Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Soilers - 1923

Country: United States
Language: English (intertitles)
Director: Ralph Ceder
Writers: Hal Conklin, H.M. Walker (titles)
Stars: Stan Laurel, Ena Gregory and Mae Laurel
Release Date: 25 November 1923 (USA)
Also known as: De viespeuken (Netherlands)
Production Co: Hal Roach Studios
Sound Mix: Silent
Color: Black and White
Plot Keywords: Claim | Sheriff | Alaska | Gold | Gay Cowboy | Fistfight | Claim Jumper | Corruption
Genres: Comedy | Short
Bob Canister has struck it rich in Alaska, but another man learns of it, and steals Bob's claim with the help of a mercenary sheriff. Canister's men are ready to fight, but Bob backs down rather than resort to violence in front of his girlfriend. Later, though, he goes to the other man's home and confronts him, ready to fight for his claim.
Before Stan Laurel became the smaller half of the all-time greatest comedy team, he laboured under contract to Broncho Billy Anderson in a series of cheapies, many of which were parodies of major Hollywood features. Most of Laurel's 'parody' films are only mildly funny, and even less funny for modern audiences who haven't seen the original movie which Laurel is parodying. 'The Soilers' remains slightly funny for modern audiences, but was probably funnier in 1923 for audiences who recognised the source material.
'The Spoilers' was originally a best-selling novel by Rex Beach: a tale of two-fisted prospectors in the Klondike gold rush of 1898, culminating in a knock-down drag-out brawl. The story was so popular, it was filmed at least five times (one version starring John Wayne). This 1923 slapstick comedy parodies a film version of 'The Spoilers' released three months earlier ... which was at least the second movie version of Beach's much-filmed novel.
In 'The Spoilers', hero Glennister squares off against villain McNamara. Here, they're parodied as "Canister" and "Smacknamara". Sadly, most of 'The Soilers' remains on that Mad-magazine level of wit. Since 'The Soilers' is a two-reeler, it can't possibly parody the entire plot of Beach's novel, so it inevitably emphasises the climactic barroom brawl.
There are a couple of decent gags here. The sheriff is trustworthy, because -- as a title card assures us -- 'Once he had been bought, he stayed bought.' So that's all right, then.
In recent years, 'The Soilers' has attracted some scholarly attention for the presence of an unnamed character portrayed by George Rowe. Among all these rootin' tootin' manly macho males, Rowe depicts an effeminate simpering cowboy who is clearly meant to be what folks used to call a 'nance'. During the climactic fight scene, while Stan Laurel and James Finlayson are tearing each other apart, Rowe sashays into the room in skin-tight dungarees and rearranges the furniture. Hilarious! Later, he addresses Stan as 'my hero' and tosses him a bouquet in the form of dropping a flowerpot from the balcony above. The pot lands on Stan's head, though the action is cleverly staged so that we can't tell if the lonesome cowboy did it intentionally or not.
The last name of Stan Laurel's character is spelled "Canister" in some scenes, "Cannister" in others.
Featured in The Celluloid Closet (1995) - archive footage
Spoofs The Spoilers (1923)

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