Like a lot of other baby boom kids I grew up watching Bullwinkle on Saturday morning TV, which means that I grew up with the voice of Edward Everett Horton. Back then I didn't know what he looked like, but I loved the "Fractured Fairy Tales" segment of the show, not only for the somewhat twisted stories themselves but for the voice of the narrator, which was rich and pleasing. I've revisited some of those cartoons in recent years and found the tales just as enjoyable (and just as twisted) as ever, and I still love Horton's voice.
As I grew up and became a movie buff I made the connection, at some point, between Edward Everett Horton the character actor, a featured player in lots of Hollywood flicks of the '30s and '40s, and the narrator of those cartoons. I found that I enjoyed watching him as much as listening to him, for Horton, a stage veteran dating back to the early 1900s, had a rubbery, highly mobile face, and was usually quite funny, often playing fussbudget types, in everything from Top Hat to Here Comes Mr. Jordan. Eventually I learned that he also appeared in a number of silent movies, playing in both feature-length films and his own series of short comedies. It was hard to imagine EEH without that voice, and before I saw any of the films I wondered how he came off as a mute performer. If No Publicity is anything to go by, silent cinema was no handicap for Mr. Horton.
This short was produced by the one and only Harold Lloyd, whose Hollywood Productions company was responsible for a series of Horton comedies in the late '20s. In this two-reeler EEH is a news photographer. His assignment is to get a picture of a wealthy, sheltered young woman whose family is adamantly opposed to any publicity. Hence the title. He goes to her estate and learns that there's a private gathering in progress; the girl's mother has arranged for a supposedly uplifting lecture, to be delivered by a moralizing old biddy who condemns young people for their sinful ways, and urges them to follow the straight and narrow path. (It's the Roaring Twenties, remember.) Horton tries and fails to snap a photo of the girl, although she seems willing enough to pose, and is ejected from the mansion. However, having noticed a framed portrait of the young lady on display, he attempts to get back inside and steal it. One thing leads to another, and our hero winds up donning drag and masquerading as a lady in order to snag that photo. And then, wouldn't you know it, he's mistaken for the scheduled lecturer, and forced to step up to the podium and deliver a speech.
So, just to review: our hero has sneaked into a private home with the intention of committing theft, disguised himself as a woman to accomplish this end, and instead proceeds to lecture a group of privileged snobs on proper morals. Rather ironic all around, I'd say.
That's the premise, or the gist of it anyway. No Publicity is a treat, fast moving and funny. In my opinion the only drawback is that EEH's climactic speech would have been funnier with sound, especially when you imagine it delivered in his inimitable, plummy tones. Even so, this is an entertaining short with a breezy style and clever gags. I was lucky to see it recently at "Slapsticon," a festival devoted to comedy films, and only wish it were more widely available. No Publicity would make a great DVD extra with one of the many comedies Horton appeared in during the '30s. I don't know how many of these EEH shorts survive, but based on the quality of this one I'd love to see more.
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