Harold Lloyd in “Never Weaken”

Posted in Comedy, Harold Lloyd, Hollywood (History), Movies, Silent Film with tags , , , , on October 22, 2014 by travsd

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Today is the anniversary of the release date of Never Weaken (1921), one of the last of Harold Lloyd’s shorts, and one of the best of his so-called “thrill comedies”, paving the way for his most famous in that line Safety Last. 

Like many of the best short comedies, this one is in three sections. In the first part, the plucky Harold devises ingenious ways to drum up business for his sweetie’s (Mildred Davis) boss, an osteopath. In the second he thinks his girlfriend is going to marry some other guy and he unsuccessfully tries to commit suicide. In the last part, poor unsuspecting Harold is in his office minding his own business when a crane at the construction site across the street swings a girder in the window and picks up the chair in which he’s sitting. There follows an odyssey of nightmare proportions as Harold tries to make his way to earth from the upper levels of an unfinished building with no floors, stairs or elevator.

To learn more about comedy film history please check out my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Mediaalso available from amazon.com etc etc etc

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To learn about the history of vaudevilleconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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Charlie Chaplin in “The Adventurer”

Posted in Charlie Chaplin, Comedy, Hollywood (History), Movies, Silent Film with tags , , , , , on October 22, 2014 by travsd

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Today is the anniversary of the release date of Charlie Chaplin’s The Adventurer (1917), his last film on his Mutual contract, and one of his funniest, best-made flat-out comedies.

The action starts from the very first frame, when Charlie makes his appearance (from underneath the sand on a beach) as an escaped criminal, with an entire police force hot on his trail. The chase is one of Chaplin’s best — my favorite part is his brilliant staging at a fork in the road, with one path leading up a steep hill, the other, flat terrain — a masterpiece of comedy choreography.

Eventually he eludes his pursuers by jumping in the water and swimming for it. Meanwhile, nearby on a pier, Edna Purviance and her suitor (Eric Campbell) are relaxing at a table. Suddenly, Edna’s mother (Marta Golden), who is swimming, yells for help. The suitor (who has been vain about his muscles) is too cowardly to save her, so Edna jumps in but soon she too needs rescuing. Then the suitor and another fat man lean over the rail and they too fall in. Chaplin swims over and ends up rescuing them all.

Later, with the others in an ambulance, Charlie goes to put the suitor on a stretcher and dumps him in the water again. He goes to rescue him once more but by this time is exhausted and he passes out and has to be rescued himself. He wakes up at Edna’s house. The fact that he had earlier referred to his “yacht” may be the major reason the family trusts him. He and the suitor antagonize each other throughout the picture. Then the suitor sees Charlie’s picture in a newspaper as an escaped convict. He calls the cops, and then a chase even better than the one that began the picture ensues, back and forth, employing stairs, an outdoor balcony, a sliding door, furniture etc. Finally a cop catches him. Charlie introduces the cop to Edna and when the officer releases him to shake hands with her, he bolts again! We’re right where we started!

To learn more about comedy film history please check out my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Mediaalso available from amazon.com etc etc etc

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To learn about the history of vaudevilleconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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Grandpa Jones!

Posted in American Folk/ Country/ Western, AMERICANA, Comedy, Crackers, Music, Television, TV variety with tags , , , , on October 20, 2014 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of the great Louis Marshall “Grandpa” Jones (1913-1998).

Most of us know Grandpa Jones as one of the anchors of the tv variety series Hee Haw from 1969 through 1992, where he would play clawhammer style banjo, sing old time gospel, and had a recurring segment: “Hey Grandpa! What’s for supper?”

But if you’re like me, that’s just not good enough! Where’s a guy like that come from? What did he do before that?

Louis Jones started out singing on the radio as a teenager in the area aroudn Akron, Ohio, where he grew up. One of the groups he sang with in the early 30s were the Pine Ridge String Band, the musical act on the Lum and Abner show. Throughout the 30s and 40s he sang (and played guitar and banjo) on radio stations throughout the east, from Boston, to West Virginia to Cincinnati. he began having hit records in the mid 40s. (His most famous song that I know is “Mountain Dew”.) Starting in 1946 he made Nashville his home base, and the Grand Ole Opry became his platform, which is what led naturally to Hee Haw years later.

