Archive for silent comedy

A Muchness of Mabel’s Movies at Midnight

Posted in Comediennes, Comedy, Hollywood (History), Mabel Normand, Movies, Silent Film with tags , , , , on January 15, 2017 by travsd

Tonight at Midnight (Eastern) TCM will be screening several silent comedy shorts featuring the incomparable Mabel Normand:

bangville police[1]

The Bangville Police (1913) 

The Bangville Police is the comedy short containing what is considered by many to be the first appearance of The Keystone Kops (others consider the first to have been  1912′ Hoffmeyer’s Legacy). To muddy the water some, the kops aren’t uniformed in this one, they’re an all-volunteer force in a rural community called Bangville, quite different from the urban Los Angeles settings we’re accustomed to seeing the Kops run amok in. (One wonders if it isn’t a riff on Essanay’s “Snakeville” series).

At any rate Fred Mace plays the head Kop in this one. Ford Sterling, who normally plays the Kops’ Chief is in it, but just as a regular officer. Other Kops in this film include Edgar Kennedy, Hank Mann and Al St. John. Mack Sennett directed. Mabel Normand plays a young farm girl who thinks she hears robbers in the barn and calls the police in. After much brouhaha and fol-de-rol, the Kops arrive and break into the barn, only to find that all the commotion has been caused by — oh but wait! Why should I tell you? Watch for yourself!


Mabel’s Dramatic Career (1913) 

Directed by Mack Sennett, starring Sennett, Normand, and Alice Davenport. It’s a great little film: mama’s boy Mack disses his girlfriend, the housemaid (Mabel) who runs off to the big city and becomes a star. The coolest part of this film is the scene in the theatre, giving us an invaluable glimpse at what attending the cinema was like in the days of nickelodeons.


Mabel’s Married Life (1914)

Directed by Sennett and co-starring Mabel and Charlie Chaplin In this film Chaplin plays a character somewhat unlike his more recognized Little Fellow. Here he is a middle class husband in a top hat. And Normand, not Chaplin, is still the above-the-title star at this early stage. There are several ironclad laws in the Keystone universe. One of them is, if you are in the park with your wife NEVER LEAVE HER ALONE ON A PARK BENCH. Mabel plays Charlie’s wife in this one, and the instant he steps away, masher Mack Swain shows up to harass her. When he gets back, Charlie doesn’t do much to punish the man. Later, Mabel brings home a dressmaker’s dummy for Charlie to practice punching on. That night, he comes home three sheets to the wind, mistakes the dummy for a prowler, and has a hilarious fight with it.


Fatty and Mabel Adrift (1916)

Directed by and co-starring Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle and Normand. In the two years following Chaplin’s departure from Keystone (1915-1916) Arbuckle-Normand team-ups were Mack Sennett’s most formidable box office combination. The pair appeared in dozens of films together, most frequently as a domestic couple. It’s especially exciting and instructive to watch the ones towards the end of this period, when the confidence that comes with prolonged stardom informs their performances, and when Arbuckle’s skills as a director blossom. Shortly after this, Arbuckle went on to his own starring series for his own company Comique, and Normand went on to her own starring series of features for Sam Goldwyn. These 1916 Fatty-Mabel shorts are kind of like Beatles records from 1968 or 1969. You’re experiencing artists who are about to be big solo stars, but still interacting in a format they’re beginning to outgrow, in this case the ensemble comedy short. The product of that tension can be very rich.

The plot of Fatty and Mabel Adrfit is very simple. Sweethearts Fatty and Mabel get married and take their honeymoon at a seaside cottage, along with another of Arbuckle’s frequent Keystone co-stars, Luke the Dog. Unfortunately, Fatty’s rival for Mabel’s hand (played as usual by Al St. John) is not through fighting. He and his several henchmen put the little house out to sea. Fatty and Mabel wake up the next day to find themselves far away from shore in a house full of water. The climactic scenes of this comedy are spectacular, on a scale we usually associate with Larry Semon or with Arbuckle’s protege Buster Keaton. Sennett rarely shelled out for such big budget extravagances, but at this stage he was trying to keep both co-stars happy so they wouldn’t “pull a Chaplin” by leaving him. (As we said, they both soon did anyway). How can Fatty and Mabel escape their dire predicament? Perhaps their heroic pooch will be of some help…


He Did and He Didn’t (1916)

One of Arbuckle’s and Norman’s last movies for Sennett. Quite a good little movie — maybe even Arbuckle’s best film, as it has a bit of emotional depth to it, while still being funny. Fatty and Mabel are a rich married couple. He’s a doctor (although that part of the exposition doesn’t emerge very clearly). They live in a mansion with servants. It opens with them dressing for dinner and bickering.  The dinner guest is her childhood sweetheart (William Jefferson). Fatty is very jealous of their little endearments. Later he is called away to a housecall (a false alarm), then returns to confront his rival — and a pair of burglars led by Al St. John (who does a spectacular stunt on the chandelier). We can hardly believe our eyes when our heroes shoot each other…until it turns out to be a bad dream, spurred on by the lobster they had for dinner.


Fatty and Mabel’s Simple Life (1915) 

In this one, Fatty and Mabel are in rural mode, with Mabel as a farmer’s daughter and Fatty as the farmhand who loves her. Lots of fun at the expense of cows and calves is had during their flirtation. But there is trouble in this bucolic paradise. In parody of the old stage melodramas, Al St. John arrives as the son who holds the mortgage on the farm. The farmer (Josef Swickard) is behind in his payments. Mabel must marry St. John or the farm will be seized! Fatty and Mabel flee, pursued by St. John, the father and cops. The climax is most enjoyable. People fly through the air and fall down wells! And of course Fatty and Mabel succeed in their escape and get married.

The Water Nymph (1912) 

An early one starring Normand, Sennett, Sterling, et al.  In The Water Nymph Mabel basically reprises a role she first played for Sennett in her very first movie for him The Diving Girl (Biograph, 1911). Her scandalous appearance in her bathing suit made her something of a sensation, and she was known as “The Diving Girl” for some time after. The buzz helped put Sennett on the map, and epitomized the sort of outrageousness Keystone became known for. In time, he would develop an entire stable of Bathing Beauties.

Chaplin in Brooklyn Tomorrow!

Posted in BROOKLYN, Charlie Chaplin, Comedians, Comedy, Hollywood (History), Movies, PLUGS, Silent Film with tags , , , , , , , on December 3, 2016 by travsd


Hey Brooklyn! Tomorrow (Sunday, December 4) at 4pm, Flicker Alley is presenting three classic Chaplin shorts from the Essanay period at the Alamo Drafthouse, with Ben Model at the keys! On the menu: A Woman (2015), A Night in the Show (2015) and Police (1916). For more information, directions, etc, go here.

Stars of Slapstick #224: Marie Mosquini

Posted in Comediennes, Comedy, Hollywood (History), Movies, Silent Film, Stars of Slapstick with tags , , , , , , , , on December 3, 2016 by travsd


Today is the birthday of Maria Mosquini (1899-1983).

Lucky Los Angeles native Mosquini stepped right out of high school directly into roles in Hal Roach comedies. She started out in bit parts in Harold Lloyd’s “Lonesome Luke” series in 1917, later appearing in many of his “glasses” comedies as well. She’s also in some of Stan Laurel’s early solo pictures for Roach, like Just Rambling Along (1918) and Hustling for Health (1919). Mosquini usually had smaller parts in the Lloyd comedies, but she was generally the leading lady in her many pictures where Snub Pollard was the star, and she also appeared opposite other Roach stars like Will Rogers and Charley Chase. But she never quite broke out as a star in her own right, properly graduated to features, or made the transition to sound. In 1930, she married the talkie pioneer Lee De Forest and retired, remaining with him until his death in 1961. Occasionally she took walk-on roles through the 1930s, but mostly she was known as a Los Angeles socialite in her later years.

For more on silent and slapstick comedy, see my book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, released by Bear Manor Media, also available from etc etc etc

Tonight on TCM: Silent Comedies with Dogs

Posted in Comedians, Comedy, Fatty Arbuckle, Harold Lloyd with tags , , , , , , , on November 27, 2016 by travsd

Today Turner Classic Movies is showing canine related films most of the day. As a digestif, they have also devoted Silent Sundays to the same theme. The fun starts at midnight.


Love My Dog (1927)

In this silent Our Gang short, Farina and Joe Cobb’s dog Oleander (Pete the Pup) is taken to the pound and the kids have to raise the money to spring him! Tiny Sandford plays a lawyer.


