Whenever filmmakers use the title 'Neighbors' it's almost always applied to comedies about neighbors who don't get along, to put it mildly. What the title really seems to mean is 'Bad Neighbors,' or 'Those Awful People Next Door,' and the humor comes from the feuding that erupts between the characters we're supposed to like versus the ones we don't like. Based on the evidence of this brief split-reel comedy, directed by Mack Sennett for the Biograph company back in 1912, the tendency to make this kind of comedyand to call it 'Neighbors'dates back over a century.
The story could hardly be simpler. Mabel (i.e. Mabel Normand) is preparing to ride her bicycle when she sees her haughty, hefty neighbor (played by Sylvia Ashton) ride past. As they ride alongside each other, Mabel playfully bumps her neighbor's bicycle, causing a crash. The neighbor lady is indignant, strikes Mabel, and seizes her bike to replace her own, which apparently has been damaged in the collision. When the wives return to their respective homes and inform their husbands what has happened, anger flares all around. The husbands argue, things escalate, and it leads to a duel. Mabel's husband (Fred Mace) is very aggressive, and frightens the other, smaller husband, who runs away. Everyone chases after them, fearing the worst, but the men are discovered at a beer garden, reconciling their differences over glasses of ale.
Is this movie still funny? Well, I didn't find it hilarious, though it depends on how you choose to look at it. When 'Neighbors' was made, screen comedy was still in a very early stage of development. Audiences of the day enjoyed watching people behave in an outlandish fashion, displaying exaggerated reactions to everything that happens, and much mugging. In its day this film surely made people laugh. Today's viewers, even those familiar with the silent comedy of a somewhat later period (i.e. the works of Chaplin and Keaton, etc.), will likely find it simplistic. Simple it may be, but it's still possible to get some pleasure out of it. I enjoy seeing the bright-eyed, healthy young Mabel Normand in these early appearances, no matter what she's doing. It's also interesting to watch as director Mack Sennett, still working for Biograph at this point, hones the style he would bring to his own Keystone company, which he founded soon after this film was made. So perhaps this short is more "interesting" than funny, but hey, in any case, it's over in six minutes! You can watch it in less time than it takes to read this.
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