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From the first series of "Lloyd Hamilton Talking Comedies" from 1929, this begins with a glee-club vocal sung by prisoners behind bars, behind the opening credits as they roll. I've seen a few shorts beginning with glee club vocals from 29-30--was this just to present "sound" of any sort since the novelty had not yet worn off? In any event, this is a Lloyd Hamilton classic. Gangster leader Nick the Sheik (Hamilton) is released from jail and manages to run into "collector of rare coins" Vernon Snodgrass (also Hamilton), who looks exactly like him. With the cops after Nick AND Nick's old girlfriend wanting to get the romance cooking, you can imagine the confusion that ensues. The dual role really allows Hamilton to shine, and this master physical comedian steals the show. Rita La Roy (as the gangster's girl) is very sexy, with her short 20's hair, as she tries to seduce Hamilton--if anyone has her 1930 feature PLAYTHINGS OF Hollywood, I'd love a copy! For a 1929 short, this moves well and is quite fluid. Obviously, director William Watson learned quickly how to compensate for the drawbacks of sound recording technology. Definitely worth finding (it's on an old Grapevine compilation of Hamilton shorts).
This early Warner Brothers short subject was by way of introducing one
of vaudeville's best known song and dance men of the day, Georgie
Price. He was quite the headliner on stage though he never did make a
mark on the screen.
Price had a nice bravura style in the tradition of Al Jolson and Harry Richman. He started out as a child performer and since he never grew past 5'4" he played children well into adulthood. His theme song was Bye Bye Blackbirds.
On this short subject one of the songs he sings is Hello Sunshine Hello which I have a contemporary Al Jolson recording of. Since I had never seen or heard Price perform before contrasting him to Jolson was interesting.
I'm glad TCM showed this film tonight to give me and others a chance to see one of our forgotten vaudeville greats.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is the second film I've seen from the highly-regarded but now
little-known Lloyd Hamilton and the first talkie -- and a very odd
two-reel comedy it is at that. There is some early-talkie awkwardness,
much of which emanating from lines which don't make a whole lot of
sense, but it only increased the level of Lloyd Hamilton himself in my
estimation and made me laugh quite a bit -- which of course is what a
comedy is for.
The story involves Hamilton as a rare coin dealer (in his typical comedy persona) being confused with an identical-looking recently-escaped gangster. The two are each played with such conviction and so differently that one can actually believe they are two different people. Nick the Sheik is played so straight that in his few scenes without Vernon Snodgrass there is really no comedy. His comic, non-tough-guy persona is also really subtly drawn and funny. Despite an adult body, he's very believably a prissy, fussy twelve-year-old -- and probably a majority of the laughs come from his little bits of business and reactions to what's going on. It's not so much set-piece gags that win here so much as Hamilton's opening switch from whistling to humming when told to knock it off, his way of taking money from the payphone, his way of calling for his mother confronted by the gangsters, or his getting excited about the car trip. I get the feeling Hamilton could have been an extraordinary legitimate actor from his handling of these two parts.
One almost gets the sense that this is not an intrinsically funny short, but one that's lucky enough to leave space for an intrinsically funny comedian to ply his trade. Indeed, the all-out closing sequence tries hard to get laughs from the notion of a room full of people made to cry because of tear gas, and it isn't great. In cases like these, though, it's the end result that counts, and this was indeed funny overall.
My favorite of its little funny moments: Snodgrass-Hamilton sees a the escaped-gangster picture on the front page of the paper, realizes it's his spitting image, doesn't care what the story actually says, and, full of innocence and awe, announces to a nearby policeman "That's me!"
When you see the words, "An Educational Comedy", there are generally
two things you can be pretty sure of right off: Firstly, the movie
short you're about to see is not in the least bit "educational".
Secondly, it is not a "comedy". An unfunny waste of time, certainly,
and a disappointment all around no matter what its cast, credits and
other credentials. But comic? No way!
"Don't Be Nervous" is an excellent example of Educational at its worst. Despite his multiplicity of credits as director and writer, Watson's direction is so flat-footed he even makes the clever camera-work that unites both Hamiltons on screen seem ho-hum, tame and uninteresting.
As for the script, despite the humdrum moments of confusion, the only watchable thing about it is the fact that the done-to-death role of the gangster's sexy girl friend is played by Rita La Roy. Now Miss La Roy is quite something. She makes this short worth seeing all by herself. As for Ham Hamilton, one word describes him: Dull!
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