Laurel and Hardy in “Big Business”

Posted in Comedy, Comedy Teams, Hollywood (History), Movies, Silent Film with tags , , , , , , , , on April 20, 2014 by travsd

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Today is the anniversary of the release date of one of the funniest comedies of all time, the silent Laurel and Hardy short Big Business (1929).

In Big Business  the pair are a couple of door-to-door Christmas tree salesmen who make the mistake of annoying Jimmy Finlayson one bright, sunny Southern California day. Fin slams the door in their faces, accidentally trapping a tree branch in the process. They irritate him some more by ringing the doorbell so they can free the tree, and then a kind of symbolic defilement happens as Laurel and Hardy proceed to destroy Fin’s house and all its contents, while Finlayson tears apart their automobile. By the end of the movie, all is rubble.

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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Harold Lloyd in “Girl Shy”

Posted in Comedy, Hollywood (History), Silent Film with tags , , on April 20, 2014 by travsd

 

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Today is the anniversary of the release date of Harold Lloyd’s hilarious 1924 classic Girl Shy. 

In my opinion, Girl Shy has one of the best climaxes of any Hollywood movie. In the film, Harold plays the most bashful young man ever, who writes a how-to manual for prospective Casanovas using his own nonexistent “experience” as a guideline. It gets published –as humor – and Harold is humiliated. Meanwhile, he really loves a girl he has met, but they are divided by class. He is poor and she is rich. Thinking it is hopeless, he pretends to be the jerk he seems in his book, and dumps her. She is heartbroken and about to marry some other stuffed shirt. Then: the big scene. It seems to be adapted from Fairbanks’ 1916 The Matrimaniac, the entire plot of which is the hero’s Odyssey to stop his girl’s marriage to the wrong man. Lloyd’s version though is faster, more compressed, and contains funnier gags. Everything goes wrong for Harold as he speeds to the church to stop the wedding. He ends up taking every known form of transportation and something goes wrong with all of them. He steals about a dozen conveyances. Then he makes it to the altar in the nick of time and –as he always does—seizes the girl of his dreams as though he were a caveman. I would be beyond shocked to learn that Mike Nichols hadn’t studied the last act of Girl Shy in preparation for The Graduate.

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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Movie Pioneer Sigmund Lubin

Posted in Comedy, Impresarios, MEDIA, Movies, Silent Film with tags , , , , on April 20, 2014 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of motion picture pioneer Sigmund Lubin (Siegmund Lubszynski, 1851-1923). originally an optometrist, he invented his own version of the movie camera/ projector apparatus, became a business partner of Thomas Edison in 1896 and began producing his own films in 1897. His film studio Lubinville (built 1910) was based in Philadelphia. Setbacks in 1914 (first a fire and then the loss of the European markets with the onset of World War One) took him out of the running and he was finished in pictures by 1917. But not before he could provide work for the likes of Oliver Hardy,  Lloyd Hamilton, Raymond Hitchcock, Billie Reeves, Raymond McKee, Kewpie Morgan and George Nichols.

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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Stars of Vaudeville #864: Sidney Lanfield

Posted in Comedy, Hollywood (History), Movies, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , , on April 20, 2014 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of Sidney Lanfield (1898-1972).

Lanfield was a jazz musician and comedian in vaudeville before being hired as a gag writer for silent comedies by the Fox Film Corporation in 1926.  In the sound era he distinguished himself as a solid director of comedies (although he occasionally ventured into other genres). His first film as director was 1930′s Cheer Up and Smile with Arthur Lake, Dixie Lee and Olga Baclanova. He directed the 1936 Sonja Henie vehicle One in a Millionthe all-star WWII musical You’ll Never Get Rich (1941) with Fred Astaire, Rita Hayworth and Robert Benchley, and several Bob Hope comedies: My Favorite Blonde (1942), Let’s Face It (1943), Where There’s Life (1947), and The Lemon Drop Kid (1951). His best known film today is the first Basil Rathbone-Nigel Bruce “Sherlock Holmes” pairing The Hound of the Baskervilles (1939), which, it must be admitted, is not without comic relief. In the 50s, he moved into television, starting with the Ray Bolger sit-com Where’s Raymond in 1954. He directed westerns, crime thrillers and dramas, eventually working his way back to comedy in such shows as McHale’s NavyThe Addams Family, and his last, the short-lived Tim Conway vehicle Rango. 

here’s another of his’n, The Meanest Man in the World (1943), starring Jack Benny, Priscilla Lane and Eddie “Rochester” Anderson:

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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For more on 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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Century of Slapstick #34: Twenty Minutes of Love

Posted in Century of Slapstick, Comedy, Hollywood (History), Movies, Silent Film with tags , , , , on April 20, 2014 by travsd

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Today marks the 100 anniversary of the release date of the Charlie Chaplin comedy Twenty Minutes of Love. This one is notable for being the first movie Charlie had a hand in directing. As we saw in our piece on Mabel at the Wheel, Chaplin was sick of taking direction from other and he was also acquiring some power. So Mack Sennett allowed him a trial on this picture, with Joseph Maddern, whose first film this also was, as co-director.

