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I try, in my reviews, to tell anyone who is interested in my opinions, to say what showed up on the screen, how well it worked, and how it fits into the vast array of films I have seen. I certainly don't expect a reader to agree with my opinions, but I will try to continue offering those opinions, as honestly as I can, about the film under discussion.
The Beloved Bozo (1925)
Ralph Graves is Funny in This One!
Ralph Graves and Marvin Loback wander into a hotel across the street from the bank they intend to rob. Alice Day, so cute that she wears footie pajamas to a fire get in the way of their plans in this funny Sennett comedy.
Sennett hired dramatic actor Graves to be the juvenile in more sophisticated comedies, while his skilled and numerous comics did the silly stuff that Sennett's audiences wanted. Somehow, Graves picked up enough stuff at work to be very amusing in this one. He plays with his derby; he stumbles on stairs. He picks Vernon Dent's pocket and gets trapped under Marvin Loback.
Given how much a stiff he is in other Sennett comedies and stalwart and dull in his adventure flicks directed by Capra, it's very nice to see he could do real comedy bits. Too bad no one noticed that the hotel that everyone in is still on fire!
The Mystery of the Milk (1914)
A boy directs his younger sister to steal the milk left on porches, and bring the filled bottles to him, whereupon he pours the milk into a funnel connected to a long tube. Housewives find their milk missing and demand that cop-on-the-beat Eddie Dillon arrest the thief in this Biograph split-reel.
It's a gentle little comedy without any real substance, except to wonder what the kids are doing. At four minutes it doesn't have time to pall, even though it never really does much of anything at all.
The copy I saw this evening at the Museum of Modern Art had a synopsis that claimed William Wing not only wrote this, he directed it. If so, it would be his only directorial credit and I have my doubts.
Scenting a Terrible Crime (1913)
Didn't Anyone Talk to Mack Sennett in His Four Years at Biograph?
Kate Toncray makes sauerkraut and goes out shopping. When David Morris gets home, he tries to make himself a sandwich, but the knife is dull, so he goes to get it sharpened while the other people in the building grow suspicious about the smell in this split-reel comedy from Biograph.
Clearly this was made by people who noted Sennett's success at Keystone after he left Biograph. Funny-looking cops with soft rubber truncheons! Men made up with ill-fitting bald wigs on which audiences can see the seams! Outsized gestures too big for the stage! That's what people wanted in comedy! Clearly no one at Biograph understood what Sennett was doing. Oh, well. It's only four minutes and you get to see Max Davidson when he was so young his beard was black.
The Short-Sighted Cyclist (1907)
He Falls Down
Marcel Perez was one of the forgotten comics of the silent era, whose works are now being seen anew and reappraised. Part of the reason for his obscurity is his own fault. He achieved stardom at least three times, then moved on to start out under a new name. Robinet, Tweedledum, Twede-Dan were just three of his screen names. When he achieved enough notice to give an interview, he would change his age, his country of origin and his marital status.
Here he is, in a period when a comedy was people falling down, full stop. That's what he does here. As the title character of this primitive comedy, he runs into things and takes immense pratfalls, which grow in violence. One has to admire his ability to get up again and go on to the next, bigger drop.
This is one of the few surviving comedy shorts from Eclipse, and its existence owes itself to its immense popularity. By the end of the decade, the unnamed Spaniard in this French comedy would be a star of Italian comedy as Robinet. In ten years, he would be starring in American comedies, melding European and American slapstick, under half a dozen different names.
Hey, Taxi! (1925)
Mr. Hardy Takes Shape
I find that movies with exclamation points in the title usually don't call for many in my reviews. I think the companies add them to make the movie goer think there's something exciting going on when there isn't. So when I checked out today's program for the Museum of Modern Art's Cruel & Unusual Comedy program and saw this, I decided the only real reason to see it was to check it off my list.
True, Oliver Hardy was in it, paired with Bobby Ray. Before he teamed up with Stan Laurel, Mr. Hardy had been in a few other comedy teams. He played the heavy in Billy West's Chaplin imitations in the 1910s and Mr. West produced this comedy.
