Thursday, February 23, 2017

Fatty's Plucky Pup (USA,1915)

The comedy shorts of Keystone studios of the 1910s were usually one reelers (circa 11 minutes long), but this one is a two reeler (circa 22 minutes long). The main impact on the plot is that the psychological profile of character of actor Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle is slightly better developed than it would be in a one reeler. 
As expected in a Keystone film, we can see a snapshot of life of working class citizens, lots of rough physical gags and pretty straightforward situations. Fatty is an adult man who still lived at home. It seems he did not have a job and often found himself in trouble and relied on the protection of his temperamental mother even to simple tasks.  But those problems did not prevent him from having a sweetheart just around the corner
Fatty saved a dog who was being maltreated by two men and released the other dogs who were caged by those tough guys. This was the beginning of a new friendship. Actually, in real life this friendship was old as Fatty was the owner of Luke and the one who decided to put his dog in films. 
After that, Fatty’s character brought the dog home and there is a quite funny scene where he gives Luke a bath, with “the finishing touch” of taking care of the nails of his new friend in a rather awkward way. Unfortunately Fatty’s mother did not like Luke very much, perhaps because Fatty washed the dog on the same bucket where she washed clothes. 
The utmost trouble happened after Fatty disrupted a game two unscrupulous men were playing on the street. The men decided to take revenge on Fatty by kidnapping his sweetheart. Luke was the first to realize what happened and came to the girl’s rescue. He followed the kidnappers to the shack where they hid her. Thus, when the girl finally got to call Fatty’s house in a moment of distraction of the guys, Luke was already outside, barking and terrorized some of the though men. 
As soon as Fatty received that call, Luke returned to Fatty’s home and promptly guided him to the shack. The timing was perfect, because the guys were quite close to kill the girl. Meanwhile, Fatty’s mother called the police station, Fatty looks for help at that same place and then we can see the Keystone Cops coming to the scene. A frantic chase happens, but they all got to find the girl.
Luke found the girl even before the policemen did, he untied her, which was particularly important considering how unskilled Fatty was to handle the rescue by himself.  She fainted for a brief time, which was a typical reaction of a 1910s damsel in distress, but we can soon see the girl, Fatty and Luke happily sitting on the shack, reunited and happy.
A noteworthy detail is the ridiculously fake mustache of nearly all villains. It is also a delight to see the urban landscapes of the era, with lots of empty space and only a few cars here and there, symbols of a way of life that has been gone for many decades. 
Not a particularly innovative or hilarious short, but it remains entertaining and with a plenty of historical value and it is worthy watching. 

Monday, February 20, 2017

Mabel's Wilful Way (USA,1915)

In this one reeler, Keystone studios remained faithful to his formula of a park (a perfect scenery to benefit from the sunny weather of California), some cops and a girl. But she was definitely not a delicate flower.
Mabel Normand, at the height of her youth and popularity, had another ground-breaking performance. And she was a rather innovative actress because, despite her beautiful and delicate looks, she was not only a “damsel in distress” or a cute woman in the scene only to give some “atmosphere”, but she was also a daredevil, both on screen and real life. She did a plenty of her own stunts in her films and was even an airplane driver in real life back to the 1910s. 
Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle was already a known comedian, having started in films in 1913 at Keystone studios itself. Arbuckle still plays in this film the role of a baby-man, who was incapable of controlling his own impulses, which is a standard of a plenty of his early films at Keystone studios. This limited a lot his comedic potential and fortunately he abandoned such characters as time passed. Since this film is a one reeler and it was no required a deep psychological development of his character, his broad, unrealistic gestures and behavior are fortunately barely seen by the audiences.
Much has been said about the 1920s romantic comedies by Harold LLloyd, but the Normand x Arbuckle duo had already engaged in the genre in previous decade with successful results. Part of the excellent chemistry they had on the screen came from their close friendship in real life. 
In this film, Mabel was out in an amusement park with her parents, but she felt bored and decided to have some fun without them. She ended up meeting two suitors (Arbuckle and Edgar Kennedy) and enjoyed the park with them in a mischievous, but innocent way.  Then we can see one of the highlights of the film, which showed how a genuine amusement park was like back to the early XX century, and how much fun people seemed to have there.
Unfortunately -to the guys -they inadvertently had problems in the park with some people who happened to be Mabel’s parents. Needless to say, it was a ticklish situation when Mabel decided to introduce her new friends to her parents, who were not really happy to see their old antagonists again.
We can see some rough scenes for nowadays’ standards, especially where Arbuckle feeds a bear with a cone of ice cream and a rather ethnically insensitive scene where some balls are thrown on a man in blackface for sheer entertainment purposes. It is also a bit disturbing to see Mabel spanked by her parents for her misbehavior at the end of the film.
In addition to still being enjoyable, this film also provides us with an interesting historical witness of an old era. Amusement parks were still at their beginning (at least in the USA) and at the turn of XIX and XX the entertainment of middle classes in Northern hemisphere started to change greatly. Cinema itself was part of this change. Consequently, although this comedy is clearly outdated we can still laugh at some of its gags.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Cruel, Cruel Love (USA,1914)

