"The Devil" will smile from the Fall River Collection--Historic Postcards, c. 1880-1970
“The Devil” will smile from the Fall River Public Library Historic Postcards, c. 1880-1970 Collection

This eerie optical illusion postcard (left) comes from the Fall River Public Library’s Historic Postcards, c. 1880-1970 collection.  It advertises a production of Ferenc (Franz) Molnar’s play, The Devil.  With Halloween coming up, I think it deserves A Closer Look.

The title leads us to see the devil first: his nearly-crossed eyes, his black moustache, his Chiclet-like teeth and his black coat.  He has an unusual hairline and the collar of his coat (or cape) hides his ears.  From a distance, he appears to have rather sinister furrows and wrinkles on his face.

A great feature of Digital Commonwealth is the magnifying glass icon, which enlarges the image without affecting the resolution.  When we click that on this image, the devil recedes.  Instead we see two well-dressed women meeting in front of a theater.  Their black skirts make up the devil’s coat; their hand muffs his mustache and their hats and feathers his pupils and eyebrows.  His nose is a view of another female theatergoer walking away from us.

Interestingly, when the play was first staged in America in 1908, there were two dueling productions, each claiming to be the “sole authorized” version of the play.  The reverse of this postcard indicates it is promoting the Henry W. Savage production.  According to a 2009 lecture at the Library of Congress by Marlis Schweizer, Savage hired people to picket in front of his rival’s production wearing sandwich boards that said, “Thou shall not steal.”  Was Savage making a sly reference to the twin productions in this postcard?  I like to think so, but you may have a different take on it.

Reverse of above
Reverse of above

If you have a favorite photo as deserving of A Closer Look as this eerie postcard, please let us know.  Send your Closer Look or a link to your photo to outreach@digitalcommonwealth.org.

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