I viewed the UCLA print of this film, an acetate dupe which was struck from a nitrate release print that had seriously deteriorated.
Charles 'Chic' Sale was a vaudeville monologist who did rural material about hicks and hillbillies. More importantly, Sale was also the author of a book called 'The Specialist', consisting entirely of cornpone jokes about outhouses. This book was a tremendous best-seller in the 1920s and '30s, to such an extent that its success eclipsed Chic Sale's career as a performer, and - in an era when many Americans still used outhouses - it became fairly prevalent to refer to an outhouse as a 'Chic Sale' ... in much the same way that, a few years later when Don Ameche starred in a film about Alexander Graham Bell, people thought it was funny to call a telephone an 'Ameche'. In the 1930s, Sale had some success as a character actor in dramatic films.
'His Nibs' stars Chic Sale 'living' seven different roles, as the opening credits describe him. After the credits, we see seven close-up shots of Sale in his seven different roles, one of them involving a very dodgy moustache. I've never understood the origin of the American expression 'his nibs'. I know that this phrase is sarcastically applied to a self-important person, but why 'nibs'? Has it something to do with pen nibs? Or maybe Nibs of the Lost Boys?
This is a weird film, actually a film within a film. In the main story, Sale is Theodore Bender, owner and manager of the Slippery Elm Picture Palace, a fleapit cinema in rural America. I found this film fascinating for its depiction of an early movie-house. Bender is also the projectionist, and he enters his projection booth by climbing a ladder up the front of the building. While the customers show up to watch what the intertitles describe as 'the filum', Sale plays five other roles ... one of whom -- the cinema pianist -- is a woman. I was impressed with Sale's female impersonation; he avoids overplaying the role, and he actually gives 'Miss Dessie' some subtlety. No two of the six Sales show up in the same shot, so there's no trick photography.
The movie that the folks have come to see is "He Fooled 'em All", a melodrama in which Sale plays his seventh role: a small-town grocery clerk who gets fleeced in the big city, but ultimately triumphs. The other actors in the cast list -- Colleen Moore, Joseph Dowling -- appear only in this film within the film. Interestingly, the opening credits of 'His Nibs' mention that Dowling had previously played the title role in 'The Miracle Man': a testament to that film's popularity. Bender has cut out the intertitles in "He Fooled 'em All", preferring to narrate the action himself.
SPOILING ONE GAG NOW. During the sequences featuring Sale as Theodore Bender, I laughed for the *wrong* reason: namely, because in Britain 'bender' is a slang word for a certain type of sexual deviate. However, at the end of the movie Sale reveals the reason for this character's name. We see him climbing aboard a wagon painted with the name "THEO. BENDER". Sale straddles the sign, his legs covering some of its letters so that it now reads "THE END".
The structure of 'His Nibs' is so weird, I can't help wondering if it was originally intended as two separate movies, with "He Fooled 'em All" produced as a film in its own right. Anyway, I found 'His Nibs' very enjoyable, and I'll rate this movie 8 out of 10.
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