The main character in Tod Robbins's weird novel 'The Unholy Three' is Tweedledee, a homicidal midget who leads a criminal gang. It was midget actor Harry Earles who persuaded Tod Browning to film this novel; Earles wanted the lead role for himself. Browning revised the plot (removing its strangest element: the devil-puppet that seems to control the ventriloquist), and then Browning duly cast Earles in the midget's role: no longer the Unholy Three's leader, and now considerably less central to the story. It's indirectly due to Earles that Browning discovered Tod Robbins's short story 'Spurs', which became the basis for Tod Browning's masterpiece 'Freaks' ... in which Harry Earles gave his best talking-film performance, as Hans the midget. Alas, the talkies revealed that Earles wasn't a very good actor: worse luck, his thick German accent confounded the early sound-recording systems. There aren't many roles for incoherent German midgets, especially if they're bad actors. Harry Earles ended his film career among the Munchkins, dancing a waltz clog as a member of the Lollipop Guild. (He's the one in the dark blue shirt.)
"That's My Baby" is Harry Earles's best film performance, and he's the only one worth watching in this oddball silent comedy directed by Bill Beaudine before he sank to the level of "Billy the Kid v. Dracula". In several films, Earles played a midget (of course) who disguised himself as a baby, and his impersonation is quite credible. In "That's My Baby", Earles is cast as a genuine baby, and he's absolutely convincing ... while engaged in all sorts of activities that a baby couldn't be expected to perform, such as climbing out onto the wing struts of a biplane in flight, or holding a fizzing stick of dynamite while crowing with delight.
"That's My Baby" reminds me of the Baby Herman cartoons, in which an innocent baby keeps blissfully wandering into danger ... always remaining oblivious while the danger avoids him and ricochets onto Roger Rabbit, the baby's would-be rescuer. This whole movie is a feature-length Baby Herman cartoon. Douglas MacLean is unwillingly put in charge of a baby (Earles) who crawls into every conceivable dangerous situation - handling explosives, and so forth - and MacLean is perpetually rescuing the baby ... who always emerges unscathed and laughing while MacLean gets lumbered with the danger. The humour is helped by the fact that we realise the "baby" is actually an adult midget actor who knows what he's doing. Moviegoers would probably cringe at the sight of a real baby in these situations.
This movie plays like a live-action cartoon rather than a credible story, and most of the violence is cartoonish. Still, it's funny. Harry Earles is the whole show, abetted slightly by MacLean. Exasperated veteran actor Claude Gillingwater fumes and snorts and overacts but doesn't raise any laughs. "That's My Baby" isn't hilarious, but it's a pleasant silent comedy.
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