Don’t go expecting genius! Charlie had only been in the movie business for two months at this stage. Twenty Minutes of Love is just one of the countless Keystone pictures that consist of a bunch of people cavorting around the park. Chaplin is at the center of it all as an itinerant thief. First he harasses a couple played by Edgar Kennedy and Minta Durfee. Then he steals a watch. Then while he is spooning with a girl (Eve Nelson) another pickpocket (Chester Conklin) steals the watch from him. This devolves into general mayhem until finally, as happens in so many of these movies, everyone inexplicably falls into a pond.

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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Buster Keaton in “The High Sign”

Posted in Comedy, Hollywood (History), Silent Film with tags , , , on April 18, 2014 by travsd

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Today is the anniversary of the release date of Buster Keaton’s The High Sign (1921). Technically The High Sign was Keaton’s first solo film, but he was dissatisfied with it and shelved it for a time. Thus his first movie released to the public was One Week. Keaton ended up releasing The High Sign several months later when an injury sidelined him for several weeks, delaying the production of his next short.

The High Sign is a very funny picture, and it is only with seasoning that we are able to see the problems Keaton himself had with it. Keaton always had an extravagant imagination, but this one contains several gags that are not germane to the plot, and Keaton rapidly became an obsessive self-policeman when it came to such things. One of my favorites in this film breaks the rule: Keaton opens a newspaper, and keeps opening it until he reveals it to be ridiculously huge. It’s very funny, but it happens for no reason and goes nowhere. One can see the unfortunate influence of Larry Semon and Norman Taurog at work. Keaton rapidly left those sort of influences in the dust. But the movie is mighty entertaining nonetheless. Keaton plays a poor shlub who works at a shooting gallery, and has rigged it to look like he is a masterful trick shot. This backfires when he is hired by a secret gang of crooks to bump a guy off (and then is hired by that same guy as a bodyguard). A fun recurring gag is the gang’s secret signal, the titular “High Sign”.

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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Century of Slapstick #33: Mabel at the Wheel

Posted in Century of Slapstick, Comedy, Hollywood (History), Movies, Silent Film with tags , , , , , , , on April 18, 2014 by travsd

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Today is the 100th anniversary of the release date of the Keystone comedy Mabel at the Wheel.

There are all sorts of reasons this film is noteworthy.

* This is one of the early films in which Charlie Chaplin does not appear in his famous tramp costume, but in another character he seemed to be developing, the top hatted melodrama character he had played in Making a Living and Cruel, Cruel Love. This character seems like he is literally being asked to fill in for Ford Sterling, who had recently left the studio. That feeling is accentuated in this film by Chaplin’s Sterlingesque chin whiskers

* This is another of those interesting Keystone films we have written about, that were semi-improvised at a live event, in this case an auto race. There were many of those

* This film contains the first known on-camera appearance by Charley Chase (Charles Parrott)

* This is the film on which Chaplin’s tension with his fellow Keystone players boiled to a head. He was having difficulty taking direction from Mabel Normand (the director and star of the picture) and so he sat down and went on strike. He considered Normand a “young girl”, with far less professional experience than he had. Yet she wouldn’t take any of his suggestions. Mack Sennett stepped in and talked him back (rather than firing him, which would have been Mabel’s preferred solution). Sennett did so because he’d recently learned that the comedies in which Chaplin appeared were starting to pull in big box office. Not long after this, Chaplin would begin directing his own pictures. Problem solved.

The plot of the film? A gossamer thing. Motorcycle-riding Charlie and his henchmen compete for Mabel’s affections with race car driving Harry McCoy. When they tie up Harry to keep him out of the race, Mabel takes his place at the wheel. Despite Chaplin’s dirty tricks (including a spectacular stunt involving an oil slick) Mabel wins the race anyway. Chester Conklin appears in the film as Mabel’s father. Mack Sennett plays a newsreel reporter. Now through the following year, appearances by Sennett in his own films grew increasingly rare and small.

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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