Thursday, May 26, 2016

Fatty's Reckless Fling (USA,1915)

During his first years with Keystone studios, Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle often played the roles of helpless men, who could not control themselves and acted like grown up children. His comedic style also lacked the sophistication it would acquire later in 1910s upon his pairing with Buster Keaton. So, Arbuckle’s films during his stay at the studio employed lots of physical gags, knockabout slapstick around ordinary plots. However, he proved to be very popular among audiences since the beginning of his career on early 1910s until a scandal pematurely ended it in 1921. 
Henpecked husbands were a common theme in silent comedies and had their heyday in situational comedies of 1920s, although they have been around in previous decades. Arbuckle himself often played this sort of role. Another common element were misunderstandings, usually around socially inadequate behaviors and etiquette. 
This film have all aforementioned elements, plus actors with broad, exaggerated gestures. Arbuckle is a henpecked husband by a wife who is domineering, to the point of being rude. Apparently, whenever his wife left him alone he found himself in trouble and, after being caught in a poker game, Arbuckle was locked at home by his wife while she was away.  
Arbuckle found a way to leave his apartment. Meanwhile, another neighbor left his house and said good bye to his wife. Unfortunately, the poker players were interrupted by the police and a fight ensued, which gave room to some really silly gags, including typical shots of smoke on actor’s buttocks and messy scenery. 
As Arbuckle did not manage to return to his apartment, he found shelter in the neighbor’s house and it made people think he was romantically involved with the wife of his neighbor. This conflict provided the funniest gags of the film, specially one with a bed coming and going between both apartments. 
Although this film is not very funny, its plot is easy to follow and it provides a precious historical witness of typical slapstick comedies of 1910s and it has a plenty of action for a film of one reel (around 11 minutes). 

Super-Hooper-Dyne Lizzies (USA,1925)

Although many people associate Mack Sennett with 1910s slapstick comedies with frantic pace, damsels in distress, awkward cops, custard pies, villains with bizarre fake mustaches, etc. his studio always managed to adjust well to changing tastes of audiences, different comedic styles and even new technologies. 
In the 1920s, Mack Sennett studios (which was also known as Keystone studios in the first years of its foundation back to the previous decade) made situational comedies (with slower pace, less focus on physical gags and more realistic situations than the so-called slapstick comedies). 
Sennett also made very original comedies back to 1920s, specially with actors like Ben Turpin, Billy Bevan, Andy Clyde, etc. with a mix of slow and fast paces, witty intertitles, frequent explosions, cartoon-like special effects, objects that sometimes seemed to have a life of their own and nearly bizarre subject matters. A plenty of those films were directed by del Lord, who would later become known for his work with The Three Stooges. This film has all aforementioned characteristics. 
Burbank Watts is a inventor who tried “to get power for autos from the hot air wasted on radio speeches”. Do not worry if it does not make sense to you. This statement is not supposed to make much sense anyway. Just keep in mind that this new technology meant that cars would work without gasoline. Actually, the technology worked a bit too well, as cars started to move all by themselves, sometimes even without drivers in. 
Other characters of the film, among others, are Hiram Case, who was his helper, and did not seem to be very skilled. Winnie Watts was the inventor’s daughter.
It is also noteworthy that this new technology upset the oil merchant of the town and, to make things worse, he was also interested in the inventor’s daughter. The oil merchant tried to prevent this new technology from taking off, but the inventor’s assistant did not allow any sabotage to occur. As a bonus, the love of the inventor’s daughter went to his assistant and the oil merchant ended up being arrested
A particularly funny gag in this film with a car out of gas really reminded of ones made by Hal Roach studios to films of Snub Pollard (It’s a Gift, USA/1923) and Laurel & Hardy (Two Tars, USA/1928). This cute, weird comedy has its moments of fun, lots of creativity and it is still funny and amusing, even to nowadays’ audiences.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Roughest Africa (USA, 1923)

