|Index||6 reviews in total|
At his best Charley Chase could take a basic story situation and
develop it into a string of memorable comic set-pieces, usually based
on embarrassment or anxiety. Often he's under severe pressure to
achieve his goal: he must race to the train station in time to pick up
an important package, or pose as a servant to retrieve an incriminating
letter. Sometimes he seeks true love, and has to convince his girl's
family that he's acceptable suitor, or else convince the family of the
girl he DOESN'T want that he's NOT acceptable. Whatever the challenge,
Charley usually throws himself into his latest project with vigor. Be
Your Age feels like a lesser effort because it stretches this basic
premise out of shape, and substitutes one that doesn't work as well.
The first problem here is that Charley's initial crisis, the one that
motivates all his subsequent behavior, is nonsensical; second, in order
to solve his problem he takes a course of action that reflects badly on
himself; and finally, he is highly reluctant to achieve his goal. We
could forgive all of that if the gags were hilarious, but unfortunately
in this film much of the material feels uninspired.
Charley plays a bashful clerk in a law office. It's established early on that his family is in desperate need of $10,000, but the reason we're given (as stated in a letter from home) is deliberately exaggerated for comic effect. It gets a laugh, but it's too silly. Chase's best comedies are reality-based, but this short lacks that grounding. Next, Charley is tricked into accepting a loan from his boss which comes with a rather startling condition: in return for the money, Charley must marry one of the firm's clients, a wealthy widow who seeks a young husband. The lady, Mrs. Schwartzkopple by name, appears to be about twenty years Charley's senior and is hefty, and she has a spoiled son named Oswald who is about Charley's age. She also has a cute female secretary who catches Charley's eye. Charley attends a house party at Mrs. Schwartzkopple's home where he tries to swallow his distaste for the situation and woo her.
That's the plot. Usually Chase could take an unpromising premise like this one and make it work, but in this case those great comic set-pieces we're expecting never quite develop. Nothing much happens, and we're left with a number of scenes where the humor is largely based on Charley's queasiness over having to court this stout older woman. When her son Oswald appears it's a boost to see that he's played by the young Oliver Hardy, and we expect fireworks between this spoiled rich kid and his mother's callow suitor . . . but again, nothing much comes of it. Chase's comedies often featured funny dance sequences, and in this film he disguises himself in drag as a Spanish flamenco dancer, complete with a rose in his teeth. It's a highlight, but the scene comes a bit late and feels a little desperate.
Be Your Age has its moments, but it isn't an ideal introduction to this great, under-appreciated comedian. If you're looking for a good Charley Chase comedy I'd suggest Innocent Husbands or Limousine Love, to get a better sense of what Charley could do when he was really cooking with gas.
Chase is at his most amiable in this short, which features Oliver Hardy playing a milqutoast son of an heiress. Leo McCarey directs with a smooth and deft hand, blending light comedy with touches of slapstick. This is one of my favorite Chase comedies, a comedian far too overlooked.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Charley Chase's perennial comic formula tended to be to take a
embarrassing but fairly basic situation and slowly develop it into a
more and more unbearably embarrassing one for his hapless main
character over time. "Be Your Age" is slightly different in that
instead of going bigger and bigger with the humiliation for Charley, it
develops it into a number of funny set-pieces, while letting the fact
that here Charley's character is established as hopelessly bashful
amplify the comedy.
It works; the situation -- in which Charley must raise a large sum of money quickly for his family, and is pressured by his boss into marrying an unappealing rich widow to do it -- is funny in itself, and the situations are seriously augmented by Chase's playing of the "bashful" angle of his character seldom works as well as here. There's an undercurrent of dark comedy to the reasons for his having to make the money (the absurdly catastrophic list of things that has happened to his family is actually one of the best gags) and Charley's obvious disgust at having to marry such an older woman that works well too.
Oliver Hardy, not far off from fame as a team with Stan Laurel, is here in a small part as a spoiled man-boy. He doesn't get as much to do as in other Charley Chase comedies where he provides support, but he does get one very funny seen where he is mistaken behind a bush for his mother the widow. The finale in which Charley improvises a flamenco dancer costume to avoid his prospective fiancée is a blast, and charmingly, he ends up getting the girl he wants -- albeit by pure accident.
Be Your Age (1926)
** 1/2 (out of 4)
Charley Chase plays a timid bank clerk who needs $10,000 right away. His boss gives it to him but then makes him promise to woo an elderly woman (Lillian Leighton) who has just inherited a couple million. Along the way Chase begins to have feelings for the elderly woman's secretary (Gladys Hulette). Chase is one of my favorites but this here is pretty middle ground for the comedian. While there are plenty of laughs to be had, the film has a familiar story, which is just too predictable and we really don't get anything too original. One of the better gags in the film has Chase bringing the woman's son a toy drum but not remembering that the kid is actually a grown adult (played by Oliver Hardy). Another funny sequence deals with Chase trying to get a letter out of a mailbox and another one where he runs into a mirror thinking it's a door. A lot of the humor seems uninspired and only works because the cast is so good. Chase and Hardy have a couple good scenes together and Hulette is very cute as the secretary. Fans of Chase will certainly get a few kicks out of this but if you're new to the man then it might be best to start with a different short.
This Charlie Chase short was fun to watch, but not particularly outstanding compared to his other films. Part of this might just be because the plot is so odd. Charlie's extended family is in a fix and they need $10,000, so Charlie reluctantly agrees to to get the money by marrying a rich and significantly older widow. The problem is that this scenario just isn't funny and his switching from ardent suitor to creeped out guy during the course of the film isn't terribly well done. And, the gags thrown in aren't good enough to help overcome the plot. About the only interesting this is that you get to see Oliver Hardy in a supporting role before he later teamed up with Stan Laurel. See it if you'd like, but Chase certainly did better films.
During the 1920's, both Oliver Hardy and Stan Laurel wrote and directed their own material in order to develop their art. Charley Chase also played a part in this process, and 'Be Your Age' is an example of how he mentored Hardy. The development was being sourced by Hal Roach.
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