Douglas MacLean was known as “The Man with the MIllion Dollar Smile”, and in these newly restored prints, you can see every tooth or dollar of it — the films look as though they had never been run through a projector. One thinks of MacLean as an acorn off of Douglas Fairbanks’ (pre-swashbuckling) tree, despite the fact that MacLean began appearing in films a few months before Fairbanks. Fairbanks initiated a formula that MacLean quickly adopted, and was later emulated by Harold Lloyd: breezy young man saves the day through pluck and grit, Unlike Lloyd, however, MacLean didn’t incorporate slapstick. These are light comedies, or what used to be called “straight” comedies. They stick to a serious plot, with some mildly amusing moments along the way,
In One a MInute (1921) MacLean plays a young lawyer who returns to his hometown to his save his late fathers failing drugstore, which is under threat from a chain store that has opened across the street. His salvation is his invention of a panacea, a cure-all patent medicine which miraculously seems to actually work despite the haphazard manner in which it was created. The title of the film is a reference to the apocryphal P.T. Barnum saying “There’s a sucker born every minute”, here bowdlerized in intertitles to “fool”, because we wouldn’t want any suckers to get offended. It sounds cynical but is actually the farthest thing from it once we learn the secret ingredient, and the happy ending, unlikely though it is, is satisfying.
One a Minute is paired with Bell Boy 13 (1923), about a privileged young man whose uncle/guardian doesn’t want him to marry an actress…and whose actress/fiance won’t marry an idle young man who doesn’t work. He decides to prove himself to both by taking a job as a bell boy, with comical results. (Shades of Larry Semon? Foreshadowing of Jerry Lewis? You be the judge). The double feature is joined by a bonus, a behind-the-scenes promotional film shot around the Thomas Ince Studios, which is the outfit that produced MacLean’s movies. MacLean horses around in the film, which contains many fascinating shots of life and times in the film industry a century ago.
As I mentioned the prints are pristine and beautiful to look at, but I would just like to throw in some added praise for Ben Model’s original soundtrack. It seems to me he’s added some new, literal, bells and whistles this time…adding some euphonious sound effects and other interesting sounds to the organ that makes up the main score.
The last thing you should know is that, though MacLean starred in 42 films, very few of them survive. Your best chance to see films by this popular comedian of the nineteen teens and twenties? This DVD. I urge you to check it out. More here.