Shortly after principal photography wrapped on this film, actor Paul Kelly was arrested in connection with the beating death of a man named Ray Raymond, husband of actress Dorothy Mackaye. Kelly was later convicted of manslaughter and served a prison term. Meanwhile, most of his footage in Special Delivery was eliminated. Ironically, Kelly had portrayed a detective. See more »
Eddie Cantor in a silent movie? Yes, and it works surprisingly well!
When this film was made pop-eyed comic Eddie Cantor was famous for his stage performances in the Ziegfeld Follies, in vaudeville, and in broadway musical-comedy revues. The public associated him with funny songs, energetic dancing, and the high-speed delivery of jokes that were often "groaners," bad puns Eddie would punch across with an aggressive, make-'em-laugh delivery. Like his Follies colleagues Will Rogers and W.C. Fields, Cantor wasn't the sort of comedian who was a promising candidate for stardom in silent pictures. All three men made the attempt, but all three needed sound to be fully appreciated. Even so, Cantor's two silent features are surprisingly enjoyable, at least as good as the best concurrent efforts of Rogers and Fields. Special Delivery, Cantor's second attempt, takes awhile to get rolling but eventually offers a couple of decent routines and then concludes with a well-handled, elaborate chase. Cantor later reported in his autobiography that it was a box office flop, and perhaps it was, but artistically speaking it's nothing to be embarrassed about.
Cantor plays the son of a "Postal Secret Service" agent but works in Dad's shadow as a lowly mail carrier, unable to rise any higher than this modest position. His father is ashamed of him, but Eddie promises to redeem himself by bringing in the notorious con man Blackie Morgan. (Blackie is played by William Powell, several years prior to his Thin Man fame.) Meanwhile, Eddie is hopelessly in love with Madge, a waitress at the 'Dutch Lunch' diner. (Madge is Jobyna Ralston, best remembered as Harold Lloyd's frequent leading lady.) Madge becomes innocently involved with the crook and almost marries him, but Eddie manages to intervene just in time. That's about it where plot is concerned, but this isn't a plot-driven vehicle: it's a Cantor-driven vehicle, and the star seems determined to overcome the limitations of silent cinema by giving a hyper-energetic performance. He doesn't enter a room, he dances in, and occasionally performs a little skip-hop maneuver as a kind of personal trademark. Despite Cantor's best efforts there are some slow stretches, but he's aided by a steady supply of good gags that perk things along at regular intervals. Behind the scenes the star was assisted by two silent comedy experts, director Roscoe Arbuckle and assistant director Larry Semon. Both men were having career troubles at the time-- Arbuckle was still banned from the screen as a result of his 1921 scandal and had to direct this film under an assumed name-- but it's evident that the old pros were responsible for the best gags. For instance, when Eddie gets ready to take Madge to the Postmen's Ball his formal wear proves to be woefully inadequate, but he manages to improvise using common household items to double as tuxedo accoutrement.
It's a rare treat to see William Powell playing such an oily scoundrel as Blackie Morgan, a character we're told is "so crooked he was born on probation." Powell often played bad guys in the silent days, and it's interesting to observe that the same polished, debonair traits that would make him such an elegant leading man in the '30s could be used to quite the opposite effect in villainous roles. His best scene comes when Eddie confronts him in his apartment and the two men fight. Powell manages to give his opponent a pretty good beating without so much as mussing his hair or rumpling his suit. (Stunt men were obviously used for the more strenuous bits, but that only adds to the comedy.) When the fight is over, Powell straightens his hat and gives the brim a little tug, then strides out as if he's just remembered he's late for cocktails at the Astor Bar.
The chase finale that wraps up the show is expertly managed and by far the high point, and leaves us thinking that, all things considered, this movie is more fun than it had any right to be. Maybe Eddie Cantor wasn't ideally suited for the silent screen, but when he surrounded himself with this kind of talent you'd never notice.
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