Tonight’s Silents on TCM: Three with Wallace Beery
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.
A Clever Dummy (1917), also by Keystone. In this one, Beery is joined by the (then) bigger stars Chester Conklin and Ben Turpin. In this one, Ben Turpin plays a janitor who substitutes for an automaton on the vaudeville stage (Beery plays the theatre manager).
The 1920 version of The Last of the Mohicans, produced and directed by Maurice Tourneur, featuring Beery in the role of Magua.
For more on silent film see my book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, published by Bear Manor Media