Saturday, February 21, 2009

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

First off, since I forgot to mention this in my Friday night update, I want to thank film comedy historian and member of the silent comedy mafia Richard M. Roberts for hosting this weekend. This hasn't all just been laughs, it's also been an education, particularly on the lesser known silent comedians (once you get past Chaplin, Keaton, and Lloyd there are still hundreds of great comedians, and I learned a lot about a few of them this weekend.

Saturday started with a program entitled "Mack Sennett and the Keystone Influence". Keystone studios (famous still today for the Keystone Cops) were famous for making more vulgar, low-brow movies. Really, what's exceptional is how quick the editing is in their movies. Keystone comedies are all about speed and action, and can be exhausting to work.

Having Their Picture Took: As a comparison, the program started with this more traditional, polite comedy. A family comes to a photographer to get pictures of their youngest son and daughter. But the kids won't behave, and wacky hijinx ensue. It's funny, but it's almost all in a single, static shot. Not a lot of editing. Compared the the Keystone movies we watched next, it almost felt like a stage production instead of a movie.
The Speed Kings: This film immediately showed the difference with the Keystone style. Papa wants Mabel to marry Earl Cooper. Mabel prefers Teddy Tetzlaff. They're both race car drivers, so they let the results of the race decide. And, of course, there's a bit of sabotage. A lot of fast cuts between the race action and Mabel and Pa's reactions.
Ham's Whirlwind Finish: A Ham and Bud short (Lloyd Hamilton and Bud Duncan), with some horribly dated Italian stereotypes. Ham and Bud are incorrigible ne'er do wells, and they flirt with Bambino Souptureeno while avoiding her boyfriend Tony Slambango, who eats knives and plays with bombs (not a good guy, Italian or not).
The Beauty Bunglers: A Charlie Murray short where he and and his wife play some the most incompetent beauticians every.
The Surf Girl: Fast pace and confusing, with tons of characters running all over the place. Raymond Griffith plays a lifeguard's assistant on the prowl for a lovely young lady. There are different plots all between a swimming pool and the beach, so of course there are lots of water-based gags.
Hungry Lions in a Hospital: Lloyd Hamilton of Ham and Bud is back. The title pretty much says it all, and of course it's a fast-paced romp.
School Days: Larry Semon was a protege of Mack Sennet. He was also an insufferable jerk, and couldn't stay at one studio very often. Those who worked for him called him "suicide", but he was a comic genius. In this film he plays a schoolboy who's constantly getting into trouble. Then it jumps forward a decade when he's a farmhand working for the father of the girl he has a schoolboy crush on. One of the weirder films in this program.
Nip and Tuck: Billy Bevan plays a poker game with a couple of cheats. He's clueless, but luckily his dog Cameo is the best cheater of the lot.

Then the late afternoon program was a feature with two shorts. The feature was the Chaplin film The Man on the Box. However, it's not Charlie Chaplin, but his big brother Syd Chaplin, who also had a successful career in film, but just isn't remembered today. Syd plays Bob Warburton, the son of a wealthy investor. He's investing his father's money in a new invention that will revolutionize aviation--the helicopter. But through a misunderstanding the inventor is convinced he's having an affair with his wife. Plus, he's got an eye for the lovely Betty Annesly, daughter of Colonel Annesly, who wants to buy this helicopter. After being mistaken for a horse drawn carriage driver, he gets a job as a groom for the Anneslys. When they host a big party for the inventor and his investors (including Bob's father), Bob first has to hide. But when he learns that foreign powers are trying to steal the invention, he dresses as a maid (drag acts were and still are a staple of many British comedians) and eventually saves the day. Lots of good, funny gags.

Many Scrappy Returns: Charley Chase and his wife (of course if it's Charley Chase, it must be marriage problems) have dinner with friends, who start fighting. They decide to teach them a lesson by pretending to fight themselves. But the fight turns real and life-threatening when the maid (incorrectly) accuses Charley of getting fresh with her.

Putting Pants on Philip: A hilarious Laurel and Hardy short. Laurel plays Philip, Hardy's nephew from Scotland. He comes right off the boat wearing a kilt and doesn't fit in. He likes chasing girls (and has a trademark leap and run when he sees a cute one), but gets nothing but laughs. Including some risque scenes of him walking over air vents and his kilt blowing up.

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