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Mum's the Word (1926)

 -  Short | Comedy  -  9 May 1926 (USA)
6.2
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Ratings: 6.2/10 from 103 users  
Reviews: 4 user | 3 critic

A widow has married rich, but didn't tell her husband about her son. And he's coming for a surprise visit. To hide his identity he is introduced as the husband's new valet, but still the ... See full summary »

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Charley - the Son
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A widow has married rich, but didn't tell her husband about her son. And he's coming for a surprise visit. To hide his identity he is introduced as the husband's new valet, but still the husband has some doubts about a few strange scenes. And during the night, when the son tries to visit his mother, the husband always starts interfering, but the new maid also behaves strangely, trying to sneak into the husband's room... Written by Stephan Eichenberg <eichenbe@fak-cbg.tu-muenchen.de>

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Short | Comedy

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9 May 1926 (USA)  »

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1.33 : 1
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Not one of Charley's better efforts
16 February 2004 | by (Westchester County, NY) – See all my reviews

Buster Keaton once told an interviewer that he didn't care for farce comedy because farcical plots are based on falsehoods. That is, one character tells a lie, someone else tells another, and the whole thing snowballs. As Keaton astutely pointed out, if these people would just tell each other the truth you wouldn't have a story at all. Even so, and despite such flimsy underpinnings, farce can be enjoyable if a clever screenwriter manages to come up with a reasonably well-motivated story, good gag sequences and a witty line or two, especially if the piece is played full-tilt by spirited performers who believe wholeheartedly in what they're doing. But if the plot isn't properly motivated, or the gags are weak, or the performances are halfhearted, you've got a dud on your hands. Unfortunately, Mum's the Word is one of the misfires.

The whole plot of this film hinges on a middle-aged woman who has remarried, and who refuses to tell her new husband that she has a grown son; meanwhile, her husband is hiding a similar fact from his own past. Okay, that's a decent enough premise, but we need something more, we need to know WHY they are so determined to keep such significant secrets from each other. All it would take is a line or two of explanation to satisfy the viewer, but we're given nothing to go on, so everything that follows feels unmotivated.

Worse still, nothing especially funny develops. Charley Chase was a gifted comic, but like anyone else he needed decent material, and in Mum's the Word he doesn't have much to work with. There's a moderately funny sequence when Charley, pretending to be his new father-in-law's valet, attempts to give him a shave. But the gags consist mainly of spinning the man's chair and getting lather in his eye and his mouth; usually Chase could do better than that. Later Charley attempts a variation on the famous 'mirror routine' in which, seen only in silhouette, he appears to be his father-in-law's shadow. But again, the sequence fizzles out without much of a pay-off. (Chase had performed the routine to much better effect with his brother James Parrott in Sittin' Pretty, two years earlier.) Towards the end Mum's the Word does offer some nicely timed moments when the players sneak out of their rooms, encounter each other, and then dash back again. Otherwise, however, the enterprise feels somewhat strained.

Charley Chase is likable even when he's struggling with weak material (and for me that makes him the opposite of Jerry Lewis, who I dislike even when his material is good) but it's disheartening to see him struggle for laughs, as he does in Mum's the Word. Newcomers to Charley will find more to enjoy in some of his better comedies, such as Innocent Husbands or Mighty Like a Moose.


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