This film was made during the first year of Chaplin in films, which he spent working for Keystone studios. Thus, the style of this comedy short was typical of the output of Keystone films of the era: Knockabout slapstick, actors in broad gestures to the point of situations often have a surreal aura, fast pace of films, misunderstandings, chases, fake facial hair. We can see it all in this film. Therefore, the pathos, slow pace of subsequent Chaplin films -which made him a legend of cinema worldwide – were still absent here. 
Another important fact is that this short film was considered lost for some decades and the existing footage was found in South America, with some missing minutes compared with the original film. Thus, current audiences must take it into consideration before analyzing this cute little slapstick comedy.
It must be highlighted that the actors do engage in broad, stagy gestures, which was an acting style already out of date back to 1910s films. This is particularly true when we realize that the subtle style of actresses like Mary Pickford, Lillian Gish, etc were already quite successful in Hollywood at that time. Minta Durfee had the most exaggerated acting among all main actors of this film, but it is really no surprise as she always acted quite stagy in her Keystone films.
The character of little tramp existed only as a rough draft of what the audiences would see years later. Actually, Chaplin plays a wealthy man who was left by his love interest (played by actress Minta Durfee, who in real life was back then the first wife of another silent comedy star of the same studio, Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle) after she caught Chaplin in an apparently compromising situation with the maid. In reality, Chaplin was only trying to help the maid, who had just hurt her foot and the supreme irony is that the maid had hurt herself right after meeting her own boyfriend (who, obviously was not Chaplin, as she already had another sweetheart).
Chaplin, in despair, tried to kill himself by taking poison even though he did not know that his butler had replaced the poison by water and was laughing out loud at Chaplin’s near-death reactions. As Chaplin was not aware he had only drank water, he thought his death was imminent. 
The real boyfriend of the maid showed up and explained the entire situation to Durfee, that Chaplin had not done anything wrong. Durfee sends Chaplin a letter saying she wants him back and the film has a happy end. 
Although those who are not familiar with Chaplin’s short films in his first years in Hollywood (before he took over full creative control on his films and when he was not a cinema star yet) will barely recognize him in this film, it is still worth watching. This comedy perhaps looks a bit “primitive” to nowadays’ standards, but they were quite usual and popular back to the 1910s and they were vehicles to catapult a plenty of actors into stardom, being Chaplin only one of them. 
The production values of Hollywood were already being consolidated back them. An example of it is that the first comedy feature-length comedy of Hollywood was produced exactly in 1914 by the same Keystone studios, having Charlie Chaplin in the cast and also Marie Dressler (who was already a famous theater actress). This short film was definitely part of all evolvement cinema was witnessing on early XX century. 