Another film by English actor Stan Laurel before his successful regular pairing with Oliver Hardy. Laurel had been in films for around 10 years before he started working with Hardy, mostly in films that did not stand out both in quality or humor. Perhaps, were not for the Laurel & Hardy duo, if those comedians kept on working on their own, they could ran the risk of not having their proper place in the history of cinema.
Despite having a kinda original plot for a situational comedy, the material of this film has average quality and does not provide much laughter. It is a politically incorrect film for nowadays’ standards because the characters are supposed to hunt animals, including a scene where Laurel tries to shoot a elephant. Although the animal was not hurt, such scene would be of bad taste for current standards. The scene where the elephant swallows a gun is also far from pleasant.
The film remains interesting, as it spoofs  travelogues that showed “exotic” parts of the world, their native populations, wildlife, landscapes, etc, often with a imperialist tone. Such documentaries were into fashion in the first decades of XX century.
Some pioneers are in Africa, although they really lack the bravery they were supposed to have. The scenery and natives look terribly fake already on first sight. The natives, for instance, were white acctors in black face, with make up that was far from sophisticated even to its own era. 
The pioneers face unfriendly natives and wild animals. Not surprisingly, they really lack any hunting skill whatsoever and it is apparently easier to them to shoot each other than to shoot a animal. 
Still talking about animals, it is not hard for nowadays’ audiences realize that neither bears nor Asian elephants are native species of Africa and even the fauna around the actors sometimes look really like the fauna of Northern America. A mistake that would not really go unnoticed in a current film. 
The interaction between people and animals in the jungle and the attempt of pioneers to film the animals provide the input to the gags of this film. The plot became old with time, but this film retains some historical value of an era when hunting animals to death was considered an accomplishment and socially acceptable.

Should Sailors Marry? (USA,1925)

The diminutive Australian-born comedian Clyde Cook was one of many comedians who ended up being forgotten as time passed, although he was quite popular in his era and had a long career that spanned even to talkies. His heyday was on Hal Roach studios in the 1920s. He was known by his acrobatic skills, which unfortunately were not always portrayed in his films. His films were not quit original or funny and were often a bit below average, specially in comparison with the work of more famous comedians like Chaplin, Keaton, Lloyd, Langdon, etc., which can partially explain why Clyde Cook’s popularity did not endure for too long. 
In this film, Cook portrays a physically fragile sailor, who had some savings and corresponded with a woman who he was about to meet with the intention to marry her.
What the sailor did not know is that this woman paid alimony to her first husband and intended to remarry in an attempt to take money from him, so she could still pay the alimony to her ex. So, she had a plan with her ex husband to make the sailor remain married to her for as long as possible, so her ex would have a guaranteed source of income. The help of her ex husband would prove valuable because, after all, he could use his physical skills as a wrestler to physically threaten the sailor. 
When both the woman and the sailor met, things turned out to be a nightmare to the latter. The woman was not as beautiful as she claimed she was and was rather tough. To make things worse, he moved to her house and was introduced to her two children, who were quite misbehaved and, to add insult to injury, her first husband still lived at home. 
After a while, the woman found out that her new husband (the sailor) had lost all his savings and she decided to make him work in a hazardous job. To make the most of his labor, she purchased a insurance policy, which would pay her in case an accident happened to her husband. So, both the woman and her ex wrestling husband make up a plan to kill the sailor at work. But the plan backfired and he escaped both the marriage and the accident with his life.
This film is interesting due to a participation of Oliver Hardy as a doctor who was examining the sailor, prior to his pairing with Oliver Hardy. Hardy’s scene was among the funniest of the film. Although the gags were not very funny, the final gags outdoors, when the sailor was fighting for his life were pretty ingenious for both camera use and special effects. 

