Sunday, February 18, 2018

Frauds and Frenzies (USA,1918)

The theme of convicts trying to escape prison was relatively common in silent comedies. And comedies –specially slapstick ones - portraying policemen and authorities (who were usually incompetent, slow and lazy) were also abundant both in the USA and Europe. The laughter such films provided was also a relief to audiences, considering that a plenty of cinema goers belonged to working classes, who could laugh at those who had a more prominent position in society. 
Although not particularly innovative, this film had some funny physical gags, which can still be universally understood by modern audiences, regardless of culture. This is particularly true in the beginning of the film, when the convicts were shown performing forced labor. Stan Laurel, despite having engaged in such gags, also subtly showed to have a more self-contained type of humor, which he would also have during his pairing with Oliver Hardy. Speaking of Hardy, Semon would also work with him prior to his pairing with Stan Laurel. 
One day both Semon and Laurel got to escape and they suddenly became rivals for the love of a beautiful girl (with curly hair and a big umbrella, very much according to 1910s fashion standards). Such love interest is prone to make the former convicts having problems with the police again because the girl turned out being the daughter of one of policemen. At this point we can observe an ethnically insensitive gag, when they tried to kiss the girl, but it was actually a black woman below the umbrella, which makes both Semon and Laurel run away in disgust. Such gags were also common in silent comedies and not considered by some people as gross as it is considered nowadays. 
As usual, Semon happily engages in his cartoon-like special effects and gags of big proportions. There is even a chase (which is a type of gag considered by some laymen audience members as the symbol of silent films in general). It is also noteworthy that Stan Laurel gets less screen time in the second half of the film. Laurel had claimed that Semon reduced his time in the film in fear of being upstaged after a comment that Laurel was funnier than himself. 
Although not well-remembered nowadays, Larry Semon was a famous comedian in his day. He would pass away around one decade after this film, while in poor financial and health situation, but a plenty of his films are preserved nowadays and his distinctive cinematic style still stands out. 

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