Until recently Snub Pollard was probably best known for popping up in brief excerpts in silent comedy compilations; his movies are mostly forgotten. Certainly the guy had a distinctive look, with his inverted Kaiser Wilhelm mustache and sleepy eyes, and the gags in those excerpts usually look appealingly surreal and cartoon-y. As the work of Harold Lloyd has become more readily available on DVD the past few years Pollard has re-emerged from obscurity as Harold's co-star in numerous comedies made between 1917 and 1920, generally enjoyable films in which Snub alternates as Harold's buddy or rival. But the biggest boost to Snub's own posthumously recovered renown as a silent comedy player is the inclusion of his terrific 1923 short It's a Gift in Kino's "Slapstick Encyclopedia" box set. This gem stands as Snub's finest hour, or his finest 15 minutes anyway, one of those perfectly satisfying gag-packed comedies that zips along happily and is funny every time you see it. Snub played an eccentric inventor who develops a gasoline substitute (if only he had!), lives in a household filled with Rube Goldberg-style contraptions, and drives a magnet-powered car that ultimately turns into a flying machine.
After making this charming film Snub starred in two-reel comedies for awhile, but returned to the one-reel format just before making The Big Idea. This film feels like something of a sequel to It's a Gift: once again, Snub is an inventor who has come up with a potentially important device, in this case "Pollard's Patent Pavement Polisher," basically a street cleaning vehicle the size of a small house. If you take one look at the thing and figure it'll go haywire in the finale, you win the Kewpie doll. Snub is assisted by a cross-eyed patent lawyer (played by George Rowe, the Roach Studio's answer to Ben Turpin) and also has a rival (Glenn Tryon) for the attention of the Mayor's daughter.
Unfortunately, this comedy falls short of its better-known predecessor. The romantic rivalry is an undeveloped subplot only suggested in passing, while Rowe's part in the proceedings is a little confusing; he's so prominent in a couple of scenes he's practically Snub's co-star, but after that he vanishes until the finale. A running gag about members of the city council getting preoccupied with a string puzzle never resolves properly, and ultimately feels like a joke without a punchline. Most disappointing of all, our leading man has very little to work with and barely makes an impression. Snub Pollard, frankly, was a comic without much personality who needed strong material to score a success; he had the material in It's a Gift, but not here. Even the finale, when Snub's machine goes berserk, is a let-down. Sure, the thing knocks down a fence or two, scares some goats, and blows dirt on the assembled dignitaries, but by the standards of the era this just isn't sufficiently berserk: we're expecting mayhem but all we get is a bit of a dust-up. I don't know if Snub Pollard ever surpassed It's a Gift in any of his other attempted follow-ups, but I know for certain it didn't happen here.
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