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Two Tars (USA,1928)

This film is arguably among the most known silent shorts by Laurel and Hardy. This is a delicious mix of situational comedy and slapstick, of standard material of late 1920s with some subtle influence of slapstick of previous decade. Everything adapted to the so-called Jazz Era. 
Laurel and Hardy play the roles of two Navy men on their day off. They decide to rent a car, get involved in an accident and it does not take long until they meet two beautiful girls and get interested in them. An awkward conversation takes place, where the guys try to act though to impress the girls -without much success. 
The girls were having some problems with the candy machine, Laurel and Hardy tried to help them, but ended up worsening the situation by inadvertently breaking the machine and making all candies fall on the sidewalk. A furious employee of the store shows up. At first, Laurel and Hardy tried to comfront them, but after it was clear that they were not as though as they seemed, the girls took the problem into their own hands and one of them even beat up the store employee. This was a very interesting scene, as it was reversed the standard of “damsels in distress”, so popular in the 1910s, in favor of a new sort of woman that blossomed in the 1920s: The flappers, strong-willed young girls, who attended parties, smoked, and were much more liberated. 
Although the Laurel and Hardy were not exactly brave or skilled, the girls ended up going out with them in their car. The day was beautiful and everyone was happy, but then there was a traffic jam, and it is where it started the most famous part of the film. Actually, the idea of making a film in a traffic jam was pretty ingenious for 1928, as cars have not been around for too long yet. The drivers involved in the jam were understandably stressed and angry there and what started as a minor argument ended up having greater proportions, involving all drivers -including the girls themselves. 
Chaos happened and a fight started, with typical knockabout gags we could easily have seen in a slapstick comedy. This even included things being thrown, people falling down and getting dirty. This is not a very common type of a gag in Laurel and Hardy’s films, considering they have always been situational-oriented since the beginning of their duo. However, despite the clearly physical scenes of the fights during the traffic jam, we can also observe that the mechanical gags of the broken cars were well-elaborate and quite expensive for its era, especially because it was employed lots of damaged cars. Even the type of destruction each car endured were funny by themselves. 
Another noteworthy detail is how the policeman’s attempts to restore order ended up failing terribly and his authority was mercilessly ridiculed. We can see it clearly when his motorcycle was smashed in the middle of all confusion and how the policeman’s vehicle was so powerless in comparison with all those cards around him. This idea of making fun of authorities was very common in films by Keystone studios back to the 1910s, especially in films by the Keystone Cops. Although a full decade had passed and this film was produced by another studio we can see that cinema audiences still liked to laugh at the same things. 

Monday, February 13, 2017

Unaccustomed As We Are (USA, 1929)

