Laurel and Hardy in “The Music Box”

Posted in Comedy, Comedy Teams, Hollywood (History), Movies with tags , , , , , , , on April 16, 2014 by travsd

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Today is the anniversary of the release date of Laurel and Hardy’s The Music Box (1932), considered by many to be the greatest comedy of all time. Its virtues are strictly formal, of course. It’s a movie about two (rather dumb) working stiffs moving a piano up the longest staircase in the world. The beauty is how MUCH comedy they milk out of this simple premise, and how it builds and escalates, and continues to keep on giving all the way through. Directed by James Parrott, this movie won an Oscar for best short in 1932 — one of the few times in history an American comedy masterpiece has gotten the kind of recognition it deserves.

For more on silent and slapstick comedy 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 find out 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 Cure”

Posted in Comedy, Hollywood (History), Movies, Silent Film with tags , , , , , , , , on April 16, 2014 by travsd

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 Today is the anniversary of the Charlie Chaplin short The Cure (1917). The Cure is one of the perfect comedies the comedian made for the Mutual Film Corporation, a period during which it can be said he finally perfected his craft. The film contains one of his greatest drunk turns, giving him all sorts of great toys to play with at a health spa: a revolving door, a water well, a staircase, plus a crack ensemble: a cranky man in a wheelchair (Eric Campbell), a violent masseur (Henry Bergman), beleaguered staff (Albert Austin and James T. Kelley) and of course a fetching female (Edna Purviance).

Fortunately for comedy fans, an extensive record of Chaplin’s trial and error working method for the film’s creation were preserved, and you can see many of the out-takes in Kevin Brownlow and David Gill’s 1983 Unknown Chaplin doc, among the most rewarding movie extras you’ll ever see.

I wish I could find a better version to share this morning. This one is marred by its apologetic text in the preface, and an aggressively obnoxious score that doesn’t trust us to notice the comedy for ourselves (that’s the worst kind of score for a comedy).

For more on silent and slapstick comedy 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 find out 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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Laurel and Hardy in “Way Out West”

Posted in Clown, Comedy, Comedy Teams, Dance, Hollywood (History), Movies with tags , , , , , on April 16, 2014 by travsd

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Today is the anniversary of the release date of the Laurel and Hardy classic Way Out West (1937).  This charming genre spoof has Stan and Olllie pair delivering the deed to a mine to a young girl (Rosina Lawrence), only to be swindled out of it by an unscrupulous saloon keeper played by Jimmy Finlayson, and his cohort the dance hall girl Lola (Sharon Lynn).

The movie contains one of my favorite moments of cinema, and (as an abject lesson) it has nothing to do whatever with the plot. The boys are passing by the front of the saloon, hear some music (sung by the Avalan Boys), and just start dancing. Sometimes this little scene makes me laugh; sometimes the beauty of it just shakes me. The moment evolves so organically and naturally, as if it were the most logical thing in the world. Then they go about with a kind of dignity and majesty, with steps both simple and beautiful, yet ridiculously elaborate for something that is theoretically improvised (in the context of the story). And it is important enough to them that they do every last step, even as the world is going about its business on the street around them. That is how must do all our dances — as though they were the most important thing in the world, and with a proud little smile.

For more on silent and slapstick comedy 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 find out 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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Gloria Swanson and Wallace Beery in “Teddy at the Throttle”

Posted in Animal Acts, Comedy, Hollywood (History), Movies, Silent Film with tags , , , , , , , on April 15, 2014 by travsd

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Today is the anniversary of the release date of the Keystone comedy Teddy at the Throttle (1917).

In addition to being highly funny in places, this film has multiple points of interest. Released at a time when Mack Sennett had lost his big stars (Chaplin, Normand and Arbuckle had all moved on) he was now looking to create others. From Chicago’s Essanay Studios he hired the husband-wife team of Gloria Swanson and Wallace Beery, both shortly to be among the biggest stars in Hollywood, though not for Sennett. At Keystone, Sennett didn’t use the pair as a team. Sennett loved types. He employed Beery as a heavy, and he usually paired Swanson (who was tiny) with equally diminutive Bobby Vernon.

In Teddy at the Throttle Beery plays Swanson’s unscrupulous guardian and also the manager of Vernon’s inherited fortune. Bobby (who is about 5 feet tall) wants to marry Gloria (whom is also about 5 feet tall) but Beery has all these stratagems to derail their designs.  He throws his sister (May Emory) at Vernon so he can get his hands on the fortune. The funniest scene in the movie is one where Bobby is dancing with the large woman and she repeatedly throws the little fellow through the air.

Swanson catches on to the plot just as the villains kidnap Vernon. But now there is a typhoon outside. Their car is stuck in mud, then Swanson is tied to the railroad tracks. But who is this “TEDDY”, you wonder? Teddy is “Teddy the Wonder Dog” or “Keystone Teddy”, a large Great Dane who was one of Sennett’s biggest stars (in all senses) for a while. It is Teddy who rescues both Swanson and Vernon and catches Beery. The final shot is of Swanson and Vernon riding on a locomotive’s cow-catcher. This shot, and all the typhoon business, seem to pre-sage Keaton. 

