Monday, February 23, 2009

Jason goes to the Niles Film Museum Midwinter Comedy Festival--Sunday

The final day of a long weekend of silent (and a few early talkies) comedies.

The 10 am Sunday show was for the true die-hard fans only, and so they called the show "What We Darn Well Feel Like Showing". Particularly, this focused on a lot of the lesser known comedians.

Vacation Waves: Edward Everett Horton in a slapstick marriage comedy. He takes his wife for a fishing vacation. At the last minute his mother in law comes along and, of course, ruins everything.
Curses (aka The Last Serial): Al St. John stars as a bandit in this spoof on serials. In this 18 minute short, there are something like 8 serial episodes, complete with cliffhangers.
Jonah Jones: Lloyd Hamilton abandoned his scoundrel Ham and Bud character to play more likable characters, like in this movie. He plays a farm hand who helps out a lady with car trouble (who then drives through a fence dumping him in a mud puddle). He finds out she's the daughter of a wealthy family, and he goes to call on her. Unfortunately, she's engaged (by her father's decision) to an aristocrat. But she clearly prefers Hamilton, so he has to go on a wacky chase to rescue her.
And George Did: Syd Saylor in an oddball short where he's working on a construction site. He starts off operating the elevator, but is forced to go up on the girders and catch red hot rivets, even though he's afraid of heights. Some good dizzying girder work. Especially when he swallows some chewing tobacco accidentally (showing off his trademark bobbing adam's apple) and gets really dizzy (good vertiginous camera effects, too).
Red Suspenders: Slim Summerville, a tall, gangly comedian, battles the actual fire department to save his love from a fire. He also gets help from Fanny, the kicking mule.
Battling Sisters: Lupino Lane (of the huge Lupino entertainment family, uncle of Ida Lupino) made this weird bit based on the what-if premise that women fight wars and men stay home and keep the home fires burning.

Then there was a little break for lunch, then a feature and a short, both with an electrical theme.

The Live Wire was the feature, and stars Johnny Hines, who when he's remembered is remembered as one of the kindest, gentlest comedians of the era (Richard Roberts mentioned that he saved and invested his money well, never had a scandal, and lived a long, happy life--kind of boring). In this feature he plays The Great Maranelli, a circus performer famous for sliding on his head down a wire (the "Slide for Life"). He catches the eye of a nice young lady named Dorothy Langdon (Mildred Ryan) while he's in town for a circus, but soon neck problems and age force him to retire. He's a hobo, and survives with a little good-natured thievery. But when he and his friend Sawdust Sam (also cast off from the circus) help Dorothy get her car out of the mud, they recognize each other and she suggests they go work for her dad, which he does (after a comic stint as a bouncer in a bar). Her father owns the Meadville power company, and although he knows nothing about electricity Maranelli is a good salesman, and soon has electric signs on every business. Dorothy wants to open her own amusement park (left unfinished when her dad gave it to her), and Maranelli and Sam know a bit about selling concessions, so pretty soon they're ready to open the park. But her fiancee has other plans--like stealing the power company and running her father out. Yeah, he's enough of a jerk to kidnap her and try to force her to sign over a controlling share of stock. But Maranelli comes to save the day, with one last Slide for Life. Funny, and very nice.

Then the short, Buster Keaton in The Electric House: A mix up with diplomas has Keaton mistaken for an electrical engineer (really, he has a degree in botany), and he's hired to install all sorts of electrical convenience in a wealthy man's house. He's actually reasonably successful (the stairs become an escalator, an electric train serves dinner, etc) with just a few comic screw-ups. That is, until the real electrical engineer arrives to get a little revenge. Then things get really wild.

And finally, we ended the day and the festival the same way began the festival--with talkies. In this case, talkies from Hal Roach studios, the king of silent era and early talkie comedies.

The Shrimp: Harry Langdon is a timid little shrimp who gets a gland transplanted from a bulldog and finally stands up to (and knocks down) those jerks who have always picked on him.
Hasty Marriage: Charley Chase needs to get married quickly to get a job on the streetcar line (interesting, Charley more often played upper middle-class well-to-do people. It's weird to see Charley playing an unemployed man). He's got a girl he likes (Kitty), and her father (who conducts the streetcar) likes him, but her mother doesn't. She prefers Eddie Dun, the streetcar inspector who could get Kitty's father fired for talking to passengers. A fantastic cameo by Billy Gilbert as a very...fey...streetcar passenger. I did a bit of a double take and asked myself "am I seeing a random gay joke in a 1931 film?)
Taxi Barons: I said before this weekend is partly laughs and partly education. Chalk this one up as educational. Billy Gilbert is paired with Ben Blue as taxi drivers. Richard Roberts railed about how unfunny Ben Blue was, and I saw nothing to convince me he was wrong. They run around, get sprayed with water trying to fill the radiator, get into trouble with the cops, and pose as aristocrats. They do just about everything but get a laugh. Set up to be the new Laurel and Hardy, they both played everything so broadly that it just wasn't funny.
The Tin Man: An odd Thelma Todd and Patsy Kelly robot comedy. Lost, they pull up to a house in the middle of a rainstorm. The house is owned by a mad scientist, out for revenge against women for some reason, and he's created a ridiculous looking robot to attack them (voiced by Billy Bletcher, voice of many cartoon villains including the Warner Brothers wolf.) This was more just odd than funny.
Their First Mistake: Now this was funny. Laurel and Hardy adopt a baby. I think that's all I need to say.

And that was the end of the Niles Film Museum Midwinter Comedy Festival, 2009.

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