By the time this two-reel comedy entitled PAPA'S BOY was released in late 1927, Lloyd Hamilton had reached a point in his career where his output was, at best, regarded as uneven in quality. As his stardom declined, he was also struggling with failing health and a troubling divorce. Circumstances had not always been so dismal, however; just a few years before, Hamilton enjoyed the position as one of Educational Pictures' major attractions, a true comedian's comedian whose inventiveness as performer and gagman was often compared to that of Buster Keaton. Such bold comparisons must've seemed less convincing by the time of PAPA'S BOY, but this still ranks as one of Hamilton's funnier films made after his heyday.
Hamilton plays a slight variation on his usual character, presenting himself as even more pathetic than usual. Equipped with his trademark checkered cap but wearing, for a change, a pair of fragile glasses, he's introduced as a constantly whining "sissy" whose obsession in life is chasing butterflies. His father is less impressed, and orders a sullen acquaintance to "make a man out of him." This is attempted by having Ham travel several miles from home, out to the woods nearby a lake, where he is obliged to embark on presumably character-building activities such as chopping wood and sleeping in a tent. Obviously, the experience turns out to have no discernible effect on the Papa's Boy...
There are amusing moments here, to be sure; Ham's obsessive chasing of butterflies results in inevitable misunderstandings, as he tries to catch items for his collection with less conventional resources than butterfly nets, and a dash of comic suspense is thrown in the second half of the film as an alligator enters (very much rubber-like, but still). Hamilton's facial expressions and recognizable "duck-like" walk add a personal touch which would, no doubt, have been absent had the film been done by a less memorable comic. At the same time, most of the material appears pretty standard; some solid, funny gags and situations, but little which couldn't likely have appeared in a Snub Pollard or Billy Bevan-short instead. Also, Hamilton's performance comes off as less subtle and refined compared to some of his earlier films; he's frequently yelling and screaming in a way which arguably makes him a bit much pathetic.
Even as one admits that Lloyd Hamilton did better stuff than PAPA'S BOY earlier in his career, this two-reeler is still a nice way to spend fifteen minutes or so to a silent comedy fan. Hamilton is easily among my favorites in the so-called "second rank" of silent comedians, and as such I'll gladly watch him also in a second- or even third-rank effort. The film can currently be found on Undercrank Productions' DVD Accidentally Preserved, Volume 2.
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