Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Do You Love Your Wife? (USA,1919)

In this film we can already see the situational comedies by Hal Roach studios at their full splendor with all typical elements: slower pace compared with slapstick comedies (specially those produced by rival Keystone studios in the 1910s), a focus on realistic situations in more sophisticated settings, witty intertitles. One of most common subject matters of Hal Roach films
A young Stan Laurel plays the role of a janitor in rather average gags and this film does not really indicate he would become a start less than a decade later. 
There is a mention to a “vampire” and we can’t help remembering Theda Bara, who reached the peak of her short-lived popularity back to 1910s by playing the role of mysterious vamps, who seduced men, wrecked their marriages and brought them to ruin and misery. Of course a “faithless husband” (who is dressed up in a fairly sophisticated way, which leads the audience think he might be a wealthy man) falls prey to her seductiveness. Well, she is not as seductive as she could be and the parody of the screen vamp generates some funny gags, like when the vamp is rather to kiss the unfaithful husband, she ends up sneezing.
The janitor causes a plenty of embarrassments with his vacuum cleaner while he is cleaning the hall in a hotel, specially when he accidentally vacuums the dress of a young lady. 
After a while, the husband is caught in the act with the vamp by his wife and she claims she is going to shoot both him and the vamp. The janitor hears the noise of a shot, enters the room. Meanwhile, the vamps trying to defend herself by throwing a vase on the enraged wife, but ends up hitting the janitor instead. 
After another incident, the unfaithful husband realized the vamp was flirting with another man right under his nose. He realizes he was wasting his marriage with a good woman and decides to reconcile with his wife, to the amazement of the janitor, who had just witnessed the wife about to shoot her husband. 

Monday, April 18, 2016

Don't Park There (USA,1924)

Urban chaos x countryside peacefulness was already an issue in some places back to 1920s, which makes this comedy relate to modern-day audiences more than average silent films would. The subject matter has not really got old.
The perplexity of the countryman, who had to go to the city to purchase things, is something we can easily understand and the fact that nowadays big cities are far busier than the city portrayed in this film only makes the gags funnier. 
The countryman is played by Will Rogers, a actor who who would become quite famous a short time later. He played the role of a countryman who lived in the White Horse Ranch, which was located far back in the woods. It is easy to assume that its dwellers were not often in touch with big cities. Roger is given the assignment to purchase “a bottle of Doane’s Horse Liniment”. After a while, he reaches the edge of town and slowly streets become busier with both cars and people. Rogers, his horse and slower life pace represent symbols of a era that was already fading back to 1920s.
The car was one of symbols of modernity. And it is even shown a Ford factory. Rogers managed to easily enter the factory and ended up taking one of its cars without anyone opposing resistance to it. He has lots of difficulty to drive among the heavy traffic of busy streets of the city. Then, he has to face the challenge of finding a parking space, perferably near a drugstore. There were not vacancies available and parking limitations did not make any sense to the countryman, who was not really used to those rules. He ended up parking the car extremely distant from his destination.
This situation gives room to some very funny gags involving cars, which was not something uncommon in filsm produced by Hal Roach studios, and such gags were even present in some Laurel and Hardy late silents. 
Finally, the end has a touch of irony. After Rogers finally reaches the drugstore and tell the salesman what he wants to buy, the salesman tells him that the liniment has not been produced for twenty years, which definitively shows that the country dwellers were no longer in touch with the modern world and its trends.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

The Midnight Cabaret (USA,1923)

