Silent-film star Wallace Reid is (like Roscoe Arbuckle) unfairly remembered for a scandal which didn't accurately reflect his true life or career. Reid played clean-cut young men, until his sudden death revealed a history of morphine abuse. This was actually the fault of front-office executives at Reid's home studio, who forced him to keep working under heavy medication after he was injured in a railway accident while en-route to a film location. After Reid's death, the same studio tried to protect its own image by circulating rumours that Reid had led a double life as a secret drugs addict.
Reid usually played a brash go-getter, a somewhat more leading-man version of Harold Lloyd. Reid's best director -- they made several films together -- was James Cruze, whose career is direly in need of reappraisal. Cruze's directorial talents were underrated in his lifetime, and he is now unfairly forgotten. Fortunately, Cruze invested his money well. Apparently, in his last years, he lived quite contentedly at Hollywood's periphery and he didn't much care about posterity.
In 'You're Fired' Reid plays Bill Deering, a devil-may-care playboy who proposes to society girl Helen Rogers. Her father Gordon Rogers forbids the engagement, asserting that Bill will never amount to anything. At the stroke of midnight, Rogers proposes a wager: if Bill can stay employed for three months, without being sacked, Rogers will consent to the marriage.
In a series of amusing vignettes, we see Bill trying his hand at various jobs of work, and invariably mucking them up until dismissal is imminent. On the brink of being fired from his first job, he takes a second job before *quitting* the first ... so that he remains employed yet escapes his first job without getting fired. As he can't hold the second job either, he takes a third job before quitting the second, and so forth. The comedy comes from Bill's widely varying types of ineptitude. He has no skills, so all the jobs he gets are manual labour, and he rapidly develops blisters on both hands. I laughed heartily at a gag when the burly actor Theodore Roberts grabs Reid's hand and pumps it enthusiastically ... and Reid jumps a foot into the air.
Eventually, Bill gets a job at a restaurant as a decorative doorman. At last he seems to be doing well ... until Helen and her father turn up for dinner at the restaurant. As luck would have it, tonight's the last night of the wager. Helen summons the restaurant's proprietor, and she demands that the doorman serve their dinner, even though Bill has no experience as a waiter. Then, Helen and her father keep Bill busy, constantly ordering him to fetch various items at top speed. It's clear that the Rogerses are trying to get Bill sacked before midnight.
As Helen Rogers, Wanda Hawley gives a remarkable performance here. She seems genuinely to be in love with Reid's Bill Deering and to want to marry him ... yet at the same time she clearly takes a cruel pleasure in forcing him to wait upon her and obey her orders. I was deeply impressed that Hawley was able to convey these conflicting motivations while retaining the audience's sympathy. It's not often that a film depicts a beautiful woman compelling a man to serve her, unless the woman is depicted as some sort of virago. If you want to see a sexy woman forcing a man to wait upon her hand and foot, while she clearly enjoys his humiliation -- and the whole thing played for comedy -- you'll be delighted by the climactic scenes of this movie.
SPOILERS COMING. Like several other Reid comedies, this movie veers deeply into slapstick territory ... yet Reid's hero remains realistic and believable, even more so than is the case with Harold Lloyd. It's no surprise that Bill Deering manages to avoid getting fired before the stroke of midnight ... at which point he eagerly claims his bride. (Hmm, maybe our Bill *enjoys* being dominated.) There's some delightful supporting comedy by Raymond Hatton as the kappelmeister of an oom-pah band, but Wallace Reid is funny enough that he doesn't need the assistance. The inter-titles are witty too, with some delightful hand-painted backgrounds. I'll rate 'You're Fired' 10 out of 10.
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