Silent Laughter 2018: programme revealed!

silent laughter 2018 flyer

It’s here! Straight from The Cinema Museum website, this is the programme for the 2018 Silent Laughter Weekend!

SATURDAY MARCH 10TH

10.00 The Night Club (1925)
A silent feature-length comedy starring Raymond Griffith, whose surviving films are few but which delight audiences at festivals around the world (as with his Paths to Paradise (1925) and Hands Up! (1926) at previous KB screenings). Contemporary critics made such comments as `Comedy along all lines from subtle wit, through burlesque to slapstick, and in every style he gets the laughs’ and `The picture is crammed with gags, most of them new’ … and with more than a nod towards Harold Lloyd’s Why Worry? (1923), shown at our comedy weekend last year. We defy anyone to see a connection between the title and the film! Introduced by Kevin Brownlow – who perhaps will explain!

11.30 The British are Coming!
Tony Fletcher introduces a selection of 1920s British comedies, including Adrian Brunel’s glorious spoof travelogue Crossing the Great Sagrada (1924), A.A. Milne’s Bookworms (1920) starring Leslie Howard, also Variety legend Leslie Sarony singing a comic song or two in a rare DeForest Phonofilm, one of the pioneering British-made talkies that predate Hitchcock’s Blackmail (1929).

13.00 LUNCH

14.00 Charley Chase
Charley ChaseMatthew Ross highlights the career of Charley Chase, a brilliant, influential and – at least until relatively recent years – overlooked comedian and director of the 1920s and 1930s. A master of both the sight gag and situational humour, this selection of prime Chase comedies will conclude with one of his funniest silent shorts.

15.35 A Perfect Gentleman (1928)
Monty Banks is perhaps best remembered today for having married (and directed) Gracie Fields, something which has unjustly eclipsed his career as a star comedian in shorts and features (his 1927 film Flying Luck opened our comedy day last November). In this, one of his best starring roles, Banks gets involved in tracking down a stolen fortune, his adventures culminating in a whirlwind, gag-filled climax at sea.

17.15 Keaton Classics
Following our 100th anniversary celebration of Buster Keaton’s film career in last November’s comedy day, we are delighted to present a programme of classic Keaton material. Noted Keaton authors David Robinson, Kevin Brownlow and David Macleod reveal their favourites and researcher Polly Rose illustrates some of her new discoveries about Buster’s 1924 feature Sherlock Jr.

18.45 Dinner

20.00 Exit Smiling (1926)
Exit SmilingRenowned stage comedienne Beatrice Lillie – a Canadian-born British star whose reputation spanned both continents – made regrettably few films. Fortunately one of these is the 1926 MGM feature Exit Smiling, produced and directed by one of Harold Lloyd’s key associates, Sam Taylor. `Bea’ Lillie – as she was often known – plays Violet, the dogsbody for a travelling theatrical troupe who harbours ambitions to act – or, as a title card informs us, has played `Nothing’ in Much Ado About Nothing! A true classic, introduced by Michelle Facey.

22.00 approx. Close

 

SUNDAY MARCH 11TH

10.00 Lame Brains and Lunatics
Lame Brains and Lunatics coverOur thanks to American author Steve Massa, who has selected some of the ‘good, the bad and the forgotten’ silent clowns from his book bearing the same title as this programme. Assisting his presentation from this side of the pond will be Dave Glass, to whom we also offer thanks. Can you afford to miss Al St.John, Toto, Marcel Perez or Paul Parrott? (Don’t answer that!)

11.35 Seven Years Bad Luck (1921)
After his early successes as a star of Pathé comedies in his native France, Max Linder made two forays into American film-making. Our recent Silent Laughter Saturday included examples from both visits, Max Wants a Divorce (1917) and Be My Wife (1921), the latter representing part of a series of features produced and directed personally by Linder. In Seven Years Bad Luck, perhaps the best of these, the fun starts when Max’s butler breaks a full-length mirror. Bad luck seemingly ensues as Max escapes the police, unwittingly hiding in a lion’s cage. In addition to Seven Years Bad Luck, the programme will include a recently discovered Max Linder short from 1910, Les Effects des Pilules. Introduced by David Robinson.

13.00 Lunch

14.00 Surprise Programme
A surprise programme of rare material hosted by award-winning editor and director Christopher Bird.

15.35 So You Won’t Talk (1935)
Monty BanksContinuing from yesterday’s screening of A Perfect Gentleman (1928), here’s a chance to see silent comedian Monty Banks in a rarely-shown British talkie – except he doesn’t talk (mostly!). In what may have been a means of translating his silent comedy methods into the talkie era, the plot sees Banks becoming weary of all the chatter surrounding him and, in order to win a bet, guaranteeing not to talk. Cue lots of silent comedy as complications ensue …

17.15 Noisy Silents
Some silent comedies have always looked as though they were intended to have soundtracks, even though none were provided at the time; these examples, including films starring Harry Langdon, Our Gang and Laurel and Hardy will be provided with the extra sound accompaniment we feel they need – in the final case, we hope, by the audience. Hosted by musician and composer Neil Brand.

18.45 Dinner

20.00 Roy Hudd
Roy HuddWe are delighted to welcome comedian, actor and writer Roy Hudd, who will be in conversation with former News Huddlines writer – and Kennington Bioscope regular – Glenn Mitchell. As with their previous shows at the Cinema Museum, Roy and Glenn will be discussing and screening clips of great comedians from film, theatre and television. This time the emphasis is expected to be on essentially visual humour … but we’ll wait and see what they come up with!

21.45 Roy Hudd talk concludes with   the newly restored Battle of the Century (1927), starring Laurel and Hardy, and the pie fight to end all pie fights!

22.00 approx. Close

 

Tickets & Pricing

Weekend Ticket £30 / One Day £18 / After 2pm £12. These are available online from Ticket Tailor.

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Silent Laughter 2018 is coming soon

silent laughter 2018 flyer

It’s back! The annual weekend celebration of classic, rare and forgotten silent comedies returns to London’s Cinema Museum.

The programme will be announced shortly, but a few teases: expect Buster Keaton, classic Charley Chase shorts, a wonderful, rarely-seen Monty Banks feature, Beatrice Lillie, Raymond Griffith and lots more…

With weekend passes a steal at £30 (the price of only two or three screenings at some film festivals..) it’s safe to say you won’t be disappointed. Tickets are on sale now.

Get it in your diaries for March 10th and 11th, and stay tuned for more details!

 

More Laurel & Hardy on Talking Pictures: February showings

Oh, Talking Pictures TV, where would we classic film fans be without you? It’s been so long since I switched the TV on and came upon a black and white film by chance. Best of all, it’s not just repeats of BRIEF ENCOUNTER or THE LAVENDER HILL MOB (I love both those films, but c’mon, FIlm4, there are many others to choose from!)

Now available on Freeview too (channel 81), the schedules for TPTV just keep getting better and better, as they’ve expanded into a wider range of films. Notably, they returned Laurel & Hardy to TV screens for the first time in years last Autumn. Now they’re having a season of L & H shorts, too.

Here are upcoming screenings:

Sat 03 Feb 18 17:35 Below Zero
Sun 04 Feb 18 14:05 Oliver the Eighth
Sun 04 Feb 18 20:20 The Laurel-Hardy Murder Case
Wed 07 Feb 18 11:15 County Hospital
Wed 07 Feb 18 13:35     Brats
Wed 07 Feb 18 20:15 Laughing Gravy
Sun 11 Feb 18 9:20 The Music Box
Mon 12 Feb 18 17:35 Helpmates
Sat 17 Feb 18 9:35 Busy Bodies
Sun 18 Feb 18 9:35 Tit for Tat
Sun 18 Feb 18 19:50 Saps At Sea
Sat 24 Feb 18 9:20 The Music Box
Sun 25 Feb 18 9:20 Laughing Gravy
Tue 27 Feb 18 18:00 Towed In A Hole
Sat 03 Mar 18 9:25 Towed In A Hole
Sun 04 Mar 18 9:35 Them Thar Hills
Sun 04 Mar 18 20:30 Oliver the Eighth
Sun 04 Mar 18 4:20 The Laurel-Hardy Murder Case

Bravo, Talking Pictures! This is only the tip of the iceberg though. This month’s schedule incudes lots more seldom-seen-on-TV comedies, from Peter Sellers, Jack Hulbert, Alastair Sim, Flanagan & Allen and even British silent clown Walter Forde! Find full listings here: http://talkingpicturestv.co.uk/schedule/

 

SILENT LAUGHTER SATURDAY 2017: Of Monty, Max and matrimony!

 

pg1 front -SECOND SILENT LAUGHTER SATURDAY PROGRAMME FRONT - FINAL

Kennington Bioscope’s SILENT LAUGHTER events continue to explode the traditional picture of silent film comedy, busting some time-worn myths and expanding our perceptions with obscure delights, discoveries and unjustly forgotten performers. This year’s event, curated by esteemed historian Glenn Mitchell was no exception.

That old myth that only Chaplin, Keaton and Lloyd could survive in feature films, for example? Well, actually we saw terrific features starring Monty Banks and Max Linder, both of whom made  several (as many silent features as Chaplin, for that matter). The efforts of Monty and Max prove that the problem was not sustaining themselves at feature length, rather breaking through into a market jammed with brilliant comedies. Incidentally both were Europeans, whose style and personality differences from the American ‘norm’ possibly made their task harder. Nevertheless, both men made very entertaining films.

Monty Banks’ FLYING LUCK (1927) is typical of his slickly-made comedies, mixing light humour, slapstick and action in the manner of Harold Lloyd. Monty became adroit at high-speed, high-risk sequences which seemed desperate to outdo Keaton and Lloyd. 1923’S ‘RACING LUCK/ saw him driving racing cars, ATTA BOY (1926) features a rousing climax with Banks atop a ladder on a speeding car, and his most famous film, ‘PLAY SAFE’ (1927) closes with a magnificent and extremely dangerous train chase. With ‘FLYING LUCK’ from the same year, he turned his attention to aeroplanes, no doubt looking to cash in on the aviation craze sweeping the world as competitors attempted to fly the Atlantic.

flying luck

Monty plays an amateur aviator who dreams of being another Lindbergh. His maiden flight crashes into a recruiting office, and some white lies from the recruiters convince him to join the air corps (“They’ll give you a new plane every day!”). En route to camp he meets pretty jean Arthur and not-so-pretty sergeant Kewpie Morgan, establishing the love triangle that will dominate the film. His arrival at camp is mixed up with that of a visiting aviation committee, and he is shown the high life before being found out and thrown to the mercy of Sgt Morgan. All ends happily when he competes in an air polo competition and wins the day through sheer luck.

flying luck 2.png‘FLYING LUCK’ sags a little in the middle with some standard ‘hopeless new recruit’ business but wins through with some great set pieces and a charming performance from Monty as the hopeless but cocksure little man bungling through.  It was to be his last America starring film though, as Pathé cancelled his contract. Banks fled to Britain, where he would make two more silent features, ‘WEEKEND WIVES’ and ‘ADAM’S APPLE’ before becoming a notable comedy director. In this role, he would work with Stanley Lupino, Laura La Plante, George Formby, and of course Gracie Fields, who he married in 1940. The pair remained happily married until Monty’s death from a heart attack in 1950.

Linder’s BE MY WIFE likewise came from the tail end of his starring career. A very funny farce concerning Max getting mixed up with an expensive dress, a bathtub gin parlour and some extramarital goings on, it packed in several terrific set pieces that show why Chaplin considered Linder ‘the professor’. A case in point: Linder’s first dance at his wedding, where his rival releases a white rat into his trousers. For many lesser silent comics, this would have been the prelude to much gurning and frenetic leaping. Linder builds the comedy magnificently, from his first, subtle elucidations that everything ain’t just alright, through some determined scratching, and culminating in some brilliantly funny spontaneous dance moves.

BE MY WIFE 2 - please credit Lisa Stein Haven

This was just one highlight among many others, including Max’s charade of defeating an imaginary burglar, trying to outwit the dog that is determined to get him, and getting caught up in an elaborate hidden speakeasy set. A wonderful little film that went down a storm with the Kennington crowd, ‘BE MY WIFE’ was shown in a new restoration by Lobster Films.

Max was back as one of the ‘Hapless Husbands’ featured in a programme showcasing matrimonial comedies, ably introduced by Michelle Facey. ‘MAX WANTS A DIVORCE’ (1917) is another recently found film, made in the USA when Essanay courted him as a successor to Chaplin. Max is newly married, but will inherit a fortune only if he remains a bachelor. He plots a plan to stage an affair as grounds for divorce, bribing his new bride with the promise of a pearl necklace. A date and detective are summoned to an empty apartment, but a parade of mentally unhinged patients visiting a doctor in the same building make things anything but smooth. This film was a bit light on gags overall, but worked up to a fine and frenzied (if slightly insensitive) climax in the doctor’s office.

Michelle noted that in many cases, the husbands brought the worst on themselves! This was certainly true of the title character in ‘ROBINET IS JEALOUS’. An Italian short from 1914, this features Marcel Perez (aka Tweedy, among other names) as the eponymous character. When his wife goes out but refuses to disclose her whereabouts, he is consumed by jealousy, following her to an office block. He searches each floor, each time paying a price for his jealousy: each office seems to be occupied by various degree of psycppath, who all pounce on him as he enters the door! Thus, Robinet is subjected to dentistry, a boxing match and an incredibly violent massage  (with rolling pins, of all things!). Violent stuff, but savagely funny. Finally, he locates his wife and it transpires that she has been secretly having a bust made of him as a present.

HAPLESS HUSBANDS - THE PERSIAN CARPET

Gerard Damman in ‘DER PERSER’

 

Secret presents featured in another European comedy, ‘DER PERSER’ (THE PERSIAN CARPET, 1919). This featured a very obscure German comic, Gerard Damman, who was a discovery of Glenn Mitchell’s. Damman plans to buy his wife a Persian carpet as an anniversary gift, but his furtive behaviour leaads her to be suspicious and think he is ill. Meanwhile, he sneaks out and gets the carpet, but the trams are on strike so he is forced to carry it back through the streets, in a rehash of ‘THE CURTAIN POLE’. The material was spread rather thinly, but Damman was excellent, an enjoyable quiet and subtle performer at a time when few comedians were. A highlight: his attempts to estimate the size of carpet he needs using leaps and bounds, unaware that his wife and a doctor are watching him.

HAPLESS HUSBANDS - INNOCENT HUSBANDS posterRounding out the programme was the always wonderful and charming Charley Chase, in INNOCENT HUSBANDS. From early in his two-reel career, it nevertheless shows his style already gelling perfectly with director Leo McCarey, and a wonderful cast including plump Kay Deslys, a moustache-less James Finlayson, and beautiful, icy Katherine Grant. Katherine is always convinced that Charley is up to something, and is persuaded to visit a spiritualist for more evidence of his infidelities. Charley, meanwhile, just wants to spend a quiet night in but is dragged out to a party by his bachelor neighbour and reluctantly set up with Kay,. The party have made their way to Charley’s flat as the séance relocates there, leaving Charley with three women and a man caught in his bedroom. His attempts to smuggle them out as ‘spirits’ during the séance are just brilliant. Typing that plot makes me realise how action packed ‘INNOCENT HUSBANDS’ is, but it never seems too contrived or plot-heavy. Charley and Leo McCarey were masters of telling complicated stories and putting them over in a brilliantly funny way. Their shorts are some of the best ever made, and this was acknowledged in the fantastic response given to the film.

Silent Laughter wouldn’t be the same without the Kennington Bioscope’s home, The Cinema Museum. It’s a wonderful place, but its future is in grave peril. Please take a look, sign and share!

 

Programme revealed for Kennington Bioscope’s SILENT LAUGHTER SATURDAY

A month from today, SILENT LAUGHTER returns to London’s Cinema Museum. The third in a series of successful events, this year brings more rare and classic comedy presented with introductions by authors and historians, and the best silent film accompaniment around. The provisional programme is below; go to www.kenningtonbioscope.com for more info and to book tickets ( just £18 for the whole day!)

  

SILENT LAUGHTER SATURDAY – 11 NOVEMBER 2017 doors open 9.00am

 

PROVISIONAL PROGRAMME:

09:45 FLYING LUCK (1927) with Monty Banks and Jean Arthur – introduction by Matthew Ross (that’s me!)  (DVD)

11.00 TWO MINUTES SILENCE during which extracts from REVEILLE (1924) will be shown, unaccompanied

11.25 BRITISH SHORTS  introduced by Tony Fletcher –  35mm and 16mm programme includes Hepworth’s VIVAPHONE sound films from the Teens (DVD) and Walter Forde’s WALTER MAKES A MOVIE (1922)

12.30 LUNCH (Cinema Museum café and bar only)

1:30 HAPLESS HUSBANDS  introduced by Michelle Facey – DVD shorts programme includes:  ROBINET IS JEALOUS (Marcel Perez), INNOCENT HUSBANDS (Chase), the rare Max Linder comedy MAX WANTS A DIVORCE and others

3.05 LE PETIT CAFE (1919) with Max Linder – introduced by John Davies (Toulouse Archive 35mm print) – subject to rights clearance, final 3.05 programme TBC  

4.45 KEATON CENTENARY presented by David Wyatt and Susan Cygan.  

6.10 ANTHONY SLIDE TALK ABOUT ALICE HOWELL – followed by a signing of his new book on Alice Howell – complete shorts to be screened: CINDERELLA CINDERS (1920), ONE WET NIGHT’ (1924)

8:15 NEPTUNE’S NAUGHTY DAUGHTER (1917) with Alice Howell – premiere of the new restoration

8.45 THE KID BROTHER (1927) with Harold Lloyd – Kevin Brownlow will introduce and screen his own 16mm print  

10:15 END plus late bar

 

Silent Laughter 2017 returns to London’s Cinema Museum

silent laughter 2017

The Kennington Bioscope’s Silent Laughter festival is returning to The Cinema Museum, following two very successful previous events – 2015’s Silent Laughter Saturday and 2016’s Silent Laughter Weekend. This year’s event will be on Saturday November 11th, and is being programmed by comedy historian Glenn Mitchell. While this year it’s back to a single day event, don’t despair – the programme is crammed full, and the event will be returning as a weekend in 2018, with a new annual date in March.

Silent Laughter events celebrate all things silent comedy, with a special emphasis on unfairly forgotten films and performers rarely seen on the big screen. Each festival’s programme is an eclectic mix of classics by the great names – Chaplin, Keaton, Lloyd, Laurel and Hardy – with forgotten gems worthy  of rediscovery. Harry Langdon, Lupino Lane, Mabel Normand, Dorothy Devore, Raymond Griffith, Clara Bow, Eddie Cantor and Monty Banks are just some of the performers spotlighted so far.

If that wasn’t enough, the cream of the UK’s silent film accompanists turn these films into a true live cinema event, and all films are introduced by authors and silent comedy experts, such as Kevin Brownlow, David Robinson, David Wyatt and Glenn Mitchell.

Events take place at London’s Cinema Museum, a wonderfully eccentric venue steeped in history: It was once part of the workhouse where Charlie Chaplin stayed as a child, and Lambeth Walk, made famous by Lupino Lane, is less than a mile away.

2017’s Silent Laughter event will be a day packed full of funny films, fine musical accompaniment and other festivities presented by The Kennington Bioscope. Escape the gloom of November’s weather and join  for a selection of classic silent comedies as well as many rarities.

The full programme will be announced soon, but will definitely include Kevin Brownlow introducing Harold Lloyd’s wonderful ‘THE KID BROTHER’ and Anthony Slide presenting the career of forgotten funny lady Alice Howell. Subject to confirmation, there will hopefully also be Max Linder’s rare feature ‘LE PETIT CAFE’, as well as forgotten classics by Monty Banks and others.

Full day tickets only £18, or half day tickets £12. Don’t miss it!

Click here for more information and tickets.

The Silent Laughter website will also feature more details, and includes more on previous years’ events.

Laurel & Hardy back on UK TV! UPDATED with showing times 20/9

laurel_hardy

After what must be more than  ten years, Laurel & Hardy are finally returning to UK television, via Talking Pictures television.

It’s really good to see them back. Talking Pictures might not be a high profile channel like the BBC, but it cares about these films, and is giving them primetime airings, which has been virtually unheard of for the last 20+ years.

This is a crucial time for these films to be on TV, with many of the younger generation less aware of who Stan and Babe are (Eugh…that sentence makes me feel very old!). So, if you can access Talking pictures (Freeview 81 – but you need a Freeview HD TV), let’s all watch them to boost the ratings and share the screenings with family and friends.

There will be an autumn season featuring their best Roach features, beginning with BLOCKHEADS on September 1.

You can find the schedule for the channel here.

UPDATE: here are the L and H showing times in the next week. I’ve had a lot of traffic to this post, and some messages from some people new to the team so I’ve included brief  synopses for those discovering them for the first time (you lucky people!)

Mon 4 Sept : PARDON US – 1400. Their first feature film, a prison spoof. Uneven and dated, but some great bits in.

Tue 5 Sept : PACK UP YOUR TROUBLES – 1800. The boys act as surrogate parents for the daughter of their army buddy  who has been killed in WW1 and try to reunite her with her family. Not easy when the family name is Smith… One of their most underrated features IMHO.

Weds 6 Sept, 1800: SAPS AT SEA. the boys take a sea voyage to cure Ollie’s ‘hornophobia!’

Thurs 7 Sept, 1800: WAY OUT WEST. The all time classic featuring the boys having misadventures in the Wild West, complete with ‘The Trail of the Lonesome Pine! This one and BLOCKHEADS are the ones to show your kids first – they’re the ones that got me hooked 20-odd years ago anyway!

Fri 8 Sept 1800: THE BOHEMIAN GIRL. One of their operettas. The plot and singing are tedious but the boys have some great routines.

Sat 9 Sept, 1800: A CHUMP AT OXFORD. The boys are gifted a scholarship to Oxford when they stop a bank robbery. Whilst there, it emerges that Stan is actually a long lost aristocrat, Lord Paddington… Slow to start but the second half is some of their funniest material.

Sun 10 Sept, 12.35: SWISS MISS. Another operetta, telling the boys’ tales selling mousetraps in Switzerland, and getting mixed up with a composer and his wife. Highlight: trying to carry a piano across a ravine rope bridge, as an escaped gorilla wanders the mountains!

Mon 11 Sept:  1400 WAY OUT WEST.

Followed by another screening of BLOCKHEADS at 1830

Tues 12  Sept: 1400 PACK UP YOUR TROUBLES

Weds 13 Sept, 1400: SAPS AT SEA

Thurs 14 Sept, 1400: THE BOHEMIAN GIRL. One of their operettas. The plot and singing are tedious but the boys have some great routines.

Fri 15 Sept, 0835: SAPS AT SEA

1600: SONS OF THE DESERT. Their other all time classic!

SUN 16 Sept, 1700: OUR RELATIONS. Another rather underrated, marvellous comedy – the boys have twin sailor brothers, which causes no end of mix ups.

Then, a bit of a hiatus, picking up again at:

19.50 on Sun 24 September: THE TREE IN A TEST TUBE. A curiosity rather than a comedy classic, this is a short (mute) colour film the boys made to promote wood products.

14.00 on Tues 26 September: PARDON US

13.35 , Weds 27 September: THE STOLEN JOOLS. Another curio, an all star charity short for respiratory disease, bizarrely promoted by Chesterfield cigarettes. The boys are the brief highlight, but also look out for Buster Keaton,  Wheeler & Woolsey and the Our Gang kids.

19.50, Thurs 28th September: Another outing for that gorilla and piano – it’s SWISS MISS again.

12.00 on Sun 1st October: PARDON US.

Finally, set your record buttons for the early hours of Sunday night/Monday Morning on 1st/2nd October for these public domain L & H chestnuts:

03:50 THE LUCKY DOG. A Stan Laurel solo short with a brief appearance from L & H

04:10 THE FLYING DEUCES. The boys join the foreign legion to help Ollie forget a beautiful French girl

05:30 L & H HOME MOVIES.

 

That’s as far as the schedule currently runs. I’ll update when more appear.

L & H are a regular feature in the blog here, why not check through the archives for film reviews, rare images and forgotten corners of their careers?

 

The Emperor of Lancashire

George Formby was the UK’s biggest box office attraction for years on end. The grinning ukulele player and singer of funny, innuendo-riddled little songs (“With my little ukulele in my hand”; “I blew a little blast on my whistle”, etc – you get the idea) was mobbed all over the country as he played, and his tunes and catchphrases have entered the national consciousness.

He’s still loved by many, retaining a far more prominent profile than your average 1930s comedian, yet he is something of a guilty pleasure. Many look down on him snobbily, and he is the target of endless pastiches and parodies. (It’s amazing and a bit sad that many of the same old North-South divide prejudices that Formby faced in his lifetime are still here today).  This nice little documentary from UK comedian Frank Skinner gives him his due, explaining his appeal and talent as a performer rather nicely.

