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.