Silent era comedian Lloyd "Ham" Hamilton was unlucky both on screen and off. During his heyday in the 1920s Ham played the guy forever cursed with bad luck; off-screen, sad to say, Hamilton's luck wasn't much better. He had health problems, marital problems, alcohol problems, and career problems. Worst of all, where posterity is concerned, most of his movies were destroyed in a vault fire in the 1930s, which seemed to assure that this popular comedian's reputation would fade away with the passage of time. Fortunately, a number of his films have been rediscovered and restored in recent years, and widely enjoyed by silent comedy buffs.
Like his peers, Hamilton had to serve an apprenticeship in order to learn his craft: during 1914-17 he appeared in dozens of one-reel Ham & Bud comedies paired with diminutive Bud Duncan. Like Chaplin's Keystones these quickly made shorts were primitive in technique and sometimes crude in content, but they offer occasional hints of the star's talent. Hamilton was very definitely the star of the team; Bud Duncan barely registers as a screen presence, and usually serves as little more than a foil for the more gifted and charismatic Hamilton. The Deadly Doughnut is the best of the Ham & Bud series I've seen thus far, which admittedly isn't saying much, but at least it's fairly offbeat and entertaining, and offers a few laughs to the undemanding viewer.
The story -- this one actually has a plot! -- is set in a bakery. Ham & Bud work for a baker named John Doe (get it?) who has invented a "hole-less" doughnut. But Doe's rival Henry Mudguard fears that the new invention might hurt his business, so he plots to steal the formula. Meanwhile, one of Doe's other employees is fired for attacking Ham's girlfriend, the bakery's pretty cashier, so he turns traitor and reveals to Mudguard of the whereabouts of the secret recipe. Ham & Bud attempt to make their own hole-less doughnuts, but somehow produce a batch of pastries that explode. They confirm this by testing one on Bud's dog, who promptly blows up. (It's a cruel gag, but at least Bud weeps for a few seconds.) Armed with their newly produced secret weapon, our heroes rescue their employer from confinement in the villain's vault, then stop the bad guys from stealing the secret recipe.
Okay, the plot is silly as hell, and kind of confusing too, suggesting that there must be some footage missing here and there, but The Deadly Doughnut is rather enjoyable anyway. It plays like a Keystone comedy, cartoon-like and harmless, although to my way of thinking the exploding dog business soured the atmosphere somewhat. Still, the movie's so over the top it's hard to take it very seriously, and it races along so fast there's no time to do so, anyway. This short is one of several rare Lloyd Hamilton comedies that have recently become available as part of a DVD set offered by a company called Looser Than Loose, and buffs will definitely want to take a look. Besides, it isn't everyone who can honestly claim to have seen a movie called The Deadly Doughnut. ("Why of course I've seen The Deadly Doughnut! Hasn't everyone?") Your ability to drop a passing mention of the title while talking film is worth brownie points, in some circles anyway.
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