Jake's wife fears he has made good his suicide threat after he has caught her making love to the Dude in his own home. During the last minute preparations for Jake's funeral, the mourners ... See full summary »

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Cast

Cast overview:
Max Asher ...
Jake Schultz
Daisy Small ...
Mrs. Schultz
...
The Dude
...
Servant
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Storyline

Jake's wife fears he has made good his suicide threat after he has caught her making love to the Dude in his own home. During the last minute preparations for Jake's funeral, the mourners are suddenly surprised to find him sitting upright in their midst. Written by Anonymous

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Short | Comedy

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16 August 1913 (USA)  »

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1.33 : 1
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A print of this movie turned up in England in May 2006 See more »

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Lon Chaney pays his dues
11 October 2006 | by (Minffordd, North Wales) – See all my reviews

I saw "Poor Jake's Demise" (another allegedly 'lost' film) this week at the 2006 Giornate del Cinema Muto in Sacile, Italy. A print of this movie turned up in England in May 2006; its opening titles were gone, and someone had spliced on the opening title of a Charley Bowers one-reeler. (Bowers was a comedian whose heyday -- such as it was -- came circa 1927.) At Cinema Muto, "Poor Jake's Demise" was screened with no opening title, but with its original intertitles.

Several reference sources have cited "Poor Jake's Demise" as Lon Chaney's screen debut. Actually, it is the earliest known film for which Chaney received billing in trade publications: very likely, he had already performed perceptible roles in at least a dozen previous films, apart from movies in which he was one more extra in crowd scenes.

When I first heard of this film, I assumed that it was related to the popular "Poor Jake" series of comic strips written and drawn by George Herriman circa this period, about an overworked farmhand. The name turns out to be coincidence. This movie is a crude slapstick comedy, produced by IMP -- Independent Motion Pictures -- one of the poverty-row concerns that eventually coalesced into Universal Studios.

Chaney doesn't play the title role here: that dubious honour goes to Max Asher, a 'Dutch' vaudeville comic with a Prussian moustache. Chaney plays a spiffy character who is apparently meant to be a lady-killer, but he endows this role with lots of the effeminate fussy movements which audiences of this period would have associated with the stock vaudeville character known as a 'nance'.

This movie is a clear rip-off of the Keystone formula, already established at this early date. We see a fairly normal-looking desk officer, but the three cops on the beat (a big fat guy, a shrimp and a beanpole) look like rejects from the Keystone Cops Academy. There are plenty of pratfalls here. I was surprised to see two separate gags involving the rude gesture of thumb to nose, which was considered extremely vulgar in 1913 America: at least as vulgar as the 'badfinger' gesture today.

Before entering films, Chaney had been a dancer and choreographer on the western theatre circuit, and he puts that training to good use here. His performance is extremely physical. He dives out a window, does a forward roll and comes up in a somersault. He executes a straight-back pratfall that would do credit to David Jason's "Del Boy" Trotter. When Chaney sashays his way up the porch stairs, he almost seems to break into a dance. At one point, he takes a siphon of soda-water in the face.

Also seen to advantage here is Louise Fazenda, looking about the same as she would look at Keystone a bit later. Fazenda later married producer Hal Wallis and took a well-earned retirement. More for its historic value than for any actual merits, I'll rate "Poor Jake's Demise" 7 out of 10. Good luck with that career, Lon!


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