Number, Please? (1920)

While the climax to this Harold Lloyd short is one of the film’s best parts, the set-up is convoluted. Harold and a rival (Roy Brooks) vie for the attentions of a girl (Mildred Davis) at an amusement park. When her dog gets lost, she wants to go up in a hot air balloon operated by her uncle. The balloon will only hold two. The girl announces she will go up with whichever beau gets her mother’s permission first. The rival heads for the mother’s house in a car. Harold runs to a telephone so he can call the mother for permission. This would seem easy…but it’s a public phone in a hotel. The hilarious part is the succession of obstacles which prevent him from doing this simple thing. Then he winds up with a lost purse, which he finally gives to a goat to eat so he won’t be arrested for stealing. But it turns out to have been the girl’s purse, complete with the balloon tickets….


Fatty’s Faithful Fido (1915)

For a time, Fatty Arbuckle was sharing his billing with a pooch named Luke. In this little short Luke has Fatty’s back in a rivalry with spiffy dude Al St. John over the the attention of Minta Durfee. After Fatty and Luke give Al a beat-down in the streets (and on the roofs) of Chinatown, Al literally marks Fatty for revenge, drawing an “x” on his back, the better for two hired thugs to identify him at the dance that night so they can give him a drubbing. Al’s plan gets thwarted though. And how’s it end? Well, what’s the default ending in half the Keystone comedies? That’s right — everyone falls into a tub of water.


Fatty’s Plucky Pup (1915)

As he often does, in this film Roscoe plays a good-for-nothing layabout who lives with his mother (Phyllis Allen). He smokes in bed and starts a fire. Then he gives a dog a bath in a washtub, ruining the laundry. He is also fond of flirting with Lizzie the girl next door (Josephine Stevens). Later he brings Lizzie to an amusement part, where she will be kidnapped by a gang of shell game operators led by Edgar Kennedy. Luke the Dog alerts Fatty to the situation and the two of them (joined by the Keystone Kops) come to her rescue. The film contains a memorable shot of Mack Sennett’s famous treadmill-scrolling backdrop combo that gave a very cartoonish impression of the subject running (or riding a bike as the case may be) with the background going by behind them.


Dog Daze (1925)

In this earlier Our Gang short, the kids all have pooches that perform specialty tricks. When they manage to stop rich girl Mary’s runaway pony, she invites them to her ritzy party, where the dogs reveal that they are not all angels.


Tonight on TCM: More Silent Slapstick Classics

Posted in Buster Keaton, Charley Chase, Charlie Chaplin, Comedians, Comedy, Harold Lloyd, Hollywood (History), Silent Film with tags , , , , , , on September 7, 2016 by travsd

Every Tuesday and Wednesday in September, Turner Classic Movies will be showing some of the finest silent comedy and slapstick classics (and documentaries thereon). Here’s what’s on the menu tonight:


8:00pm (EST): The Birth of the Tramp (2014)

A documentary on the evolution of Charlie Chaplin’s Little Tramp character, released on the 100th anniversary of his debut.


9:15pm (EST): A Dog’s Life (1918)

A Dog’s Life is a longer, more ambitious film than any he had made previously, in some ways a sort of dry run for his later The Kid. For my money, the six scenes of A Dog’s Life are as funny and clever as any of his earlier shorts stacked together, with the additional bump of an emotional journey.

Chaplin plays his Little Tramp in the film. His co-stars are a pooch named Scraps, and Edna Purviance as a forlorn dance hall girl. All three of them are living “a dog’s life” in that they each are getting the short end of the stick. They meet, pass through several trials together, and in the end find happiness by exchanging their solitude for cooperative domesticity.

But along the way, we get to experience several of Chaplin’s most hilarious routines ever. And they’re all physical bits. In the first, after stealing a hot dog the tramp evades a policeman, over, under and around the wooden fence where he was sleeping. In the second, he applies for a job, but each time he advances toward the clerk’s window, someone else steps up to it just a split second before. In a later scene, Charlie keeps stealing muffins from a food vendor played by his brother Sydney, each time snatching one just as Syd’s back is turned. Try as he may Syd can’t catch him at it. In the end, Charlie has swallowed the whole plate of treats. And then there’s a funny bit with Charlie walking across a dance floor with a dog’s tail sticking out of his pants, and the other one (much imitated) in which Charlie supplies the gesturing hands of the man he has just knocked out so it will seem to the guy’s partner that he is still awake. In the coda, one of Chaplin’s occasional happy endings, man, woman, dog (and puppies) all one one big, happy family.


