Sunday, December 14, 2008

Jason goes to the Niles Film Museum for Comedy Shorts Night (December 2008)

Always the most popular night of the month in the nation's only (as far as I know) theater that shows silent movies on a weekly basis.

Comedy night has to include Chaplin, and we started the night with the mostly restored (it's still in the process of restoration) "Police". Charlie plays an ex-con released back into the cruel world. He's swindled by a fake parson, fired by a cook, nearly robbed in a flophouse, and finally runs into his old cellmate, who convinces him to help him rob a house. The house happens to be home to the hard-working girl from the kitchen where he worked briefly (Edna Purviance, longtime Chaplin leading lady). She recognizes him, and after convincing him to go straight and chasing off his cellmate, she helps him out with the police. This was the last film Chaplin made with Essanay, and showcases his little tramp character (created here in Niles) and his developing directing style.

Next up, keeping with a law enforcement theme, was "Cops" starring Buster Keaton. Keaton, in the course of trying to become a big businessman, accidentally runs afoul of many policemen, who chase him all over Los Angeles in one of the most impressive extended chase gags ever (still). A Keaton classic.

Next an intermission, and then on to Harold Lloyd in "Bumping into Broadway". Lloyd is a struggling playwright, living in the apartment next door to a struggling actress (Bebe Daniels). Although he can't make rent, he pretends he's rich and pays her rent for her. So now he has to escape the building without the landlady and her hired muscle catching him. Once there, he can't get a producer to look at his musical comedy script. But he's become more interested in the girl, and follows her (in the arms of a high-rolling playboy) into a secret gambling club. He accidentally wins big at roulette, but just as he's raking in all the money, the cops break the club doors down. More running from the cops (a definite theme of the night). But one thing you have to know about all Harold Lloyd movies--he always gets the girl.

And finally, the boys Laurel and Hardy in "Big Business". They play Christmas tree salesmen... in Los Angeles... in July. Obviously not a good business model, and when they encounter a truly irate customer a war of destruction ensues--they destroy his house while he destroys their trees and car. Hilarious. On a side note, when making the movie producer Hal Roach secured a house they could destroy while the owner was away so long as they fixed everything when they were done. However, when they arrived at the spot the cast and crew mistakenly destroyed the house next door--apparently not realizing anything was wrong when the key didn't work, they just broke in through a window. So not only did they have to pay rent for the house they didn't destroy, they had to pay to fix the house they did.
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