Even this documentary doesn’t give much space to his films, which are often overlooked. Formby made 23 films, and all are usually dismissed as lightweight fluff in a sentence or two in most books or articles. Actually, beyond his songs, he was a fine performer, providing an updated version of the classic silent comedy model. They may not be terribly sophisticated, but his films are an important link between silent comedy, the music halls and the classic post-war Ealing comedies.  Look at them with fresh eyes, and there’s plenty to enjoy, including some terrific visual gags, not to mention George doing his own stunts . I’ve added a page to the directory of comedians that mainly focuses on his film career, with a bit of biographical info added in:

George Formby

And if you haven’t seen any Formby films, I’d probably start with LET GEORGE DO IT, KEEP YOUR SEATS PLEASE!, TURNED OUT NICE AGAIN, NO LIMIT, GET CRACKING  or TROUBLE BREWING.

trouble brewing

Good Time Charley & The Pip from Pittsburg

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Charley Chase is one of my very favourite comedians. Charming, wildly inventive and prolific, he turned out dozens of genuine comedy classics in the silent and sound eras. His sound films have always been difficult to see, but thanks to recent showings on TCM, are now coming to light, albeit via non-legit sources such as bootleg DVDs and, of course, YouTube. I’ve collated a few in this post for your viewing pleasure.

The received wisdom among comedy buffs and film critics is that Chase’s talkies are not quite up to the quality of his silents. Ok, it is true that the precision and consistency of his work from 1925-27 was never quite reached again. . Charley’s later films, beginning with his last silents, experimented more, having a more laissez faire approach to the comedy from film to film. Inevitably, some of these ideas were more successful than others, and so the films seemed less consistent.

 If some of the films didn’t quite work out, they were balanced by an equal number of films that worked beautifully, succeeding to equal his silent work, often pushing his comedy in exciting new directions.

One particular group of films that most everyone agrees really did  work out are those featuring his partnership with Thelma Todd. Chase and Todd made an absolutely wonderful team, appearing in romantic comedies with a real human warmth to them. Charley was always generous with his co-stars; unlike many comedians who barely used their leading ladies as more than decoration, he allowed Thelma to thrive as much more than just a pretty face. In contrast to many of the comedies of the time, they seem like a genuine couple, sharing human foibles. You can’t fake such chemistry, and it’s no surprise to hear that Chase and Todd were very close in real life, with many rumours of offscreen affairs.

snappy sneezer

First meeting: Charley & Thelma in ‘SNAPPY SNEEZER’

 

Their first film together was ‘SNAPPY SNEEZER’ (1929), and gradually Thelma’s roles built up to be more substantial. Even in the films where her role is fairly small, the chemistry between her and Charley is the highlight of the film. ALL TEED UP is a prime example; mainly less than stellar comedy of Chase as a rookie golfer, it’s highest spot comes at the beginning as Charley bumps into Thelma at a soda fountain and the pair are mistaken for a couple. Charley knew a good thing when he saw it and Thelma’s roles soon became much more prominent. In the best of their collaborations, the pair are virtually co-starred, each adding to the comedy and story.  WHISPERING WHOOPEE has a great role for Thelma to show her versatility as a gum-chewing good-time gal hired by Charley to help ‘persuade’ some businessmen to buy his property. When they turn out to be strait-laced, Charley has to pass her off as a society girl.

DOLLAR DIZZY sees Charley inherit a fortune, and so he books himself into a swanky retreat. He soon becomes aware that gold-diggers are everywhere, as a series of girls all try similar tricks to woo him. Locking himself in his hotel room, he is unaware that millionaires Thelma has been double-booked into the same room. Thelma is also on guard for fortune hunters, and the pair each become convinced that the other has broken in to get a piece of the money. This sort of proto-screwball comedy, with Charley and Thelma both strong-willed and possessed of human weaknesses, is one of the special aspects in these films. Thelma isn’t just a piece of eye candy on a pedestal; she contributes actively to the comedy of the films.

