Larry Semon and Stan Laurel in “Frauds and Frenzies”

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Today is the anniversary of the release date of the Vitagraph comedy Frauds and Frenzies (1918), co-starring Larry Semon and Stan Laurel. 

There are many interesting things about Semon, whom I believe belongs in the pantheon of silent comedy greats. One intriguing fact is that he was one of the few comedians who had worked with both Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, separately before their teaming. In the twenties Hardy would be part of Semon’s stock company, usually as second or third comedian. Between 1918 and 1926, Hardy supported Semon in scores of comedies.

Laurel’s position was different. Though Laurel got into films several years later than Hardy, he was almost always the star or co-star of his films. While he had been a supporting player in two earlier Semon comedies, in Frauds and Frenzies, he was co-star. Though Semon was the writer, director and more established star of this picture, I would be shocked to learn that Laurel didn’t contribute any business or gags, particularly since prison comedies would prove to be a specialty of his. With Hardy, he would make The Second Hundred Years (1927), The Hoose-gow (1929), and Pardon Us (1931).

Frauds and Frenzies also seems to owe something to Charlie Chaplin’s The Adventurer, released a year earlier. Chaplin’s film is about an escaped convict, pursued by guards, who then pauses to woo a girl, only to run into guards again. Same here. Frauds and Frenzies was Semon’s second prison comedy of 1918; the earlier one was Stripes and Stars. 

But this movie stands on its own. It’s excellently constructed, highly kinetic and rich in gags. And much more focused storywise than Semon’s comedies tend to be. Yet after this film, Semon and Vitagraph dropped Laurel. He went back to working in vaudeville and at other movie studios.

For some reason, the Italians have always been particular fans of Larry Semon, whom they call “Ridolini”. Thus I am not surprised to see the one copy available on Youtube comes by way of The Boot:

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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