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Cast overview:
Thelma Hill ...
Bud Duncan ...
Cullen Johnson ...
Buttercup
Kit Guard ...
College Senior
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Genres:

Short | Comedy

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9 December 1928 (USA)  »

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1.33 : 1
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Followed by Big-Hearted Toots (1929) See more »

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Whatever happened to "Toots"?
15 June 2009 | by (Westchester County, NY) – See all my reviews

Toots & Casper was a long-running daily comic strip, launched in 1918 and lasting well into the 1950s. It was a predecessor of the Blondie & Dagwood series which it may well have influenced, as both strips focused on the adventures of a daffy young married couple. Toots was the cute blonde wife with big eyes, and Casper her hapless, diminutive husband. Buttercup, their baby, was bald except for a strange single curl growing out of his forehead, and there was also a family dog named Snookums who wore an over-sized polka-dot bow on her collar. The strip was running in newspapers for twenty years before Buttercup finally matured from infancy to grade school age, though you have to feel sorry for any kid showing up at school with the name "Buttercup." In the late 1920s the Poverty Row movie studio F.B.O. launched a series of two- reel comedies based on the strip, starring Thelma Hill & Bud Duncan as the couple. Casper's Week End is a surviving example, and although it's a rather half-hearted effort it does provide some nice moments for Miss Hill, an unsung comedienne who enlivened a number of silent comedies at the Mack Sennett and Hal Roach studios. Buffs will remember her as one of the two girls picked up by Laurel & Hardy in their traffic jam classic Two Tars. Before that she'd worked with both Stan and Ollie separately in their solo films, and quite frequently with Harry Langdon. Thelma was as pert and perky as Betty Boop, and it's a mystery to me why her career never took off.

Casper's Week End was clearly intended as a lightweight bit of fluff, the cinematic equivalent of cotton candy. Still, even the most casual short needs a halfway decent premise as a framework for gags, and that's something this short lacks. In the first sequence Toots & Casper receive a telegram from a relative, asking them to pay a visit to their nephew Egbert at college. It's established that they haven't seen Egbert since he was a baby, obviously a set-up for some sort of mistaken identity plot. Meanwhile, the whole purpose for the trip is dismissed with a feeble joke. The writers just wanted to put Toots & Casper in a collegiate setting, and didn't care how they managed it. Once the couple reaches campus we're treated to the typical Hollywood idea of college life: upperclassmen spend all their time either playing football or hazing freshmen, and no one ever seems to go to class. (One serious-minded student takes an academic interest in the shape of Buttercup's cranium, however; no doubt an anthropology major.) Because Casper's hat resembles a freshman beanie he is hazed unmercifully, and the fact that actor Bud Duncan appears to be at least 45 doesn't faze anyone. It's not the sort of film encumbered by any sense of reality, which wouldn't matter if the gags were hilarious, but they're generally routine.

Bud Duncan's major claim to fame was his long service as "Bud" in the Ham & Bud comedies of the 1910's. Those films were usually dominated by his partner Lloyd Hamilton, who had more presence. Bud doesn't register all that strongly here either, really, and the funniest moments belong to Thelma Hill. She's featured in a hazing sequence of her own, when a gang of aggressive co-eds force her to smoke a cigar. Her range of reactions to the stogie, from nausea to semi-stoned confusion to outright hallucinatory pleasure, is the comic highlight. A split- screen effect permits Thelma's eyes to roll crazily, a bit borrowed from the Colleen Moore vehicle Ella Cinders. Toots & Casper eventually find their nephew, but by that point Egbert's identity shouldn't come as much of a surprise to most viewers, so the fade-out gag is a fizzle.

I haven't been able to find much information on Thelma Hill. She worked steadily through the '20s, but her career seemed to stall when talkies came in. She was married to a performer named Johnny Sinclair who was a crony of W.C. Fields, and she was given a brief bit in Fields' Sennett short The Dentist. Thelma also has a funny sequence in a musical short called Mixed Nuts, made in 1934 at the Roach lot. That would seem to be her last film appearance. I found an obituary for her in a 1938 trade journal, but it said only that she died in a sanitarium after an unspecified three-month illness, at the age of 32. It's a shame. Thelma brightened every film she appeared in.


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