The Mystery of the Leaping Fish
is a 1916 short comedy film starring Douglas Fairbanks, and is undoubtedly one of the weirdest films of the silent era. Fairbanks stars as Coke Ennyday, a goofy private detective who is asked by the local cops to investigate a newcomer to the area who is mysteriously wealthy. Coke trails the man to the beach where he discovers a drug smuggling ring that is sneaking opium into the country through the inflatable "leaping fishes" rented out to beachgoers. He falls for Inane (Bessie Love), the girl renting out the "leaping fish" floats, who is unaware of the drug smuggling and is kidnapped by the crooks when she finds out. Coke busts the opium ring, gets the girl, and has a Happy Ending
He also shoots up cocaine. A lot. Coke really, really loves cocaine (his name is Coke Ennyday
, for God's sake). He has a clock on the wall marked off, by the quarter hour, with "EATS", "SLEEPS", "DRINKS", and "DOPE". He has a giant bowl of cocaine on his desk that is actually labeled "COCAINE". Coke is constantly injecting himself with cocaine and laughing like a maniac. In the latter portion of the film he gets so high that he starts constantly jumping up and down and literally bouncing off the walls. Coke defeats the bad guys not by fighting them or anything, but by injecting them with cocaine and getting them as high as he is.
In other words, this film averts the Drugs Are Bad
trope. This weird, weird movie is one of the most memorable short comedies of its era and an interesting artifact from the days before drugs like cocaine and heroin were criminalized. Rob Zombie
, of all people, has cited this
as one of his favorite films.
- Ceiling Cling: Coke climbs up into the rafters of the beach house and remains unseen while the criminals enter the room and retrieve packets of opium from the floats.
- Chinese Launderer: The opium is being distributed out of a Chinese laundry downtown.
- Drugs Are Good: Coke does cocaine and opiates throughout the movie and has a really, really good time. And as noted above, he defeats the bad guys by jabbing them all with cocaine syringes.
- Drunken Master: Coke is listless to the point of stupor without cocaine, but after shooting up (and giggling like a schoolgirl) he springs into action. Cocaine even helps him win at checkers.
- Fingertip Drug Analysis: How Coke verifies that the substance being smuggled inside the floats is opium. Being who he is, after conducting his Fingertip Drug Analysis he proceeds to eat several more handfuls of opium.
- I Have You Now, My Pretty: "Fishy Joe" the Chinese opium dealer demands Inane's hand in marriage, and says "Girl, you are in my power" after cornering her in the back room of the laundry.
- Literal Metaphor: The policeman describes the mysterious stranger as "rolling in wealth". Cut to the stranger in bed, literally rolling around on a pile of money.
- Nested Story Reveal: The last scene reveals that the whole film is a story that Douglas Fairbanks is pitching to a writer for the studio. The writer tells Fairbanks to "go back to acting".
- Nitro Boost: Coke takes one of the "leaping fish" floats out on the water to follow the drug smugglers. Paddling through the waves with his float takes too long, so he injects the float with cocaine, and it works.
- Paper-Thin Disguise: After Coke is spotted by the mysterious stranger, he puts on a hat and a ridiculous beard held on by a string. Naturally, the stranger fails to recognize him.
- Police Are Useless: A title card states that the cops are delayed in getting to the laundry because they have "lost their way". The movie then cuts to the cop car making multiple revolutions around a traffic circle. When the police finally arrive, after Coke has already shot up all of the bad guys with cocaine, they knock on the door. After nobody answers they say "Nobody's home" and leave.
- Pooled Funds: See Literal Metaphor above.
- Punny Name:
- Coke Ennyday.
- His girlfriend is named Inane, the police chief who puts him on the case is named I.M. Keene, and the opium is being dealt out of Sum Hop Laundry. It's that kind of movie.
- Redundant Rescue: By the time Coke finally arrives to rescue Inane, she has already beaten Fishy Joe senseless.