For more on silent and slapstick comedy 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 find out 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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The Glory of Gloria Jean

Posted in Child Stars, Comedy, Hollywood (History), Movies, Singers, Women with tags , , , on April 14, 2014 by travsd

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 Today is the birthday of Gloria Jean (Schoonover) (b. 1926).

No, she’s not a mash-up of Laura Brannigan and Michael Jackson songs! As any classic comedy fan can tell you, she was a fresh-faced All American Girl under contract with Universal Studios in the late 30s and 40s.

She’d originally sung on radio with Paul Whiteman. Talent scouts found her and she was signed to a contract at age 12. One of her earliest notable films was If I Had My Way (1940) with Bing Crosby. The bulk of her output consisted of throwaway swing era musicals for young people, but comedy fans know these high points best:

* Never Give a Sucker an Even Break (1941) with W.C. Fields. She plays herself, mysteriously somehow the niece of “Uncle Bill” in easily his most surreal script.

Ghost Catchers (1944), with Olsen and Johnson, Leo Carrillo, Andy Devine, Walter Catlett, Morton Downey and Lon Chaney, Jr. 

Copacaban(1947) with Groucho Marx and Carmen Miranda

and her last…

The Ladies Man (1961) with Jerry Lewis!

At this writing, Gloria Jean still walks among us! Let’s get her to star in a new comedy!

Here’s a dispatch from the lady herself!

For more on silent and slapstick comedy 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 find out 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 “A Dog’s Life”

Posted in Hollywood (History), Movies, Silent Film with tags , , , , , on April 14, 2014 by travsd

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Today is the anniversary of the release date of the classic Charlie Chaplin comedy A Dog’s Life (1918), made for First National. A Dog’s Life is a longer, more ambitious film than he had made previously, in some ways a sort of dry run for his later The Kid. For my money, the six scenes of A Dog’s Life are as funny and clever as any of his earlier shorts stacked together, with the additional bump of an emotional journey.

Chaplin plays his Little Tramp in the film. His co-stars are a pooch named Scraps, and Edna Purviance as a forlorn dance hall girl. All three of them are living “a dog’s life” in that they each are getting the short end of the stick. They meet, pass through several trials together, and in the end become one big happy family.

But along the way, we get to experience several of Chaplin’s most hilarious routines ever. And they’re all physical bits. In the first, after stealing a hot dog the tramp evades a policeman, over, under and around the wooden fence where he was sleeping. In the second, he applies for a job, but each time he advances toward the clerk’s window, someone else steps up to it just a split second before. In a later scene, Charlie keeps stealing muffins from a food vendor played by his brother Sydney, each time snatching one just as Syd’s back is turned. Try as he may Syd can’t catch him at it. In the end, Charlie has swallowed the whole plate of treats. And then there’s a funny bit with Charlie walking across a dance floor with a dog’s tail sticking out of his pants, and the other one (much imitated) in which Charlie supplies the gesturing hands of the man he has just knocked out so it will seem to the guy’s partner that he is still awake. In the end, one of Chaplin’s occasional happy endings, man, woman, dog (and puppies) all one one big, happy family.

 

For more on silent and slapstick comedy please check out my new book: Chain of Fools: SilentComedy 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 find out 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 Tramp”

Posted in Comedy, Hollywood (History), Movies, Silent Film with tags , , , , on April 12, 2014 by travsd

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Today is the anniversary of the release date of Charlie Chaplin’s landmark comedy short The Tramp (1915). Though this was Chaplin’s 38th comedy, this was the first one in which his character was specifically identified and represented as a literal transient tramp. It was also one of the first occasions on which Chaplin attempted moments of his patented pathos in the context of a comedy.

In the film, Charlie rescues a girl (Edna Purviance) from a trio of highway robbers and is rewarded with a job on her father’s farm. He bumbles along, perpetrating the usual farm gags (pitchforks get a lot of play) until he is called upon to be the hero yet again, this time getting shot in the process. Edna tends him as he recuperates and he makes the mistake of falling for her. But of course she has another beau, a normal, suitable fellow whom Charlie can’t possibly compete with, because he is, well, a tramp. He voluntarily hits the road – the first appearance of this iconic exit on film.

I first saw this film when I was in high school — I first saw numerous silent films when I was still in high school. I don’t know that I went out of my way to make this happen. There were opportunities to see them and I took them. (For example, I think The Tramp was screened at our local college cinema). Nowadays there are more such opportunities than ever before, by several orders of magnitude, yet the ignorance of such BASIC film history seems just as widespread, again, by several orders of magnitude. All I can suggest is that those of us who care about such things make education our mission, to the point of obnoxiousness.

 

For more on silent and slapstick comedy 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 find out 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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