Hardy plays the comic heavy in this one, going mad and attacking the ingenue for no reason that is clear to me. Mr. Ray is the small, wily comic hero... Chaplinesque, if you like, but while there are some good gags, there's little particularly memorable about this one.
Mr. Hardy does offer us some of the gestures he would exploit with Mr. Laurel, the sense of self-consciousness. No tie-twiddling, though.
Monks a la Mode (1923)
aka The Love of Fu Monk Chu
During the current Cruel & Unusual Comedy series at New York's Museum of Modern Arts, I have seen four new Fox comedy shorts from the 1920s, doubling the total in my collection. Few of them survive and no one quite knows why.
Two of the new ones have been the Fox Chimps. Who doesn't like chimpanzees working as models in dress shops and being sinister Chinese apes who kidnap the models -- and the humans seeing nothing odd about any of it? Well, Jean Arthur for one. During a period when she was struggling to establish herself in Hollywood, she appeared in this one as Madame Maxine, who owns the dress shop and employs two of the chimps. For some reason she left it off her resume, and the IMDb seems unaware of it. We'll see how long it takes before they accept my addition to cast.
Considering Miss Arthur worked for Harry Cohn, I don't understand why she wouldn't mention a few chimps. Well, some people have odd tastes.
The House Cleaning Horrors (1918)
Including the Mother-in-Law
Eddie Lyons and Dorothy Devore have hired "The Careful Decorator" to paper their walls. What they get in Lee Moran in this funny Universal short comedy.
Lyons and Moran had a very successful career as a comic duo in this period and this one, with all the tropes about sloppy wall paperers and annoying mothers-in-law are present, with the two horrors blithely unaware (or perhaps uncaring) of the carnage they wreak.
Lyons and Moran would go their ways in a few years; the strain of working so closely wore out a lot of creative groupings. Lyons would die in the middle of the next decade. Moran would through the middle of the 1930s and live into the 1960s.
School Begins (1928)
Unwillingly to School
It's the first day of classes for Our Gang and no one wants to go; there's a circus in town, and the fish are jumping at the fishing hole, but only Farina and Wheezer are exempted from this dread duty by their youth.
The silents that MGM distributed for Hal Roach after his deal with Pathe expired have a poor survival rate. Pathe distributed his earlier works for decade through their robust show-at-home network. MGM, however, not only didn't bother with show-at-home, they controlled their prints and demanded them back after they ceased to circulate. The only print known to survive is at New York's Museum of Modern Art, where it was shown yesterday as part of their Cruel & Unusual Comedy series.
It's a typically excellent entry in the series. Although the success of the series caused many producers to attempt similar ones, they tended to be more about the mechanical gags. Although there are a couple of very funny sequences here, it's more about kids being kids and the sort of trouble they get into as a result, as when Joe Cobb forges a note from his mother excusing him from class... only for her to show up.
Jungle Pals (1923)
Do You Like Chimpanzees?
Jack Duffy is a scientist in the jungle. When some chimpanzees help him out, he and his daughter take them back to America, where they get involved in more hi-jinx and adventures in this Fox short comedy Although Fox was a major producer of short comedies (with major budgets that offered great production values for the gags and top comics), very few of them survive. This was one of two that have turned up in the latest "Cruel and Unusual Comedy" series at the Museum of Modern Art. It's one of about twenty comedies made under George Marshall's supervision about the chimpanzees and is full of amusing gags.
Jack Duffy was one of the hard-knock slapstick comedians of the era, usually found in Christie comedies. His gimmick was was to make himself as a very old man; this meant that his pratfalls looked even more difficult.
Edgar's Feast Day (1921)
Buddy Messinger is visiting on Eddie Pell's birthday, and a feast involving roast chicken, ice cream and a big chocolate cake is planned. With orders not to spoil their appetites, the boys try to leave room for the goodies in this episode in a series of shorts based on a Booth Tarkington story.
Few shorts remain from the Goldwyn library before the company's merger into MGM a few years later, and this is a special treat. Although the story is simple and obvious, its gentle good humor, familiar to fans of Booth Tarkington's series of "Penrod" books will be a pleasant few minutes for anyone who is inclined to see it.
There seems to have been about a dozen films in this series; only two are known to survive.