Today is the anniversary of the release date of the Douglas Fairbanks comedy Reggie Mixes In (1916).
“Fresh from college”. When we first met Doug he is sleeping in bed, doesn’t want to wake up—that is frequently how we first meet his character in his comedies: pampered, privileged. His butler (Wilbur Higby) is his sidekick throughout the movie, an awesome formula which would be repeated many times. Doug’s version of morning calasthenics—he does a trick on a chair, leaps over a table, does a handstand.
His girlfriend calls and comes over; you can tell he’s not crazy about her. She assumes they’ll be married. Then one day he is driving with his butler and sees a little ragamuffin by the side of the road. She says she’s lost. He brings her home….which turns out to be a tenement house.
While there, Doug spies a girl he fancies a great deal (Bessie Love). He conceives of a scheme. He and his butler dress like two common men of the neighborhood…a very funny scene where this is introduced. They take a room in the neighborhood. They go to a local saloon where she works as a waiter girl. (Great gag: avoiding a gang fight at one point he jumps up on chandelier and hangs there above it). The girl teases him about being afraid. Later when she is leaving, a masher won’t stop bothering her,. Doug beats him down. Her boss sees and hires him to be the bouncer. He has an altercation with the boss one day when he expects the girl to be “friendlier” with the customers. He is about to be fired, but then the boss relents and admits that he’s right. Doug is such a good scout that he refrains from kissing his girl goodnight, just shakes her hand.
Meantime, the former bouncer, the guy Doug beat down earlier, assigns guys from his gang to plug him. The guy jumps him as he’s leaving her place, they fight. Doug bests him. As he leaves the building. he sees another suspicious character with a gun following him. He climbs up the outside of the building and waits, then jumps down on the guy., knocking him out. He throws the guy through the window of the gang’s hangout. The guys try to follow him but the cops stop them.
Meanwhile, Doug’s mother throws a costume ball to try to lure him back home. He shows up, does a funny dance. Everyone thinks he’s wearing a costume, but it’s just his clothes from the neighborhood. (Doug is always the definition of a gentleman. He doesn’t hate the people from his old world — he likes them. He is simply above class. He isn’t trying to convince anyone else to be him). He sees his old girl, realizes she’s not for him. She does however send him a note which his new girl finds. She is hurt and angry. She sits with the bad guys. Doug straightens everything out. The bad guy challenges him to the old “two guys go in a room, one comes out” bit (a but which he also used in The Mystery of the Leaping Fish, released on the same day and also featuring Bessie Love). Of course Doug is the one who comes out. Now he tests the girl…he fakes a $100k inheritance for he so she’s rich. Then he shows up as poor guy and proposes marriage. She accepts. He comes back a few minutes later in evening clothes. They embrace.
For more on silent and slapstick comedy film history see 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
For more on show biz history, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.