There appeared three men in a house, all of them with completely fake beards and they start opening a hole on the floor. Then, we suddenly see three other people eating on a fancy table, two men and a girl. 
We soon realize that the men with fake beards were located in upstairs floor to the one where the three other people were having a meal and the bearded men “fish” the food from those people who were eating on the table with the assistance of a piece of rope and hooks.  
The people on the table were served more food. At the same time, the girl left to another room with a chubby guy. While the food was served, the bearded men fished the whole tray. It brings some disturbance to the people who were eating on the table, as it’s not always easy to lift food to the upstairs floor without spilling any of, after all.
Meanwhile, the girl was dancing in the ball room with the chubby guy and a generalized fight took place, which made some of those men being kicked out of the place. In the middle of all mess, the girl was crying and was comforted by a waiter
A short time later, the waiter and the girl share a table and eat some ice cream. The men gather together, go upstairs and ask for some help from the bearded men who were “fishing” their food.  They wanted the help to teach a lesson to the guy who was sharing a meal with the girl. So, all guys throw a piece of rope from upstairs’ hope. The guy who was on the table with the girl was smoking and accidentally sets the tip of the rope on fire. It would not be a big deal weren’t for the fact that there was a bomb tied on the other tip of rope. The bomb fell down and ended up on the table where the girl and the waiter were sitting. But the waiter gets to throw the bomb on the street before it explodes.
The guys try to throw another bomb from the upper floor, but the waiter gets to prevent it from exploding. Actually, the waiter escaped all attempts of throwing a bomb at him by the other guys.
The waiter run away and took shelter in a ball room. He was followed by the other guys, who carried guns and tried to shoot the waiter, but it does not work and the waiter got to escape unscratched all threats against his life. 
This film has some simple, but effective, special effects and a quick slapstick pacing, which are the strong points of this film. Physical gags were just average, which was compensated by good edition and camera use.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Plagues and Puppy Love (USA,1917)

Actor Larry Semon was a famous silent comedian with a pretty distinctive style. His films had the style of cartoons, with a plenty of chases (often involving more than one means of transportation) and special effects. The cartoon influence is no coincidence, as Semon used to be a cartoonist and graphic artist prior to his career in films. His films also had elaborate sceneries and a good edition work stringing the gags together.
In the first scene we see a rather cute girl walking her dog in a unusual way, which gives a funny touch to the scene. Then, there is a man with a big fake beard behind her. The girl rejects the man and keeps walking (running, actually). She sits on a outdoors bench and the man sits besides her. Then she realizes there was already another man sitting on the bench and she does not get happy about it.
All of a sudden, it appears a man who was behind the bushes and this third man also sits on the bench. Apparently, the girl had a plenty of prospective suitors, although all of them seemed to bore her to death. As if it was not enough to have three suitors, a fourth man shows up. He was a policeman and got to kick out all the other men, but he did not please the girl either and ended up being bitten by her dog.
After a short time, Larry appears and she seems to like him very much. Even her dog was very pleased to see Larry. While the policeman confronted Larry, the other three suitors showed up again. Larry managed to kick out the policeman and in this very scene we can see a special effect similar to those of cartoons that is very typical of films by actor Larry Semon.
But the other suitors do not give up and here they are again. Anyway, the dog was able to get rid of them this time, although the dog was really tiny. Judging by the speed and fear of those men we could think they were running from a lion or any other wild animal.
Larry had problems with some kids, who tie up the dog with some balloons as a revenge. Consequently, the dog ended up flying away. All other suitors show up once more and the girl promises her “hand and fortune” to the man who gets to save her dog. This generates a chase involving all characters of the film, who tried to save the dog as fast as they could.
The dog finally landed safely in the hands of his owner, then Larry goes away with the girl in a balloon, together with the dog. The other suitors try to prevent them from leaving, but it is useless. 

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Fatty's Faithful Fido (USA,1915)

In the beginning of film we see a cute scene of Fatty drinking water with his dog Fido. Both of them are close to a Chinese laundry. Fatty enters the place together with Fido and there are some women sweeping the floor. Both Fatty and Al St John love the same woman and the men end up fighting in front of the laundry. The guys keep on antagonizing each other in a typical slapstick fashion and such situation gives room to a plenty of physical gags, including throwing bricks and Fido mercilessly trying to bit Al St John at all costs.
There is a ball at the Chinese laundry and we can clearly see that the woman likes Fatty more than Al St. John. In this scene we can see that Fatty was more agile than it seems at first. Al St. John arrives at the ball, he confronts Fatty and at that same night he hires two other tough man to beat Fatty up. They’d be supposed to identify Fatty based on a cross that was marked on his back. However, that mark was deleted and Al St John had the same cross marked on his back, so the guys mistaken Al St. John for Fatty and starting beat up Al St. John.
Fatty arrives in the middle of this fight and realizes he also had that same cross on his back and he attacks Al St. John too, which causes a generalized violence outbreak in the ballroom. Not even poor little Fido was spared.
As always in Keystone films of 1910s, the physical gags were beautifully performed, mostly due to above-average acrobatic skills of Al St. John (whose legs seemed to be made of rubber in some scenes) and of Roscoe ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle. The supporting actors were regular players of the studio and equally used to play these kinds of films. The gags are rough, even gross, for nowadays’ standards, but slapstick humor was far more common at that era and those films were a huge success, specially among working classes and immigrants, who were the bulk of cinema audiences in the United States at the silent era. Such films had a universal humor, easy to be understood and it did not really matter whether the audiences were formed by foreigners or nationals, which was a factor that helped building up the American identify of immigrants who recently arrived at the country. 

