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A Versatile Villain (1915)

 -  Short | Comedy  -  29 May 1915 (USA)
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Ratings: 5.3/10 from 25 users  
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After being falsely accused of theft, Pete, the station master's assistant, rescues his girlfriend from the genuine villain, marauding crook Desperate Dan.


(as Frank C. Griffin)


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Cast overview:
Pete - Assistant Baggage Clerk
Louise Fazenda ...
The Sheriff's Daughter
Harry Bernard ...
Chief Baggage Clerk
William Sheer ...
Desperate Dan
Josef Swickard ...
The Sheriff


After being falsely accused of theft, Pete, the station master's assistant, rescues his girlfriend from the genuine villain, marauding crook Desperate Dan.

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Short | Comedy





Release Date:

29 May 1915 (USA)  »

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Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
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User Reviews

No great shakes, but no slow stretches either
16 November 2002 | by (Westchester County, NY) – See all my reviews

For viewers interested in seeing a typical Keystone comedy, one that represents the studio's standard output, this should fit the bill nicely. Produced at about the midway point in the studio's five year existence (1912-1917), A VERSATILE VILLAIN is neither the best nor the worst of the surviving films. It's fast paced and certainly lively, even rather suspenseful towards the end, and it might provoke a chuckle or two, but it's short on real gags, the kind of gags that make the great silent comedies so rewarding and memorable. The actors are energetic and pleasant enough, but lack the distinctive personalities and charisma of Keystone's top stars, although the two young leads, Charley Chase and Louise Fazenda, would star in top comedies of their own in the '20s. At this point, however, their opportunities are limited by the breathless pace and demands of the plot. There's too much running around and fighting to allow for character comedy. Chase has a mildly amusing sequence at the beginning when his attempt to perform conjuring tricks backfires, but after that his material is the kind of routine stuff anyone else on the lot could have handled. Similarly, any competent actress could have played Fazenda's role as damsel in distress.

I think this movie must have been made during the period when Ford Sterling was away from Keystone. He left along about March of 1914, shortly after Charlie Chaplin's arrival, and stayed away for a year, until Chaplin had left the studio for Essanay. Sterling would have been ideal for the title role here, as his frenzied mugging would have boosted this film's entertainment value considerably. As it stands, the unidentified actor who plays Desperate Dan, i.e. the Versatile Villain, seems too young for the part and doesn't registers strongly, while Sterling would have chomped into the role with everything he had.

Oh well. A VERSATILE VILLAIN is a moderately engaging little exercise anyway, and there is one laugh-out-loud funny sight gag towards the end, a pay-off that suggests the influence of the earlier 'trick films' of Georges Méliès. That moment, plus the chance to see Charley Chase and Louise Fazenda so early in their screen careers, make this one worth watching for silent comedy buffs.

P.S. Autumn 2008. Since writing this piece I've learned that the actor playing Desperate Dan was William "Billy" Sheer, an Englishman who had a substantial career in the music halls and also appeared in Raoul Walsh's excellent drama REGENERATION. Nice to know, but I still think Ford Sterling would have given a juicier performance in this Keystone comedy.

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