"He Wouldn't Stay Down" was my first exposure to the forgotten silent comedian Ford Sterling, who was quite popular at the time. I have to confess I didn't really find much very funny about him -- he mainly runs about wearing a crazy haircut and beard, and pulls stunned faces.
There's a very good and rather shocking black comedy premise in this short: a young man plotting to murder another man to marry his wife and collect on her new insurance money. This early Keystone short gets some laughs out of it, but it just seems as if there is much more mileage to the premise that just isn't exploited. A lot of the comedy seems to be dissipated in scenes of people bobbing around rooms and miming the plot. A lot of the slapstick that there is feels confined, even though there are a number of locations available, and the situations just don't feel punctuated. Unintentionally amusing is Sterling drowning underwater while obviously looking out the window of a tank.
A youthful Charley Chase is here (directing as well as acting); we are used to seeing him in later films getting laughs by being a dapper, charming, likable gentleman who gets into the absurd and embarrassing situations conceivable. Here he gets the laughs by being a dapper, charming, likable gentleman who is also a murderer. This works, and his performance is probably the best part of the film.
It's not a totally unpleasant or dull little film, but it just doesn't get the comedy out of its premise that it could.
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