Movie 3min

The Sign of the Cross (1899)

Original title: Le Diable au Couvent

+ 4 images
Director Georges Méliès
Country France
Language French
(Country Spesific) The Devil in a Convent
(Original) Le Diable au Couvent
(Country Spesific) The Sign of the Cross, or the Devil in a Convent
(Alternative) The Power Of The Cross
(USA, 30.06, 1900) Selig Polyscope Company
Angels Black and White Blasphemy Church Clergy Comedy Convent Demons Exorcism Fantasy Horror Nun Priest Sabbath Satirical Sermon Short Silent Film St. George St. Michael The Devil Trick Film

A priest is officiating at a convent preparing for the sermon when the Devil appears and substitutes him. The Devil frightens away the nuns and turns the place into a mini-Pandemonium. Different people try to drive him out until the church combined with an animated statue of St. Michel are victorious.

Some critics say that the film parodies monastic life, suggesting "The Devil in a Convent" shows a satirical view of the Catholic Church. It came out a bit later than another religious-themed film by Melies considered to be satirical, namely "The Temptation of Saint Anthony". In 1995, a hand-colored print of "The Devil in a Convent" was saved from a garbage bin in Bilbao together with 31 other films, and later in 2010 donated to Cinémathèque Basque.

This picture shows the interior of a convent looking toward the cloister, with church and churchyard in the background. In the foreground is a baptismal font, pulpit and chairs. A priest is seen kneeling in prayer and, upon rising, turns out the gas and retires. After he disappears, the devil jumps from the font of holy water amid a column of smoke and drops gently to the ground, using his large cloak as wings. An imp appears and Satan and follower are transformed into priest and choir boy, respectively. Ringing the bell and summoning the nuns to service is their next move. The nuns enter and seat themselves in the chairs in front of the altar. The devil in the guise of a priest preaches to them, but suddenly transforms himself to his natural self, frightening the nuns, who flee in terror. The devil then changes the column into the most grotesque figures, until the church resembles his own domains. Many imps appear at his command and dance around him. Ghosts o departed nuns suddenly appear and drive off all but Satan. A procession of priests, nuns and choir boys are seen approaching with the object in view of conquering the devil, which they fail to do. Suddenly an apparition of St. George appears and overturns His Satanic Majesty, who descends to Hades amid clouds of smoke. The object of the film is to illustrate the triumph of Christianity over Satan, and while it is quite fantastical and religious, there is not the least action in the film which would be obnoxious or shock the most sensitive audience.

Source: Melies Catalog

3 Scenes
Translated from the Star Film Company Catalogue, film number 185–187. All the scenes use the same backdrop, so they are only thematically separated.
The Nuns, the Sermon (Les Nonnes, le Sermon)
The Demons, the Sabbath (Les Démons, le Sabbat)
The Clergy, The Exorcism (Le Clergé, l'Exorcisme)
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Georges Méliès - The Devil
Whimsical, but tells a complete story

I generally don't gravitate towards whimsical comedies of religious topics as they seem to obfuscate every message - and Méliès is kind of an embodyment of all that, making a satire of religious belief adding a bit of blasphemy in the Devil redecorating the convent. In the end, good wins, but still - I feel like it is more of a show of of tricks in a fast paced manner. I get why people like this one of the early Méliès films, because it is well made an tells a complete story from the beginning where a priest is preparing for a sermon, through when the Devil hijacks it and redecorate the place, until the end where various people try to remove him but manage it ony with the help of archangel Michael. I must have generated quite the laughs in it's time.