Cinema to Fiction, The Detectress (1919)

The Mysterious Envelope
Based on the comic movie ‘The Detectress’ by Gale Henry of 1919
written by/with Charlie.translate1


One of my most promising almost-detectives was on the lookout in a dead end alley when the most notorious gang member of a group of Chinese criminals came running towards her. She managed just in time to hide behind a crate that she held in front of her face. From behind that crate she saw the mysterious envelope in the gangster’s hand. 

Just after she came into the office to tell me this story, a somewhat old, but still very bright, inventor ran into our detective agency. He told us that an envelope with his secret formula had been stolen. We soon found out that it was the same envelope. The inventor had found a formula with which he could make very special eyeglasses. The most secret ingredients of Chop suey would become visible to anyone wearing them. This was of great importance for all of our American country as it is recently being attacked by Chinese immigrants who open up one Chop suey restaurant after another. These restaurants only serve this one dish. The American people would love to eat it because it smells good and is reasonably priced ... The only problem is that it consists of all kinds of vegetables, herbs and spices that we’ve never seen before. That’s why we feel somewhat hesitant to come in touch with this dish and with these people. It is all too new and too unknown. The detective threw herself enthusiastically into the task I entrusted her: to find the envelope with the secret formula. However, when she stayed away for hours and hours I started to worry about her. Sometimes her behaviour could be a bit clownish. I decided to go and look for her …

When I asked a cop if he had maybe seen her somewhere, the cop imitated her secret sign in response. He seemed to ask if this was the detective I was looking for. The sign: to quickly slide one hand over the other twice, followed by a gesture with her hand next to her ear that is hard to explain. It maybe most resembles a sparrow trying to learn how to fly. The cop also described her eyes out on stalks, her long body, her lively way of walking and how she moves her arms as if she’d be in the jungle and has to move all kinds of plants out of her way...

There was no doubt about it.

I had been lucky, this was the cop to whom the detective had asked for directions. I now knew that she had gone to the Chop suey restaurant on the Dirty Alley. A logical move. After all, if there really are things in Chop suey that cannot be trusted, the Chinese people naturally have an interest in keeping that knowledge hidden from us.

Not long after, I found her near that restaurant indeed, leaning against a wall. I recognized her from afar. She is a very tall and skinny looking lady with a hat full of soft coloured feathers. She wears a wide skirt that goes just over her knees and has vertical stripes, which makes her look even taller, combined with a jacket which style and colour is slightly misfit to the skirt. Her flat ankle boots are worn off but well suited for running, climbing and kicking in them. She was completely exhausted. The reason of which became clear to me when she started telling me about her experiences ...

In Dirty Alley's Chop suey restaurant, she began her hunt by searching the restaurant owner thoroughly. Not only did she search in his pockets, she also thought of checking his mouth. Unfortunately, the formula was not hidden between his teeth. Otherwise, she would have certainly seen it, because he had only three. She then ordered the mysterious Chop suey dish hoping to find something in it. The dish the lurid cook prepared for her contained what looked like: gasoline, dried dragonflies, steel wire, a puppy … But no trace of the formula. The cook tried to get the detective out of the way by attacking her with his sharp chef's knife, but she managed to defeat him by throwing a large plant pot at his head.

After her visit to the restaurant, she opened a suspicious-looking door with a hairpin that opened into a pitch-dark square room. There she tried to regain her balance and leaned her hand against the wall. Because of this, she accidentally rolled into the Chinese headquarters. Inside, a whole bunch of Chinese bandits were making loud music. They then started to play all kinds of pranks on her. For example, the gang leader took great pleasure in pressing a button on his chair, opening a hatchway on the floor under her feet. She fell into a swimming pool in the basement through a meter long fall.


She did not let it discourage her. However, it turned out that the cellar, like that first dark room, did not have a door. Again, she leaned against a wall that turned out to be a tipping door and now she entered the stairwell. As sly as a dog that is, on all fours, she climbed back up the stairs to continue her hunt. She walked back into that room in that same way, but the gang members didn’t let themselves be fooled and happily pressed the hatchway button again, so that she soon found herself floundering into the basement pool again.

On top of that, the friendly cop also fell into the pool, right next to her. He had come to help her out. She made the gesture of the flying sparrow to emphasize her detective identity, even though surely he knew that already. The cop agreed to go up in order to push the gang members one by one through their own hatchway. The detrective already started counting.

‘One!’ She shouted enthusiastically, but the cop said:
‘Well, that was just me.’
Once he managed to push them down and then kept distracting them in the basement, she went upstairs to get the bandit with the papers. She sneaked into a side room and looked for him everywhere. The room was fairly empty and a bit dark, in the corner was a single chair with a coat rack above it. When she wanted to sit down on that chair, having lost all hope, she turned out to be sitting on that villain's lap! She jumped up and started fighting with him for the papers, but he threw her on the floor like a dirty dishcloth. He went to the next room where the bandits by now had returned and resumed their musical rehearsal. The detective looked carefully through a crack in the door. She just saw them putting the envelope, loudly laughing, in a vase decorated with exotic flowers, in the corner of the room. Then, of course, she did everything she could to get that formula out of there.

She even dressed up as a Chinese doll, by putting on a jacket that was hanging on the coat rank, so they would not recognize her. While she approached them she made very tiny, tiny, little, small steps, quick little steps. She also wrapped her hands in each other and bent her head forwards and a bit to the side, while doing so she confidently said:

‘I am a China doll.’ However, the gang members laughed at her saying:

O really, we thought you were a Spanish chicken!’ and she ended up in the pool again with one push on the button. The cop and the detective scrambled out of the pool and then got trapped in the curious door between the basement and the stairwell. That door, where she previously had just tipped through, now suddenly started to turn.
The cop went through first and the door slammed her by the chin, back into the basement. When she followed him, he was set back to the basement. When he went through the door again, the detective was pushed back.
She went through, he was set back back.
When he gets through she’s back again.
She's going to the other side and he's back in the basement, she's going back when he comes through it again and once more.

What a silly door’, the detective said to me while she brought her hand to her ear like she does when she needs to think, the flying sparrow at rest. Suddenly I woke up from her thrilling story because my eye fell on the envelope that popped out of her jacket’s pocket. In it I found the formula of our inventor! ‘She did it!’ I thought. Without listening to the rest of her story, I hurried off, holding the envelope firmly in my hands, excited.
The first contact had been made.


Charlie.translate = a translation machine that translates early 20th century comic films from the medium of film to the medium of fiction. Charlie.translate is programmed to rewrite those parts of the original story that are based on racism, sexism and gender essentialism without actually deviating of the material.