10:00pm (EST): The Circus (1928)

Despite being an estimable hit in its day (the 7th most successful film financially of the silent era), today The Circus is the least well known of Chaplin’s silent comedy features. Why might that be? Possibly because it is more “thinky” than “feely”.  The film (which may have been inspired by Max Linder’s 1925 swan song The King of the Circus) begins with the Tramp fleeing a cop on a circus lot after being framed for a theft. His flight accidentally takes him into the middle of the circus ring where the audience, thinking he’s part of the show, greets him with gales of laughter and storms of applause. He is hired as a clown and turns out to be terrible at it. Meanwhile he falls in love with an equestrienne (Merna KennedyLita Grey’s best friend) who makes the mistake of being nice to him. In due course she falls in love with Rex, a tightrope walker (Harry Crocker), a plot point that is not only reminiscent of The Tramp  but anticipates Todd Browning’s Freaks (1932). In the end, the circus blows town, but the Tramp elects to string along alone. The image of him sitting on a log as the show (and his girl) leave without him is at once striking, moving and, well, kitschy, in a black velvet painting kind of way.

So, this can work on a couple of levels. At its most accessible, it’s set in a circus, and children love the circus. It’s possible to enjoy this film without having a contemplative brain in your head. After all, in one scene Charlie is walking a tightrope with his pants down, with monkeys crawling all over him (see above. It’s one of the highlights of the film). At another remove, however, The Circus is terribly self-conscious. This is a movie about a lonely clown who is having trouble being funny. That’s a formula that may be thought provoking but is probably intrinsically unworkable, despite having been tried many times. Others who’ve given the “accidental comedian” motif a go with varying success included Mabel Normand (The Extra Girl, 1923), Harold Lloyd (Movie Crazy, 1932), Red Skelton (Merton of the Movies, 1947), and Jerry Lewis (The Patsy, 1964). As a comedy premise the deck is stacked against you. The idea of an unintentionally funny comedian is too overwrought, too convoluted to be completely funny. The moments in the film that work best are the ones that are at a remove from that idea, such as when the Tramp poses as part of an animatronic Noah’s Ark display on the midway in order to evade the cop.

And, given that Chaplin is the clown in question in The Circus, what’s he really about here? Is he frustrated with the fact that the process of creating funny comedy (or any effective art) is not conscious, that it is (as we have pointed out a few times), completely instinctive? It can’t just be summoned at will. And Chaplin is famous for having made entire crews and casts wait around for hours, days and even weeks as he tried to do just that.

Or does Chaplin want to tell us that, like the Tramp, he is actually really a serious person (the kind of person whose voice is more like A Woman of Paris) and that he’s just been sort of railroaded into being a comedian? Another intriguing element in the film is the group of hack professional clowns who work at the circus and whom the audience hates. If the Tramp is Chaplin, who are they supposed to represent? The Keystone comedians? It certainly seems germane to his actual attitude towards them during the early part of 1914. It’s as though he were saying, “It’s not MY fault the world thinks I’m better than those people. Don’t blame me. I was born this way!”

Then there is the metaphor of getting the Tramp left behind by that circus. On the one hand he seems to be saying “I can take or leave this comedy thing.” But, on the other hand, perhaps he is expressing the fear that history will pass him by. The Circus was released a few scant months after The Jazz Singer. Was he beginning to have doubts that he could keep up with passing trends?

The self-doubt extends into the romantic realm in this picture, as well, a continuation of a theme he introduces in The Gold Rush. When Edna Purviance had been his leading lady, sometimes the Little Fellow would get the girl, sometimes he wouldn’t. Most of his films of the late silent era follow the model set by The Tramp and The Vagabond, generating pathos out of how the Tramp could never get the girl. (In The Gold Rush he had to buy the girl.). The Circus continued that theme.

Production on The Circus was apparently jinxed. Set-backs during filming included a scratched negative, a fire which set the production back for weeks, and personal woes for Chaplin including the death of his mother, his divorce from Lita Grey, and hassles with the I.R.S. In light of all that, we may fortunate that this film emerged as a comedy at all!


