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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I viewed a print of this Larry Semon comedy that came from a Czech
archive; all the original dialogue cards had been cut out, and a small
number of titles in Slovak spliced in. The film would have been better
with no titles at all.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, 'counter jumper' was the term used in both Britain and the U.S.A. to describe the lowest dogsbody clerk in a general store or emporium. Here, Semon is employed in that capacity in an Old West general store that caters for desperate characters. As usual for Semon, most of the gag set-ups are deeply contrived and implausible. We get here not one but two separate sequences in which randomly splattered stains just happen to resemble a human face. One of those sequences involves a stereotypical cowardly Negro. I've never found that sort of humour funny. Earlier in the film, a brief glimpse of character actor Jack Duffy grimacing in his usual old-man disguise was much funnier. Duffy was a handsome young man who lost all his teeth at an early age, and (in heavy makeup) he played toothless old codgers. I wish he'd had a bigger role in this movie.
This being a Larry Semon comedy, the general store is filled with crates and pottery which are stacked in utterly implausible patterns, ensuring that Semon's headlong collision with ONE piece of merchandise will cause dozens of objects to hurtle floorward. Plot line? Well, if you insist. Lucille Carlisle (very chic here, and actually a good actress) owns a valuable necklace which is nicked by sneering villain Oliver Hardy. Semon pursues Hardy over hill and dale to retrieve it.
At the climax of the film, there's one exciting overhead shot: the camera points straight down at Semon and Hardy brawling in the sagebrush, the viewpoint revealing that they're at the edge of a very steep cliff and in danger of rolling off it. Sounds good so far, but keep reading. Semon's comedies were notorious for extremely implausible slapstick, filmed with blatantly obvious fakery. Eventually, Semon picks up the much larger and heavier Hardy and flings him over the cliff. This being a Semon film, Hardy is unhurt. Then Semon dives off the same cliff; he too lands unhurt.
Now, see, here's the problem: Semon's comedies take place in a universe where everyone is unbreakable. Any suspense generated by that impressive climax, with the camera aiming straight down the cliffside precipice, is entirely squandered once we realise that the characters in this movie can't possibly get hurt. The 'stunts' are performed by a couple of blatantly obvious dummies.
Despite the general cheapness and tackiness of Semon's films, he often shelled out large amounts of money for one complicated special-effects gag per movie. Here, Semon blows his budget on an elaborate stop-motion sequence in which one chicken egg rolls away from its siblings, then the egg's shell cracks just enough for a pair of avian legs to emerge. The bird's feet and legs resemble those of a duckling rather than a chick. Unfortunately, this is the beginning of a very unfunny routine, as the half-hatched egg waddles about. When the (genuine) live chick eventually hatches, it looks nothing like the stop-action figure we've been viewing. I was vaguely impressed by some shots in which the walking egg (in stop-motion) and Semon (in normal motion) both appear on screen together; these impressed me slightly because two different photographic exposures had to be matted into the same shot. Semon would have been better off paying that money to a better gag writer. I'll rate this woeful comedy just 2 out of 10.
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