Although this film was Laurel and Hardy’s first talkie, some silent versions of this film with intertitles were also released. So, both silent and talkie versions of Unaccustomed As We Are can still be seen nowadays, even in DVD. And it was the silent version that was watched before writing this review. 
The acting of Laurel and Hardy did not change very much compared with their previous silent films. Both actors had a more situational-oriented acting, not resorting too much on physical gags, even in the silent era, therefore sound films were actually quite favorable to those comedians. They also had pleasant voices, Stan Laurel even had an extensive experience on stage back to his native England (where he even worked with Charles Chaplin) and was pretty much used to dialogue in his career. 
The themes of battle of sexes, henpecked husbands and rebelling wives have already been widely explored throughout the 1920s domestic situational comedies. Thus, the plot of this film was not really innovative, but it stands out due to the reliable acting of experienced comedians. 
Oliver Hardy brings his good friend, Stan, to have dinner at his home to taste the delicious food of Mrs. Hardy. But unfortunately Oliver forgot to let his wife know about the visit in advance, so she could have proper time to make the arrangements. Mrs. Hardy got furious with that and says she will not cook for another crazy friend of Oliver and she leaves home rather angry, claiming she would spend some time in her mother’s house.
Oliver decides to cook for Stan, although he does not seem to be a skilled or experienced cook. Stan tries to help him, but he did not seem to be skilled with the housework either. Oliver’s next door neighbor, Mrs. Kennedy, realized both men were having problems and offered help for them to cook. However, there was an accident with Mrs. Kennedy while she was at Oliver’s house and her dress caught fire. When she was on her way back home to put on another dress, Mrs. Kennedy’s husband (Officer Kennedy) returned home.
Her husband was a though cop and Mrs. Kennedy was afraid that he would think she was actually cheating on him and would not believe she was half naked only because her dress was accidentally on fire. At first, Oliver volunteered to tell the truth to Officer Kennedy, but then he was also afraid of his neighbor’s reaction and the only solution was Mrs. Kennedy hiding herself in a trunk at Oliver’s house.
Since the silent era comedies could often revolve around misunderstandings it was not different in this film. Regretting her rant, Mrs. Hardy returned home very sad, determined to be in good terms with Oliver. She even said she would cook for Stan, but Mrs. Kennedy was locked in a trunk and had to leave the house. To disguise the delicate situation, Oliver claimed he was leaving Mrs. Hardy to go to South America and tried to go away from home taking the trunk with him. 
Mrs. Hardy was furious, blaming Stan for Oliver’s decision and she got very angry again. In the middle of this chaos, Officer Kennedy arrived at Oliver’s house. Officer Kennedy volunteered to talk to Oliver, so Oliver would not abandon his wife. 
He immediately realized Oliver was hiding a woman in the trunk and took it to his house, so Mrs. Hardy would not find it out what was truly happening with Oliver. What Officer Kennedy could not really imagine was it was his own wife who was in the trunk and he inadvertently started to talk to Oliver about his extramarital affairs, claiming he met some cute girls while out of home and that Mrs. Kennedy had never a clue about it.
Mrs. Kennedy heard everything while inside the trunk and was obviously furious. As soon as Officer Kennedy returned home she started arguing with her husband and even broke things on him. On the other hand, Officer Kennedy was furious with Oliver and Hardy, blaming them both for his marital problems.
Actress Telma Todd (Mrs. Kennedy) managed to show her good comedic time, funny facial expressions and a beauty that was very much within the 1930s standards. Although she was already acting back to the silent era, it was only in talkies where she could show off her comedic skills. Although she was mysteriously murdered in the 1930s, Todd made a name to herself.
Australian actress Mae Bush (Mrs. Hardy) was already an experienced comedienne when this film was made and had been in films since the 1910s. The same applies to Edgar Kennedy (Officer Kennedy), who worked with some of the best film comedians of Hollywood and had the distinction of being one of original Keystone Cops back to the 1910s. During silent era he also worked for both Mack Sennett and Hal Roach, who were among the most famous producers of comedies at the time.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Three's a Crowd (USA, 1927)

This film is a good example on why Harry Langdon is considered by many critics to be at the same artistic level of the “three masters of silent comedy”, which are Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd. With imaginative, creative gags and an ability to really make people feel sympathetic in a plot whose pathos is universal, it is hard to resist Langdon’s charm and comedic competence. 
Langdon is a lonely lad who lives in a poor neighborhood. We can quickly see how innocent Langdon is and that he truly lives in a chaotic world, whose rules he cannot understand. He is not really a bad person and he tries to do his best to handle the chaos around him, but he is always a victim of circumstances he cannot control. At the same time the audience realizes Langdon is exploited by his boss, but his contact with his boss, who is married and has a son, makes Langdon understand that a family life could be something very fulfilling. The wife of his boss takes pity on Langdon and treats him gently, but unfortunately it was enough for his boss to feel jealous and think he was flirting with his wife. Some misunderstandings occur and Langdon found himself in hot water. 
After a while, time passed, winter came and it started to snow heavily. In another unidentified place, we could see a man waking up, looking troubled and he found a note on a chair. If was his pregnant wife who had left him (the audience was led to understand it was due to alcoholism, gambling or something like that) and recommended her husband to return to his father’s house and recover and that if he managed to do it, she would forgive him and give him a second chance. The audience can feel instantly that both husband and wife loved each other deeply and it was only the husband’s momentary troubles that separated the couple. 
After walking in the middle of all snow, the woman feels ill and Langdon gets to bring her to his house while she was fainted and took care of her. After realizing she was pregnant and the baby would soon be born, he called a doctor and the neighborhood’s women to handle her delivery. Langdon waited on his doorstep until the baby was born and the baby was healthy and everything went well. After everyone congratulated him on the baby’s birth, Langdon could finally experience how wonderful it was to have his own family. He knew very well that the woman had a husband and that the guy might be looking for his family, but deep inside Langdon wished ardently that the husband forget about his wife and son, so he could have them both as his own family. 
A while after the baby is born, the woman is bedridden and Langdon takes care of them both, also working hard to financially support both mother and baby. Langdon is shown to be really awkward to take care of the baby, as he had no experience whatsoever, but he could also compensate it with much love and dedication to his new adopted family. One day, Landgon decides to go to the fortune teller to check if the husband would ever return and pick up his wife and son. After the fortune teller assuring him that the husband would step out and never return, Langdon felt confident and secure that his new family would never be taken away from him, even though he was still afraid. 
Meanwhile, the husband got desperate that his wife had left him and he really did as she requested in her letter. He returned to his father’s house and was doing good, we can really see he was looking much better. And, after his recovery, he started a made hunting for his wife and son and he hired private detectives to assist him. 
After a while, Langdon’s worst nightmare happened and the husband returned to look for his family. At first, the husband seemed puzzled, but after realizing his wife and son were so kindly taken care of and that Langdon helped his family right at the moment they needed it the most, the husband felt really touched and he showed his utmost gratitude and appreciation for Langdon. His wife was also very grateful. But then the pathos takes place again, after the couple said they would be really happen to see Langdon again, they left Langdon’s house in a blink of eyes and Langdon found himself as alone as he was at the beginning of the film. And both woman and son disappeared from his life as unexpectedly as they had entered.
Langdon is devastated and returned to the fortune teller to confront him, but the fortune teller’s store was closed. Langdon thought about throwing a stone and break the window as an act of revenge, but he was not really a bad man and gave up. But, for the first time, destiny was on Langdon’s side. After he gave up, throwing the stone away, it ended up hitting a heavy object, which clashed right into the fortune teller’s story, destroying it completely. This is the final message of the film, that revenge is useless and that whatever that must happen to a person, either good and bad, can smoothly happen without anyone’s interference. 

