How much wackiness can be packed into ten minutes? See this and find out.
Paul Parrott's comedies aren't for viewers who care about realism, coherent plotting or character motivation: these crazy little farragoes are for buffs who appreciate live-action films that look like Tex Avery cartoons, made when Tex himself was still a youngster. In Parrott's movies people leap through walls leaving person-shaped holes, cars crash through store windows without hurting anybody, and when bombs explode-- which happens a lot --the smoke clears and reveals everyone in shredded clothes, but otherwise okay. Parrott, like Ben Turpin, Larry Semon, Snub Pollard, etc., looked like a clown from outer space and wasn't meant to be taken seriously as a leading man. In their movies these guys usually hook up with a Girl at some point prior to the fade-out, but we aren't supposed to think of them having actual marriages, or being husbands or fathers. (Semon tried to play a more realistic persona in his features, but his popularity dwindled nonetheless.) In his starring shorts for the Hal Roach studio Parrott always followed the anything-for-a-laugh style more typical of Mack Sennett's crew, but in later years under the name James Parrott he demonstrated a comparatively sophisticated, semi-realistic approach to comedy in the films he directed for Laurel & Hardy, the Our Gang kids, and his brother Charley Chase.
In one respect SOFT PEDAL presents a more human side of cartoon-y Paul Parrott, for, like Charlie Chaplin in THE KID, he's teamed with a cute little tyke. Parrott's sidekick is Ernie "Sunshine Sammy" Morrison, a charming boy who was the first African-American kid in the Our Gang series. In the opening credits Paul's character is identified as 'Willing' and the boy is called 'Wary.' When we first meet them the duo are operating a scam somewhat similar to the one Chaplin and Jackie Coogan ran in THE KID: Sammy runs along rooftops with a watering can, sprinkling pedestrians to make them think it's raining, at which point Parrott the umbrella salesman happens by and quickly makes a sale. (Admittedly it's less destructive than Chaplin & Coogan's window-smashing racket.) When Paul and his sidekick are approached by a young woman in distress, and learn that she and her father need $500 right away, they come to her aid the only way they know how: by burglarizing a house. How were they to know that the house they chose to burglarize would turn out to be hers?
SOFT PEDAL runs only ten minutes or so, and things get chaotic towards the end, but there's certainly a lot of incident packed into this frantic little reel. It's pretty silly, and not all that different from the standard Sennett output of the period, but along with the typical gags there's one genuinely funny, unexpected moment during the burglary when Parrott is confronted by the homeowner, the girl's father, and they suddenly realize that they knew each other back in school days long ago. That gag alone makes this one worth seeing, but there are some other amusing bits along the way. And incidentally, Ethel Broadhurst is not the usual demure leading lady you expect to see in films like this one; in fact, she was one red hot mama.
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