Saturday, February 21, 2009

Jason goes to the Niles Film Museum's Mid-Winter Comedy Festival--Friday Night

My favorite local silent movie theater is doing a weekend of comedy. Awesome! It all started Friday night with a series of talkies. Yes, talkies...they occasionally play talkies there. And this was a chance to see many of the great silent comedy stars in rare sound roles (some rarer than others).

Palooka from Paducah: Starring Buster Keaton and almost his whole family (he came from a vaudeville family and his parents and siblings were all performers). Buster Keaton actually had a long career in sound film (and TV), so it wasn't unusual to hear his voice. But this is a rare talkie with his father, Joe Keaton. The family plays the Diltzes, a clan of hillbillies (which was apparently very common when the whole family made movies together). Their moonshine operation goes bust due to the end of prohibition, so they need a new racket. They decide to go into wrestling, with brother Elmer Diltz (the giant Dewey Robinson) as the wrestler and and Jim Diltz (Buster Keaton) as the referee--just to keep it safe. Turns out the toughest one is actually Ma (Myra Keaton).

The Sleeping Porch: Raymond Griffith did very few talkies for a simple reason. He had a very hoarse voice, no more than a loud whisper (probably from childhood diptheria). They got around it in this movie by casting him as a man with a cold. The doctors order him to sleep outdoors (on the titular porch) and his wife is enforcing that even though it's the middle of winter and freezing outside. Plus, they live near a prison, and what if an escaped convict comes and mugs him in his sleep? Griffith hatches a plot with a friend to fake just that occurence, but an actual escaped convict messes everything up.

Counsel on De Fence: Harry Langdon, one of the weirder silent comedy stars, plays a junior defense attorney in this courtroom spoof. In fact, he's so junior the partner of the law firm only hired him as a favor to his dad. Still, when all goes awry, he wins the case even if he has to get his stomach pumped again and again and again. Hilarious.

The Grand Hooter: Good old Charley Chase and his cynical comic take on marriage (interestingly enough, he was only married once, for 26 years, ending with his death. So it must have agreed with him in real life). He plays a guy who goes drinking with his buddies (something else that agreed with him in real life) in a club known as the Hoot Owls. His wife hates the Hoot Owls, thinking he spends too much time with them, even though he only goes out drinking all night 5 times a week. She insists that he either give up the Hoot Owls or she leaves. He agrees to give up the Owls (even though he was planning to run for Grand Hooter), but that turns out to be more difficult than you'd think. But in the end, the Hoot Owls save his life.

Buzzin' Around: Roscoe 'Fatty' Arbuckle made a half dozen talkies as part of his on-screen comeback (after his rape and manslaughter trial--and eventual acquittal--he directed under a pseudonym for many years). In this short, he invents a formula to apply to china to make it unbreakable (and demonstrates by bouncing a vase off the ground). But in his rush to sell it, he accidentally grabs a jar of cider instead. Plus, on the way there a beehive falls in his car, causing havoc with himself and anyone he comes near, including a football game.

Come Clean: And finally the night ended with The Boys--Laurel and Hardy. It opens with the line, "Mr. Hardy holds that every husband should tell his wife the whole truth- Mr. Laurel is crazy too." They're both married, of course, but one night they come across a suicidal woman named Kate (Mae Busch). They save her life, but she's a little crazy and insists they're now responsible for her. She's moving in whether they like it or not, or she'll scream and claim they tried to drown her. And she's moving in whether or note they decide to tell their wives (spoiler warning--they don't).

No comments: