October 25 is the release date of the 1926 silent feature So’s Your Old Man (1926) starring W.C. Fields and directed by Gregory La Cava. If you’ve already seen the 1934 talkie You’re Telling Me, then you’ve practically seen So’s Your Old Man — the latter is a remake of the former. The film was based on a story called Mr. Bisbee’s Princess by Julian Leonard Street and revives his famous golf routine, which Fields had devised for sketches in Broadway revues, and had filmed in his 1930 short The Golf Specialist. (To my mind, the vehicle also has more than a little in common with George Kelly’s The Show Off).
In the film, Fields plays a crackpot inventor named Sam Bisbee who has a lot riding on the sale of his latest invention, a shatterproof windshield. In the remake, it is punctureless tires. I’ve always thought this switch is eloquent about the two different kinds of movie, silent vs. talkie. A brick being thrown at a window and the resulting breakage is highly visual: perfect for silent comedy. A tire exploding is highly auditory; great for talkies. (Yes, glass breaking make a great noise, too. But a pop followed by a hiss is probably funnier). When Bisbee’s big presentation to auto executives goes awry, he is ready to call it quits but he is bailed out by a stranger whose life he touched, enabling his daughter to marry into the snobby family of her beau (Buddy Rogers).
To learn more about comedy film history, including the films of W.C. Fields, please check out my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc.