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Silent Film Notes


I had a bit of a silent comedy fest last night. I watched Just Neighbors with Harold Lloyd, Hustling for Health with Stan Laurel, and Kid Auto Races at Venice, Calif., with Charlie Chaplin. A few notes:

1. I liked Just Neighbors the least and have always found Lloyd a bit hard to warm up to. On the other hand, I enjoyed Hustling for Health a great deal, even though it’s hardly an excellent movie. But they both remind me of two comedy themes we just don’t see as much anymore–people being sprayed in the face with water and the destruction of people’s hats.

Since people don’t wear hats much anymore, I guess that makes sense. But getting sprayed in the face with water, does that ever get old? Luckily, we still have the theme of people getting shoved into swimming pools going strong.

Also, I think Farley’s Bloggingheads appearances would be a lot funnier if someone came in and stomped on his hat.

2. I know that people wore a lot makeup in silent films. But Stan Laurel looks like a raccoon in Hustling for Health. With his crooked teeth, he just looks really weird in the movie. Also, stealing food out of people’s homes is always good for a laugh or two.

3. Here’s Kid Auto Races:

This is notable for Chaplin’s first appearance as the Tramp. It’s really a strange little film, largely consisting of Chaplin trying to stand in front of a camera. I’ve seen quite a few early Chaplin films though and it’s interesting to watch the development of the character. In its first years, the Tramp was basically a big asshole. A couple of months ago, I spent an evening watching Chaplin’s so-called park films from I think 1914. In these, Chaplin hangs out in a park smoking and drinking and hitting on women. Usually, he tries to take other men’s girlfriends, he throws rocks at cops, and he pushes people into lakes. They range from bad to reasonably funny. But he’s so far away from the sweet and sublime character that really comes into focus by 1921’s The Kid and certainly by The Gold Rush. Since we don’t much watch early Chaplin shorts these days, it’s revealing to watch him create a character over a series of years. Maybe he played the same character in every film, but one can hardly say it was the same character from start to finish.

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  • Also, I think Farley’s Bloggingheads appearances would be a lot funnier if someone came in and stomped on his hat.

    As a long time Bheads fan (I only found LG&M vis BHTV), I not only applaud this sentiment (and hope to see some daring internet-producer type make it happen hopefully with minimal casting-couch requirements), but also award you whatever small portion of the internet that I can offer, as “won.”

    • It’s not like silent films had much in the way of production values. I’m sure if someone walked in and stepped on his hat, it would be comedy gold.

      Would be easier with a real camera though.

      • Exactly. You were almost thinking within the Bheads budget. And without the Kausian contrarianism, to boot.

    • Hogan
    • Stomping Farley’s hat wouldn’t be anywhere NEAR as funny as spraying his face with water.

      Choose the reaction shot as your title frame, and you’ve got yourself an instant hit on You Tooge.

    • swearyanthony


  • Spuddie

    Dear sweet Chtulu, I must recommend the modern silent movie starring dear sweet Chtulu

    • Bill Murray

      it’s a good thing you did not spell he who must not be named name correctly or LGM might be toast. Thanks for thinking of those that read out loud

  • ploeg

    Also, stealing food out of people’s homes is always good for a laugh or two.

    It would certainly be in character for a raccoon.

  • angry bitter drunk

    What was the W.C. Fields film where he’s all pissed off about bad driving, and then he inherits a million dollars so he decides to wreck a new car every day whenever he encounters some bozo on the road?

    They actually showed us that in school (no, not in drivers’ ed.). Don’t know what it was supposed to teach us, but I guess all the kids get to see these days is movies about Jesus and dinosaurs, so we had it pretty good…

    • Stag Party Palin

      Believe it or not, the title is “If I Had a Million.” It’s a series of seven shorts with WC Fields in the one you describe.

      • sparks

        And Alison Skipworth as his wife, let’s not forget.

  • RhZ

    The dearth of seltzer water in those weird spray bottles is probably the reason for the decrease in spraying people in the face with water.

    Whatever happened to those things? I guess they died with the mini-bar in the executive’s office.

    • Roger McCarthy

      If wikipedia is to be believed it was the rise of bottled carbonated soft drinks and that many of the factories where the classic 1920s and 1930s soda syphons were made being in Eastern Europe and didn’t survive WW2 that did for them.

      And now I really want one….

      • rkd

        Here you go:

        • rkd

          Link didn’t work, but you they are still made. Williams Sonoma, Amazon has them.

  • Roger McCarthy

    Erik – have you read David Glen Gould’s novel Sunnyside which made me warm to Chaplin who I always found completely unfunny.

    Simon Louvish’s books on Laurel and Hardy and WC Fields are also marvelous and rekindled my interest in the silent and early talkie eras – and I see he’s perhaps inevitably now done Chaplin too.

  • sparks

    Next time, try Charley Chase. Unless you’re sticking to pre-1920, of course.

    BTW, your Kid Auto Races IMDB link goes to Hustling For Health.

  • Red_cted

    Watched the new Three Stooges movie on a cross country flight this week. Essentially the same plot as the first Blues Brothers movie. But all you could want of seltzer, pie-in-face and nose-hair tweaking. Plus most of the classic lines (We’re trapped like rats!) Didn’t catch who the three stooge actors are but damned close to the originals. Woo woo woo woo.

    • don’t know about moe, but curly is played by the marvelous will sasso, the funniest thjng on mad tv during the (funny) middle years, and larry is played by sean hayes, who was “just jack!” on will & grace.

      seredipitously enough, i just got the new stooges movie netflix dvd and am planning onnwatching it tonight.

  • KadeKo

    Speaking of Chaplin and movies about making movies: I’ve always had a soft spot for Peter Bogdanovich’s “The Cat’s Meow”.

    Eddie Izzard got something into Chaplin which was just more than impersonation, and even Marion Davies’ misapplied gift for comedy was nodded to nicely by Kirsten Dunst.

    • didn’t see that film, but i feel the same way about the first half of bogdonovich’s “nickelodean” which chronicles the rise of silent movies while emmulating the pace and slapstick of same.

  • Hob

    What’s the name of the early Chaplin short that’s just him and a fellow tramp scrounging for drink and lodging and getting repeatedly thrown out of a fancy restaurant for being astoundingly shitfaced? It’s very funny (I could look at his physical drunk gags all day, “One A.M.” being an extreme example), but the Tramp is really pretty frightening in that one– there’s a sequence where, due to some petty disagreement, he repeatedly shuts his colleague up by hitting him in the head with a brick.

    • sparks

      Was that Charlie and Roscoe Arbuckle in The Rounders? Or a different Chaplin?

      • sparks

        Chaplin film, I should say.

      • Hob

        I don’t think so, unless my memory is totally shot – which it may well be, because now I’m looking at all the Keystone titles and none of them seems to be it.

        • sparks

          Could it be an Essanay Chaplin? I don’t seem to remember the brick bit myself although it seems very Keystone. Could it have been one of Chaplin’s imitators like Billy West?

      • Hogan

        Appears so. A “credited with” search shows nine films altogether.

        • Hogan

          Oh sorry. Lost the thread. I don’t know whether that’s the one Hob is thinking of.

  • Steve

    I think he’s supposed to be one of those people that tries to hog the camera. You see it today all the time. People that get in the way of newscasts.

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