Monday, May 23, 2016

Dog Shy (USA,1926)

Charley Chase was a talented American comedian, who started his career in films in the 1910s and had his heyday in situational comedies of Hal Roach studios in 1920s, both as a actor and director, where he worked in many successful films. During his association with Hal Roach studios he kept the screen persona of a guy with realistic appearance and body language in detriment of knockabout slapstick. 
This film has a relatively straightforward plot for a situational comedy. Chase plays the role of a man who has been afraid of dogs since early childhood and while running away from a dog on the street he ended up entering a telephone booth. Right before he entered there was another man in the booth, who left in order to get another nickel to drop in and continue to talk to a girl. Chase picked up the phone and talked to the girl on the other side of line and found out she was being forced by her parents to marry a nobleman. The nobleman was that guy inside the booth before Chase arrived. 
Chase wanted to help the girl to avoid the arranged marriage, but he did not have time to find out more about her, like her address, etc. because the call was interrupted by her mother.
Then, Chase is chased by a dog again and by complete chance he ended up at the girl’s house. Due to a misunderstanding, he also found himself with a recommendation letter to apply for a job in that house as a butler. At first, Chase is not interested in the job, but when he saw the guy from the telephone booth entering the house he connected the dots. He recognized the guy as being the nobleman, realized he was at the girl’s house and accepted to be the butler of her family. 
The nobleman proved to be very popular among all girls in a social gathering at the house. After some problems to find his girl among all other girls, Chase started doing his tasks as a butler. His first duty was to give The Duke a bath. Duke was the dog of the house, but he thought he was supposed to bath the nobleman instead. This misunderstanding created some of funniest scenes of the film, specially because the girl’s mother told the butler that if Duke was hard to handle, he could use force with him, if necessary. 
So, the nobleman was almost forced to take a bath, but Chase eventually found the right Duke and he had to bath the dog despite his fear of dogs. But it would not be the end of the problems.
The nobleman was actually a crook, who wanted to steal the house’s safe, the girl’s father wanted to get rid of the dog and Chase and the girl wanted to elope. So, all of them would do those things at midnight and they would howl like a dog as a signal and their respective accomplices would howl back. 
Of course that all those people howling at the same time and all those overlapped facts caused a major chaos, but it was all for the best. The crook ended up being caught, nothing was stolen and Chase was considered a hero by the girl’s family, which made things quite easy for them to marry. Eloping was no longer necessary.
Although this film is not particularly funny (except, perhaps, for the bathing scenes), it is still entertaining enough, with a realistic pacing and gentle humor. Sometimes Charley Chase gesticulates a little too much, but it was nothing in comparison with the broad, exaggerated gestures of actors of slapstick comedies. It is also interesting to see that Chase did speak most of the time during the film and it is even possible the audience do a plenty of lip reading. 

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Just Rambling Along (USA,1918)

Although this film is rather simple and not particularly innovative, it has a big historic value. It is a example of one of first films Stan Laurel made for Hal Roach before being paired with Oliver Hardy and reaching international fame. It was in Hal Roach studios where Laurel and Hardy started working together in the 1920s and where many of their films were made. 
This film is also noteworthy because it shows actress Clarine E. Seymour in a comedy. She became famous for her association with dramas by director D.W. Griffith, which also gave her a chance to work with famous actors like Robert Harron and Lillian Gish. Her career seemed to be promising, but we will never know how it would develop because she died at only 21 years old in 1920. Seymour’s most famous film is probably True Heart Susie, by Griffith, which was made in 1919. 
This film shows a amoral character, played by Stan Laurel, who has some resemblance with Chaplin in both body language and for being a kind of society’s outcast. After a fight with a kid about who would take a wallet that was found on the sidewalk, Laurel followed a beautiful woman into a restaurant and started to flirt with her. Actually, many men followed the woman and it seems she had flirted with them on purpose in order to attract clients to the restaurant. 
However, to go to the restaurant Laurel supposed to have money to pay for the food. Apparently, he was previously known to employees of the place and not welcome there. Laurel solved his financial problem by stealing the money from a kid on the street. The woman was not really flattered with Laurel’s advancements and ignored him completely, but he did not give up. In addition to flirt with the woman, Laurel also did all he could to get as much food as possible without paying and his plan worked well at first. 
But when the bill finally arrived, Laurel did not have enough money to pay for it and he ran away from the restaurant. Unfortunately, on his way out, he bumped into a cop who has been called by the kid whose money he had stolen before entering the restaurant. In an attempt to hide from the cop, he returned to the restaurant and the employees took revenge on Laurel by beating him up. 

Wicked Darling (The) - Tod Browning - 1919