I've never heard of the film's nominal stars, Sammy Cohen and Ted McNamara (the latter died before this film's release), and Fox's WHY SAILORS GO WRONG does little to establish their place in a revisionist history of silent film comedians. Contemporary reviews actually praised their work here, citing laughs from start to finish. I think today's audiences, even those sympathetic to silent film comedy stylings, would have a tough time with the forced, clichéd situations in which Cohen and McNamara find themselves here.
The comedic hook for Cohen's character, Sammy Beezeroff, is an ethnic stereotype--emphasized repeatedly throughout the film by the size and shape of his nose and his eagerness to do anything for a quick buck. It should be noted, however, that his mannerisms do not imitate those of another Jewish comedian of the silent era, Max Davidson. As for McNamara, I never really could figure out what was supposed to be funny about his character except that he was incredibly stupid.
I watched this film primarily to see an example of the silent work of Nick Stuart, who here plays the young man trying to stop his best friend from stealing his fiancée. He has the opportunity to be on the giving and receiving end of a lot of fisticuff action--all done quite believably--and he's an appealing performer to watch. Too bad he's only a supporting role here. Sally Phipps fares even worse as the girlfriend--a mere cipher in the story, she hardly gets five minutes on screen.
The antics of Cohen and McNamara take them from an ill-fated yacht cruise to a shipwreck on a south seas island, where, according to one intertitle, "the friendly Natives subdivide the tourists instead of the land." The fade-out scene--involving $5000, a crocodile, and a jug of Castor oil--is probably the best of the movie.
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