Once you've seen this Keystone comedy you'll understand why the working title for the project was "Mixed Pants Story." The plot is driven by the confusion that results when two pairs of trousers are mixed up. One pair is owned by the landlord of an apartment building and the other by one of his lodgers. The lodger also has a wallet that contains rent money except when it doesn't, and the wallet passes from one pair of trousers to the other at unexpected moments. But neither the landlord nor the owner of the wallet are the central figures here, for THE RENT JUMPERS is primarily a love story between the landlord's daughter, played by the ever popular Mae Busch, and the lodger's roommate, young Charley Chase.
Mae and Charley are best remembered by comedy buffs for their work at the Hal Roach Studio in the '20s and '30s, but in this earlier period they appeared together a number of times for Mack Sennett at Keystone. And oddly enough, in all their years at Roach later on they never worked together. (They play siblings in Laurel & Hardy's SONS OF THE DESERT but don't appear in the same scene.) There's probably a story behind that, but most likely we'll never know what it was. In any case, Mae and Charley are usually paired off romantically in their Sennett comedies and make a nice couple.
This short is rather tame by Sennett standards. Amusing at times, but tame. Fritz Schade, who plays Charley's roommate, sports a Kaiser Wilhelm mustache and camps it up a little, but generally speaking the performances are restrained. There are no explosions, food fights, or Kops racing across rooftops. When the trouser mix-up occurs at the lodging house there's a brief taste of Keystone chaos in the hallways, and things get a bit lively later on at a restaurant when Charley and Mae can't pay their bill, but even so this is not exactly what we expect from this studio's output of the period. (That said, there's a nice surreal moment, very typical of Keystone, when Charley flings a pair of trousers over a transom and they wrap themselves neatly around a woman's neck.) Perhaps the most interesting thing about THE RENT JUMPERS is that it plays like a dress rehearsal of sorts for the comedies Charley and Mae made at Roach later on, where the performers usually look like people instead of cartoon characters, the pace is slowed, and the humor is a little more, dare I say, sophisticated. Meanwhile, this film feels like a 1915 Keystone that aspires to be a 1926 Roach.
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