Monday, September 26, 2016

Four Sons (USA, 1928)

This film follows the same production and plot values of films like, The Big Parade (USA, 1925), among others. WW1 is shown irrespective of politics, focused on the impact of war in the lives of ordinary citizens, who for the first time in life have the deal with events completely beyond their control changing their future forever.
Without falling into melodrama, this film has a smooth, pleasant pace, quite familiar to modern-day audiences.  The fluid camera movement makes it looks like we are following those characters in real life. The film is so moving because it deals with facts with which most people can identify themselves quite easily, like the importance of having a harmonious family. 
Fox studios had recently hired prestigious German director F.W. Murnau. His influence can be observed in some scenes, for example, in the village, mobilized camera and mailman which is like the doorman in The Last Laugh (Germany, 1924).
The setting is Germany in the beginning of XX century and a widowed mother raising her four adult sons. The view of German lifestyle at that film is somehow stereotyped, as we can see even by the clothes of the village dwellers.  The Bavarian wearing their typical clothes everywhere all the time.
Then the war started. At first, the bothers are shown going to war in a rather romanticized way, as brave men who were fighting for the country and ideals and they left in a rather optimistic mood, saying they would be back in three months. At least, that was the atmosphere before the real horrors or death and suffering began. Three of those brothers fight for Germany, but the one of brothers had immigrated to the United States, being on the opposite side of his three other brothers. 
At first, the brother who immigrate to the USA had a calm life together with the family he formed there, after all the United States was neutral at first. But time passed and two of the brothers were unfortunately killed in action, which brought a huge grief to the mother. In addition to it, the life of the mother and her surviving son worsened terribly when they started being bullied by government authorities and things became hell after it was found out that her another surviving son is in America.
Finally, the last surviving brother in German soil is called to go to the army. At that point, the horrors of war were already undeniable. 
The mother eventually found her happiness again, after much struggle, when she managed to reunite in the United States with her surviving son, daughter in law and grandson. Things were not easy to her when she arrived, she was scared and sore, but after the entire family gathered together the wounds started to heal. Of course that to reach this happy end it was required a plenty of coincidences that we could only see in films. 
At the end we realize that it does not matter in which side of the war people are involved, the suffering and hardship affects everyone, family ties struggle and trauma is huge even in people who did not go to the front directly.