Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Big Red Riding Hood - 1925

Country: United States
Director: Leo McCarey
Writer: Hal Roach
Stars: Charley Chase, Martha Sleeper and Helen Gilmore
Release Date: 26 April 1925 (USA)
Also known as: Le grand chaperon rouge (France)
Filming Locations: Hal Roach Studios - 8822 Washington Blvd., Culver City, California, USA
Production Co: Hal Roach Studios
Sound Mix: Silent
Color: Black and White
Genres: Short | Comedy
Jimmy is asked by the Swedish Government to translate for educational purpose "Little Red Riding Hood", but he can't afford to buy the book, so he tries reading it at the book shop, something the owner doesn't like. But with a little help by the owner's wife it is not impossible, even when the book is bought by somebody else, put in a car and the car is stolen...   
Author: wmorrow59 from Westchester County, NY
This is a genuinely crazy comedy short, almost dreamlike in its surreal story-line and imagery. It's hilarious and exhilarating if you're in the right kind of mood and willing to roll with it. Big Red Riding Hood is certainly not the sort of thing we expect from Charley Chase, who in this instance adopted the cartoon-y style of his brother Paul Parrott. As Hal Roach's director general Chase was influential in a studio-wide shift towards a more realistic comic technique, often based on the foibles of middle-class life and pretensions. In his own comedies Charley usually played a pleasant young man who worked in an office and was either married or dating, or sometimes both. In a typical short the gags develop naturally from the situation and the characters; Chase tended to avoid the anything-for-a-laugh approach favored at the Mack Sennett lot. In this early effort, however, Charley cut loose and experimented with a premise that's loony from the get-go, and just for good measure he tossed in a fantasy sequence that allows for more craziness.
Still known as "Jimmie Jump" at this point, Charley plays a bookish fellow who has been hired by the Swedish government to translate Little Red Riding Hood into Swedish. (They're offering 10,000 Krona for the job, which strikes me as a pretty good deal.) The problem is, Jimmie's so broke he can't afford to buy a copy of the book, so he lounges at an outdoor bookstall and browses a copy while surreptitiously working on his translation. He flirts shyly with the bookstore owner's daughter, played by the adorable Martha Sleeper, but flees when her father shows up. And yet when Jimmie fantasizes about the story he's translating he imagines not Martha in the lead role but a heavy, older woman who turns out to be a fellow customer. When another customer buys that copy of Red Riding Hood -- apparently the only one available -- and tosses it into his car, Jimmie's career is thrown into jeopardy. The situation worsens considerably when thieves attempt to steal the man's car, and the man pursues them in their vehicle with his own. Jimmie has no choice but to jump onto a bicycle and ride alongside the speeding car, and attempt to finish reading the story. (I guess he doesn't know the ending.) The car chase that ensues is, shall we say, one for the books.
The finale of this short offers one of the best comic chase sequences I've ever seen: it's fast and furious, expertly edited, and highlighted by a macabre gag that must be seen to be believed. Charley's Red Riding Hood fantasy, featuring an affable-looking German Shepherd as the wolf, is another highlight in a short that's packed with incident, all beautifully choreographed and which somehow unfolds as naturally as the weirdest dream you've ever had after eating too much spicy food.
This one-reel short was produced in 1924 as one of Chase's first starring efforts for Hal Roach, but it sat on the shelf for more than a year, perhaps due to concerns that it was so crazy it might alienate viewers unfamiliar with the star's more characteristic work. By the middle of 1925 Chase had established his style and was popular with audiences, so popular that he was moving into the longer two-reel format, so the studio must have figured that it was safe to release Big Red Riding Hood. I'm glad they did, and happier still that it survives to be enjoyed today. Even jaded film buffs who think they've seen it all may be pleasantly surprised by what they find here.

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