development of the film, it is necessary to suppress the traces of the stop and the restart of the camera, these operations having caused each time on the film a few overexposed photograms which it is necessary to cut, then it is necessary to gather by a splice the two useful parts of the shot 3 . ” Charles Musser shows well, in the choice of his illustrations, the acetone welding (which editors call “collure”) which unites these two parts.

This rigging, used here in 1895 , was always mistakenly credited to the benefit of Georges Méliès who would have been the inventor in 1896 . The great “master of Montreuil” and called the historian of world cinema Georges Sadoul , told a famous story about the circumstances of his “invention”, that of horse-drawn omnibuses crowded, filmed in Paris instead of Opera, turning into a hearse after a technical failure that would have required Méliès to interrupt his first shot to remedy it without moving the camera, and after repair, he would have continued, recording the one behind the other two antithetical vehicles. Méliès does not mention the essential “collure” and presents the invention as a good trick of prestidigitation discovered accidentally. In the hands of a born illusionist such as Méliès, this wonderful fable is already a good music hall number. Had he seen William Heise’s movie? It was possible, the French had friendly relations with the English filmmakers, and the English filmmakers were the first customers (and also the first counterfeiters) of the Edison products,Edison Manufacturing Company . But William Heise has not renewed his experiment, while Méliès has done, one could say, his business, which he has pushed the limits by a natural inventiveness. One is therefore tempted to believe in his legend, perhaps true (consequently, it would be his part of a rediscovery) 4 .

Notes and references

  1. ↑ ( in ) Charles Musser , History of the American Cinema, Volume 1, The Emergence of Cinema, The American Screen to 1907 ,, 613  p. ( ISBN  0-684-18413-3 ) , p.  87
  2. ↑ ( in ) Charles Musser , History of the American Cinema, Volume 1, The Emergence of Cinema, The American Screen to 1907 ,, 613  p. ( ISBN  0-684-18413-3 ) , p.  86-87
  3. ↑ Marie-France Briselance and Jean-Claude Morin , film grammar , Paris, New World ,, 588  p. ( ISBN  978-2-84736-458-3 ) , p.  29
  4. ↑ Briselance and Morin 2010 , p.  47-49

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