11:30pm (EST): One Week (1920)

This film (the first of Buster Keaton‘s solo shorts to get a public release) was based on Home Made, an actual promotional film for do-it-yourself house construction released by the Ford Motor Company. In Buster’s version, just before his character starts to build his pre-fab dream house for himself and his bride (Sybil Seeley), his rival sabotages the effort by switching the numbers on the constituent pieces. The result is a make-work monstrosity out of a cubist nightmare: doors, walls, roofs, and windows all mismatched and not a single right angle in the construction. Later, when a storm strikes, the whole dealybob spins around and around on its foundation like a crank-fueled carousel. (Twisters are a frequent bête noir in Keaton’s Kansas-bred consciousness.)

When Buster learns that he has built his house on the wrong lot, he has to tow it to the correct spot. Unfortunately on the way, his car stalls on some railroad tracks. Seeing an onrushing train, we brace for disaster, then breathe a sigh of relief when it turns out that the locomotive is on an adjoining track. It passes, leaving the couple unharmed. A beat—and then the money shot: a train heading in the other direction comes from out of nowhere and smashes the house to splinters.

What sets Keaton apart is his famously tight story telling and the attention to character. Despite all the craziness, he never lets us forget this is about a couple of newlyweds working toward a very specific goal. We’re rooting for them to finish this house so they can begin their life together, even as comical events keep intruding to impede them.


12:00am (EST): Steamboat Bill, Jr. (1928)

Steamboat Bill Jr. was Buster Keaton’s final independent film, and one of his best. The story: dandified college boy Buster tries to prove himself to his riverboat captain dad, and win the heart of the daughter of his dad’s rival. The Mississippi setting unavoidably evokes Mark Twain.  The climax contains Buster’s most famous film sequence…the brilliantly staged hurricane, culminating in his most well known single shot, with the building facade falling down around him, while the real life Buster stands there frozen praying to God they measured the window right. A movie as beautiful as it is funny.


1:15am (EST): Harold Lloyd’s World of Comedy (1962)

Inspired by the success of Robert Youngson’s The Golden Age of Comedy (1957), Harold Lloyd made this compilation film containing clips of his own “greatest hits”. For many of us born far too late to have experienced his films in their own day, this film was our first introduction to the work of silent comedy’s “Third Genius”.


3:00am (EST) Number Please (1920)

While the climax to this short is one of the film’s best parts, the set-up is convoluted. Harold and a rival (Roy Brooks) vie for the attentions of a girl (Mildred Davis) at an amusement park. When her dog gets lost, she wants to go up in a hot air balloon operated by her uncle. The balloon will only hold two. The girl announces she will go up with whichever beau gets her mother’s permission first. The rival heads for the mother’s house in a car. Harold runs to a telephone so he can call the mother for permission. This would seem easy…but it’s a public phone in a hotel. The hilarious part is the succession of obstacles which prevent him from doing this simple thing. Then he winds up with a lost purse, which he finally gives to a goat to eat so he won’t be arrested for stealing. But it turns out to have been the girl’s purse, complete with the balloon tickets….


3:30am (EST) Speedy (1928)

Counterintuitively, given that the American film industry was largely based in New York City during its earliest years (roughly 1893-1913), by the twenties most of the business was where it is now, in Hollywood. Location shooting in New York City for major feature films had become something of a novelty. Harold Lloyd’s Speedy redresses that lapse; it’s virtually a love poem to New York. Harold plays a soda jerk and rabid Yankees fan who wants to help save his girlfriend’s dad’s endangered business: the last horse drawn trolley line in New York. Two special highlights: a cameo by the actual Babe Ruth (Harold has to rush him to a game); and an actual vehicular accident, which the producers opted to keep in the film because it was so spectacular. And let’s not forget the cool scenes at Coney Island and Times Square! Harold plays a slightly different character in this film: cocky, pushy, fun-loving and a little irresponsible. Just like New York.

Speedy was Lloyd’s last released silent film. His next film Welcome Danger was originally prepared as a silent, but adapted for sound.


5:05am (EST) Anna Case in La Fiesta (1926)

This couldn’t be farther from a silent slapstick comedy. I can only think they include this short and Roseland (below) as illustrations of what the late silents were up against. This is an early Vitaphone talkie starring opera singer Anna Case, backed by the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra.


5:15am (EST): Charley My Boy (1926)

An early Leo McCarey effort. The great Charley Chase gets mistaken for a suitor for the affections for heiress Kathryn Grant (he’s just there for a job). The last act has him roaming around the boss’s house, trying to hide booze from prohibition cops.


4:57am (EST) Roseland (1930)

Ruth Etting et al in a Vitaphone short set in the famed Jazz Age nightclub.