Here he is with his buddy String Bean tearin’ it up on the traditional “Little Liza Jane”. Kind of a weird instinct on the the part of the producers to stick in a laugh-track and a cartoon pig when String Bean dances. One of many reasons I am glad the seventies are over. When String Bean was senselessly murdered in 1973, it was Grandpa Jones who found the body. He delivered a moving tribute on Hee Haw not long thereafter – – I remember the event very well. For more on String Bean, and to see that eulogy go here. Meantime, for something on the more joyful side:

To learn about the history of variety entertainment, including tv varietyconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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Charlie Chaplin in “Shoulder Arms”

Posted in Charlie Chaplin, Comedy, Hollywood (History), Movies, Silent Film with tags , , , , on October 20, 2014 by travsd

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Today is the anniversary of the release date of Charlie Chaplin’s seminal World War One comedy Shoulder Arms (1918).

Shoulder Arms (initially called Camouflage), was first planned to come in at five reels, about fifty minutes, which was no shorter than many features in those days.  As originally conceived, the film would have had an opening act showing the Little Fellow’s home life with his wife and kids. Then it would take him into the process of being inducted into the army. It would then have had a closing act wherein the Little Fellow is celebrated as a war hero, before inevitably being awakened from a dream. Chaplin eventually decided to cut it to just the middle – the Little Fellow’s service in the war.

As comic subject matter this film was unprecedentedly dark, not just for Chaplin, but for the movies. No one had ever done a comedy that included trench warfare, gas masks, bullets, barbed wire, and No Man’s Land. Not only was Shoulder Arms the first war comedy, it was also the first black comedy, introducing a side of Chaplin that would come to full flowering in The Great Dictator and Monsieur Verdoux. It’s hard to imagine much of Stanley Kubrick’s work, for example, in particular Paths of Glory (1957) and Dr. Strangelove (1964) without the precedent of Shoulder Arms. Fortunately, Chaplin had already inoculated himself against charges of being unpatriotic or unserious about the war by participating in a nationwide bond drive and making the propaganda film The Bond. And the fact that Shoulder Arms was funny covered all manner of sins. Memorable takeaways included scenes where Charlie made his way through enemy territory disguised as a tree, tried to sleep in an underground barracks neck deep in water, and used his gas mask as protection against limburger cheese.

To learn more about comedy film history please check out my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Mediaalso available from amazon.com etc etc etc

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To learn about the history of vaudevilleconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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Force Majeure Tonight!

Posted in Contemporary Variety, PLUGS with tags , , on October 19, 2014 by travsd

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Laurel and Hardy in “Bacon Grabbers”

Posted in Comedy, Comedy Teams, Laurel and Hardy with tags , , , , , , , on October 19, 2014 by travsd

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Today is the anniversary of the release date of the silent Laurel and Hardy comedy Bacon Grabbers (1929).

In this film (not one of their most inventive) the pair play repo men for the sheriff’s department. They have an order to seize Edgar Kennedy’s radio, but they are barely competent enough to even leave the office. Once they make it to Kennedy’s house he is wise to them and most uncooperative. He keeps eluding them so they can’t serve his papers.When they finally manage to do so they are confronted with the second problem – how to take his radio. They try to get up to his second story window with a ladder, with predictable results. Finally a policeman helps them get the radio , but then their day is spoiled by a steamroller.

To learn more about comedy film history please check out my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Mediaalso available from amazon.com etc etc etc

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To learn about the history of vaudevilleconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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Tomorrow A.M. at Film Forum: Harry Langdon in “The Strong Man”

Posted in Comedy, Harry Langdon, Hollywood (History), Movies, PLUGS, Silent Film with tags , , , , on October 18, 2014 by travsd

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Tomorrow morning at 11am, New York’s Film Forum will be screening the Harry Langdon comedy The Strong Man (1926), the very first feature film directed by Frank Capra. 

In The Strong Man, Langdon plays a returning World War I vet who is now touring with a medicine show as an assistant to the titular body builder (whose name Zandow, is an obvious play on Sandow). All the while, he is searching for the girl he had fallen in love with long distance via their wartime correspondence. The task is complicated by the fact that he has never met the girl in person. For awhile, he is led on by a vamp who pretends to be the girl; he eventually wises up. When he finally does meet the true object of his affections, she proves to be the blind daughter of the town minister. If that sounds Chaplinesque, remember that City Lights wasn’t until five years later.

At any rate, the mixture of touching elements with Langdon’s typical grab-bag of unusual gags prompted the critics of the time to laud the film as Chaplinesque as well. It was voted one of the ten best of the year in the annual Film Critics Poll, and the box office was even greater than that of the first film. I reiterate—this was Capra’s very first directorial effort.

Tickets and more info about tomorrow’s screening are here: http://filmforum.org/film/the-strong-man-ffjr-film

To learn more about comedy film history please check out my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Mediaalso available from amazon.com etc etc etc

chain%20of%20fools%20cvr%20front%20only-500x500

To learn about the history of vaudevilleconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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