LOOSER THAN LOOSE is, for me, one of the most under-rated Chase-Todd films of all. Charley has just got engaged to Thelma when his boss calls up. Charley is required to entertain one of the company’s clients. Unfortunately, this Mr Henderson insists on wild parties with good time girls, much to Thelma’s jealousy. She insists that she come along as one of the girls. Things go from bad to worse at the nightclub; the other girl is cackling Dorothy Granger who humiliates Henderson and comes on to Charley. This leads to an escalating scene wherein Thelma takes her revenge by costing up to Henderson; Charley responds by snuggling with Dorothy, leading Thelma to up the ante, and so on.  With a similar plot to WHISPERING WHOOPEE, to me it stands above that film thanks to some subtle plot changes that heighten the effectiveness of the comedy. For one thing, the film places a focus on Charley and Thelma’s relationship at the centre of the situations, making us care about them more. Much of the funniest moments come less from gags, than their facial expressions: Charley’s pained look when he realises he’ll be in hot water with Thelma; a wonderfully acted scene of disappointment as Thelma sees her new engagement ring for the first time; the pair’s false smiles through gritted teeth. Best of all is the scene where the pair try to make each other jealous by flirting with their new partners: their giggly smiles are amusingly punctuated with snarls and sneers at each other!  Secondly, Charley is now an underdog; he only goes along with the evening because his boss insists, and because he is at the mercy of the client’s whims. It’s a great little film, with a wonderful supporting cast and that catchy Leroy Shield music that makes Roach films of this era such a breeze.

Of course, most famous of all these films is THE PIP FROM PITTSBURG. This wonderful blind date comedy has written about many times before, so I won’t add anything – but here it is. Sadly, this is the only online version I can find – an off 16mm copy. But it’s better than nothing. This film really needs to be on DVD in proper quality! A Charley Chase box set would be nice actually… Well, I can dream, can’t I?

Charley and Thelma’s partnership was, ultimately, a victim of its own success. While Charley wanted to make the teaming permanent and make features, Hal Roach had other ideas. Thelma was made a star in her own right, teamed with Zasu Pitts, and later Patsy Kelly, in an attempt at creating a female Laurel & Hardy. While those films are great fun, they rarely rose to the height of the best Chase-Todd films, and we can only wonder what they might have done next. Thelma would be allowed back to co-star with Charley in one last short, ‘THE NICKEL NURSER’ (1932). This story of Charley being hired to teach a millionaire’s daughters the value of money, was a gem in its own way, featuring  the return of the usual chemistry alongside some great sight gags, and a devastating Greta Garbo parody!  Oh, and there’s Billy Gilbert, too. What’s not to like?

After Thelma moved on to other things, Charley changed direction too. He moved to playing a less confident, more henpecked character he called his ‘nance’ (THE NICKEL NURSER marks one of the first steps in this direction), and subsequently moved into more domestic comedies. He would continue to make some absolutely brilliant films that remain criminally underrated, but the special warmth and magic of these films with Thelma would never quite be repeated. How sad to think that these two young, vital and charming performers would both be gone less than a decade after the films were created. But what a pair they made.

Help bring Lloyd Hamilton to DVD!

LONESOME

Lloyd Hamilton

Exciting news! In a post last year I mentioned viewing an exceptionally rare Lloyd Hamilton comedy ‘A HOME MADE MAN’ courtesy of David Glass & David Wyatt, and that there were tentative plans for a Lloyd Hamilton DVD set. Well, now it’s coming to fruition, courtesy of Kickstarter, and you can be a backer!

Hamilton’s comedy style was truly original. Like Harry Langdon’s, it was nuanced and reaction-based, but much more sardonic than any of the major comics. Each film saw him stumble from catastrophe to calamity, hopelessly trying to maintain his ill-fitting sense of dignity and superiority. Chaplin, Keaton and Sennett all remembered him in later years as a major talent, but the majority of his films are lost, so this chance to see his films on DVD is a not-to-be-missed opportunity.

 

The films to be featured are:

THE SIMP (1920)

MOONSHINE (1920 – directed by Charley Chase and featuring him in a small role)

APRIL FOOL (1920 – Also directed by Chase)

DYNAMITE (1920)

HIS MUSICAL SNEEZE (1919) A very rare Fox short, recently rediscovered, courtesy of the Danish Film Institute

A HOME MADE MAN (1928)

 

You can read more about Hamilton here.

And below is the link to pledge for a copy of the DVD. Go, go, go!

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/321833650/lloyd-hamilton-silent-comedian