And stay tuned — they’ll be showing more classic comedies later in the day — more on that to come!

For more on silent comedy and slapstick 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 etc etc etc

Tonight on TCM: Silent Comedy Classics

Posted in Comedians, Comedy, Hollywood (History), Movies, PLUGS, Silent Film with tags , on September 6, 2016 by travsd

Tonight on TCM: a menu of lesser-known but (for the most part) important silent comedy classics:


8:oopm (EST): The Golden Age of Comedy (1957)

The first of Robert Youngson’s numerous anthology films encapsulating silent comedy’s funniest moments and its greatest stars. The films were highly influential and paved the way for the revival for these films that continues apace today. For many people, these compilation films were their first exposure to silent comedy. That said, you’ll notice that some of the biggest names (Chaplin, Keaton, Lloyd, Arbuckle and Normand) are missing. But we do get Laurel and Hardy, the Keystone Kops, Harry Langdon, Charley Chase, Ben Turpin, Billy Bevan and many others.


9:30pm (EST): Tillie’s Punctured Romance (1914)

This seminal all-star Mack Sennett comedy feature stars Marie Dressler, Charlie Chaplin, Mabel Normand, and Mack Swain. Scattered throughout the rest of the cast is nearly everyone else then employed on the Sennett lot.

Dressler, a fellow Canadian, had been instrumental in getting Mack Sennett onto the stage at the beginning of his career. Now that he was a Hollywood mogul, Sennett saw it as the ultimate coup to star her in one of his films. T.P.R. is an adaptation of Dressler’s own Broadway stage hit of 1910-12, Tillie’s Nightmare. The story plays upon her image as an ugly duckling. Dressler plays a blushing milkmaid of 50 who is swept off her feet by a conniving con man and gigolo (Chaplin) who has fallen in love with the large pile of cash her father (Mack Swain) has saved up. Normand plays Chaplin’s comely confederate. The narrative is quite sturdy, marred only perhaps by Sennett’s penchant for directing all of his actors to hit each other or fall on the ground every five seconds.

Tillie was the first comedy feature to be released in America, and was a smash hit. In fact, Dressler went on to make several sequels for other studios, Tillie’s Tomato Surprise (1915, for LubinTillie Wakes Up (1917, shot at Coney Island), and The Scrub Lady (1917, Goldwyn). Shortly afterward, she left the movies to concentrate on the stage again, returning a decade later to become one of the hugest movie stars (indeed at one point, the biggest box office draw) of the early talkie era.

As for Chaplin, believe it or not, this was the last he would appear in a film he did not script and direct himself. It’s still so early — just a few months into a screen career that was last another half-century! It’s also interesting to watch him play a character quite different from his usual screen persona. It would have been interesting to have seen a lot more of this from him. And as for Normand, she would begin starring in features herself in a few years, starting with 1918’s Mickey


11:06pm (EST): A Flirt’s Mistake (1914)

Mack Sennett’s Keystone released this hilarious comedy, directed by George Nichols. The titular “flirt” is of course, Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, who compulsively annoys every woman he sees, much to the ire of his wife (Minta Durfee). His “mistake” is thinking a mysterious Eastern “rajah” (Edgar Kennedy) is a woman, due to his beautiful hat and robes, disposing Fatty to come on to him. Violence results, some of it from the rajah, some of it from the Mrs.


11:15pm (EST): Mabel’s Willful Way (1915)

Why, it’s chock full of incident: daughter Mabel Normand is eating with her parents in a fancy outdoor café. Fatty and Arbuckle and another guy are hanging around causing mischief. A cop tries to chase them off. Mabel goes to a candy vendor, steals candy while ordering ice cream, but has no money. She spits candy out of her mouth and gives it back to the guy. Fatty goes up and steals money from register, then uses it to pay for ice cream. Then they taunt a bear in the cage at the zoo and give him some ice cream. Then her parents go looking for her. They split up to look. The father has a tussle with Fatty’s friend. Someone kicks Fatty all the way up the playground slide. A cop beats Fatty. Fatty touches Mabel’s mother—he thought it was the girl. Outrage! The daughter introduces her father to the guy who beat him up. They resume fighting. Now she introduces Fatty to her mother: the same degree of consternation. Fatty and his friend swear off women.


