Saturday, April 19, 2014

It's a Gift (USA, 1923)

This is one of the most creative silent short comedies by Hal Roach studios and one of most famous films by Australian comedian Harry “Snub” Pollard (1889 – 1962).
An eccentric inventor, creatively named Pollard, lives in a house filled with his eccentric inventions. It is interesting to see that this film was made the year after Buster Keaton’s The Electric House (USA,1922), which also depicted a house full of gadgets. Was Keaton’s film an inspiration for this one? This is something that isn’t known.
But this film features something that wasn't in Keaton's film. While The Electric House focused on electricity, this film focuses on oil. A group of oil executives is trying to find a substitute for gasoline that is fireproof and non-explosive. It is very interesting to see that the challenge of finding alternative power sources has gone on longer than most people would imagine. There was an attempt to find a suitable gasoline substitute, but unfortunately the final result was an explosion. After that, the oil executives got to know that inventor Pollard had invented it and contact him without delay in order to schedule a demonstration. 

Hal Roach’s short comedies were surely among the ones with funniest intertitles and this one does not disappoint the audience in this regard. After claiming that “Edison works twenty hours -sleeps four. Pollard’s hours are longer –sleeps twenty-four”. Yes, the comparison was made with famous American inventor Thomas Edison, who was still alive at that time.
We see Snub sleeping and his bedroom is full of hanging wires, almost as if his bed was placed in the middle of a spider web. There are all sorts of gadgets in his bedroom, including a machine to clean his feet with a feather and a razor, and a device to make his breakfast. There was even a real chicken laying eggs in a special place, so the eggs would fall directly in the pan and a toy cow that would provide him milk directly on a cup. Pollard even found a way to receive his correspondence directly in bed. 

After a round of very creative invention-related gags, Pollard opens a letter where he is informed that the president of Onion Oil Co. would like Pollard to demonstrate his gasoline substitute.
After his blanket becomes a curtain and his bed becomes a fireplace, which are quite interesting gags to be seen, Pollard gets himself cleaned, get his hat among the flowers on the table and an intertitle mentions he has “en invention for every occasion”, which is something we cannot really deny. However, we must be aware to the fact that this same intertitle warns the audience that his inventions do not always work, which is something we will see with our own eyes right afterwards. Then we see something that resembles a car in a the shape of a pencil, but much smaller than the usual size of a car, leaving a garbage can that also serves as a garage. We will soon understand how it works. 

Pollard gets a huge magnet from inside the car and sits down. When a car passes by, he uses the magnet. The magnet is attracted to a passing car, pulling Pollard's car behind it in one of the most iconic scenes in this Australian comedian's career. Sometimes the magnet harms the car which is pulling Pollard's car along, which is an obvious drawback to his invention and causes him some problems with the owners of other cars. Some extra objects on the street are also accidentally pulled. This is exactly what happens when a garbage can where a police officer was sitting ends up being unintentionally pulled, which causes a chase that worthy of being shown in a 1910s slapstick comedy by Keystone Studios. But the cop has no chance to get Pollard; after all, he was chasing a car on foot and the chase is disturbed when the garbage can comes loose and the policeman trips over it and falls. The cop gets to stand up and run again but he is finished for good after falling in a culvert hole in the middle of the street after Pollard's magnet had just pulled off the lid.

When Pollard drives by a lake he notices something unusual and approaches people to see what is happening. He realizes a guy is drowning and offers his waterproof shoes to save the guy. Yes, he had waterproof shoes inside of his car. After all, he could need them at any moment. Lol! We can also see that the car is small but it is possible to tuck many things inside of it. Unfortunately Pollard has to run away after realizing his invention was a flop and it wouldn’t really help rescuing the drowning man.
Pollard finally meets the oil executives and he claims his invention will solve their problem, so the invention is tested in some cars. They can move successfully at first, but after several minutes they explode so powerfully that the explosion impacts some nearby buildings. The damage is huge. 

Once more our dear inventor has to escape in his peculiar car while being chased by a motorcycle. Will Pollard be able to run away? Of course he will. All he has to do to avoid his pursuer is push a button inside his car and fly away. This time his invention works and the film ends with Pollard flying away towards safety. What a creative film and what a creative end!

Further reading and materials:
1. Forgotten Funnymen - Snub Pollard and Bobby Vernon

2. Some DVDs of films by Harry “Snub” Pollard

4. If you feel like comparing this film with The Electric House (USA, 1922) you can watch this cute Buster Keaton film for free in site:

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