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Fatty's Chance Acquaintance (USA,1915)

Actor Roscoe ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle, in his first years at Keystone studios, often played roles of helpless men who behaved like babies. Not the best characterization by Arbuckle, but he fortunately honed his humor and played more sophisticated roles after a short time in his cinema career.
In this film it is visible a common example of setting in silent comedies of the era, which is the use of parks. They were widely employed by directors due to their natural lightning and beautiful landscapes, everything for free.
In this specific film Fatty, who seems to behave like a grown up child, is a henpecked husband and he is even beaten by his wife in public. They both sit on a bench in a park while the wife mercilessly oppressed Fatty.
Meanwhile, a pickpocket arrives at the park with a pretty female companion. Fatty’s wife refuses to buy him a soft drink. A short time later, he drinks some water in a outdoors water fountain and ended up talking briefly to the pickpocket, who soon leaves.
While the wife stays alone, she falls asleep. The pickpocket approaches and takes money out of her purse. She does not realize she was robbed, but a policeman witnessed everything. While the theft happened, Fatty spots the pickpocket’s friend and starts flirting with her.
The policeman confronted the pickpocket, who got to run away. Fatty gets his wife’s purse while she’s asleep on the park bench and goes to a restaurant with the other woman, where they have an ice cream. Unfortunately, Fatty did not realize his wife had just been robbed and there was no money in her purse. In the next scene, we can see the policeman was still trying to catch the pickpocket, without much success.
Then, another couple sits besides Fatty’s wife. She awakes and thinks it was that couple who stole her purse. And she tries to take the woman’s purse away, without realizing it was NOT her own purse that the other woman was holding.
When Fatty had to pay the restaurant bill, he realized there was no money in his wife’s purse. Then, he returns to the park, where he meets the pickpocket again. Fatty gets some money with him to pay the bill. The pickpocket gets very angry after realizing Fatty had taken his girl to the restaurant and a there is a fight between both men.
Fatty’s wife finds her purse and sees him embracing the other woman at the restaurant. While the pickpocket is laughing at Fatty’s misfortune from a distance, the policeman returns and finally gets to arrest the criminal. As expected, the film ends with Fatty’s wife beating him due to his flirting out of turn.

When Love Took Wings (USA,1915)

This film is ahead of its time with regard to showing airplane scenes. Nevertheless, it was not new in Keystone studios, which had been making films with airplanes since its very first year, being “A Dash Through the Clouds” (USA, 1912) a fine example of a early Keystone film with very this same sort of plot. 
This is a typical Keystone film of 1910s, with a plenty of broad gestures and physical humor, including the traditional kick on the butt gag. 
In a unspecified rural area, a girl (played by actress Ollie Carlyle, who was somehow physically similar to Mabel Normand, then a star of Keystone studios), had a very jealous father and three suitors. Those characters lived in a rural area and all suitors tried to get the girl’s love. The suitors are in conflict among themselves and with the girl’s father, but nothing prevented the suitors from keep on coming. Not even the risk of being beaten by her father keep those men away from the girl. 
The girl is taken out of home, against her will, by one of her suitors. Her father calls the police. Another suitor finds them and a fight starts. 
Then, ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle and the girl see an airplane and they fly away. Yes, they were minding their own business and suddenly found a empty airplane. A chase happens, with cars and even a bicycle trying to reach the airplane. Despite all mess, both Fatty and the girl landed without a scratch. And they both tried to get married, but something unexpected prevents the marriage from happening. 
At the end, the suitors end up giving up the girl, although one of them unwillingly remain. Actually, he was forced by her father to marry her, as the other two suitors had already run away. 
This film, no matter how exaggerated it is, gets to show the influence of some recently invented technological items in daily lives of people, like the telephone, car, airplane, etc. The chases involving different means of transportation were relatively common in comedies of this studio and were often very funny, also giving a modern touch to those films in the eyes of audiences of the era.