11:30pm (EST): Mickey (1918)

Mickey was the perfect Mabel Normand picture, building on her image as a feisty, independent, somewhat untameable young woman, and adding a new dimension of seriousness not present in any of her previous work with Mack Sennett. The film was a Cinderella story about a girl growing up wild and uneducated with her gold mining father in the wilderness of California, then being sent to live with family back East for lessons in refinement. While Normand had already proven herself a fine actress at Biograph (where she’d played in some dramas) and even with Sennett, Mickey showcased this talent at a whole new level. And it still had plenty of comedy. Legal snarls kept it on the shelf for two years, but when it was finally released in 1918, it was one of the smash hits of the year.


1:03am (EST): Spring Fever (1919)

I’ll be seeing this one for the first time. Directed by Hal Roach, and starring Harold Lloyd, Snub Pollard, Bebe Daniels, Lige Conley, Bud Jamison, Fred Newmeyer and Noah Young 


1:15am (EST): Seven Years Bad Luck (1921)

Max Linder’s feature film is much praised and famous for being that source of the “mirror routine” imitated by many later comedians. When he realizes he has broken a mirror, he expects bad luck and gets it. His girlfriend misunderstands something and dumps him. Blue, he goes west. A kid steals his wallet as he is about to depart so he resorts to all sorts of tricks to sneak on the train and stay there. He gets all the way west, masquerades as a station master etc. An interlude at a zoo as he flees from cops. He returns home and makes up with his girl. They get married and have seven little Maxes all dressed in little top hats!


2:30am (EST): Coney Island (1917)

In this classic comedy short, Fatty Arbuckle, Buster Keaton and Al St. John take turns dating the same girl (Alice Mann) at Coney Island (despite the fact that Arbuckle’s character is married). Inevitably Arbuckle winds up going in drag in a woman’s bathing suit. In addition to priceless period footage of Coney’s Luna Park in its heyday, this film offers the sight of Keaton doing an impressive blackflip, and — even more exotic — crying!


1:15am (EST): Yankee Doodle in Berlin (1919) 

This WWI-era patriotic comedy is doubly interesting to us: 1) because it stars so many greats from the Sennett stock company: Ford Sterling (as the Kaiser!), Ben Turpin, Mal St. Clair, Marie Prevost, Charlie Murray, both Chester and Heinie Conklin, and the Bathing Beauties; and 2) the star of the picture is Bothwell Browne, a vaudeville drag performer whose only starring film this is. (For more on Browne go here). This was Sennett’s most ambitious film up to that time, and only his third feature. Unfortunately he gambled on the war lasting longer than it did; it was already over by the time the film was in theatres.

The plot is just what you think it would be. Browne is an army captain who goes undercover in the Kaiser’s Germany, disguised as a woman. As long as Sterling or Turpin makes a pass at him, that’s all I ask!


4:15am (EST) The Champeen (1923) and Our Gang (1922)

Two of the earliest Our Gang shorts, with the original silent cast.

4:44am (EST) Harold Lloyd (1962) 

A clip from the documentary Harold Lloyd’s World of Comedy 

For more on silent 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 etc etc etc

Century of Slapstick #102: Charlie Chaplin in “The Count”

Posted in Century of Slapstick, Charlie Chaplin, Comedians, Comedy, Hollywood (History), Movies, Silent Film with tags , , , , on September 4, 2016 by travsd


Today is the 100th anniversary of the release date of the Charlie Chaplin comedy The Count (1916). 

This movie shows Chaplin at the top of his game as a straight up comedian, chock full of original bits of funny physical business, with no twinges of melancholia along the way. It has limburger cheese, and messy slurping of watermelon, and lots and lots of social embarrassment. 

In this Mutual short Eric Campbell plays a tailor and dry cleaner,  Charlie his assistant. Of course, Charlie makes a hash of everything, mismeasures a lady (due to his own delicacy), and burns up all his ironing. The boss fires him (hilariously, Charlie manages to light a cigarette even as he is being kicked out). 

Subsequently, Campbell finds a party invitation in the pocket of a coat he is dry cleaning: “Mrs Moneybags invites Count Broko…” He decides to attend in the Count’s place (this device is used in too many Chaplin and Keystone comedies to count). Little does the tailor reckon on encountering his former assistant at the very same mansion (Charlie has gone there to flirt with the cook). Learning the details, Charlie turns the tables, representing HIMSELF as the Count, and forcing his former boss to play his secretary. And it just builds from there….

For more on silent and slapstick comedy don’t miss my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Mediaalso available from etc etc etc For more on show biz historyconsult 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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