Comic Craziness with Charley Chase

in walkjed charley.jpg

I’m  a big fan of Charley Chase’s sound shorts. Sure, they’re maybe not as consistent or quite as brilliant as his silents, but he churned out so many great films that a fair few gems get overlooked. ‘IN WALKED CHARLEY’, for example, is one of the more obscure sound shorts that Charley made for Hal Roach. It overlaps with several of his better known films in plot, but has some funny gags and situations that he never re-used.

The central situation of a main character appearing crazy was a favourite plot of Chase’s; it gave good mileage for his eternally embarrassed character to show bewilderment and exasperation, not to mention get into awkward situations. With Charley himself posing as the crazy party, he made his silent classic ‘CRAZY LIKE A FOX’ and its later remake ‘THE WRONG MISS WRIGHT’. In other films, he would be called upon to humour an apparent lunatic (FAST WORK, MANY SAPPY RETURNS, PUBLIC GHOST #1). Although occasionally seeming slightly insensitive in this era of greater enlightenment towards mental illness, it should be remembered that most of the time, the characters are only pretending to be affected, rather than a genuine affliction being mocked.

Interestingly, Charley nearly always chose foil Del Henderson to play opposite him in such instances. Henderson’s quiet dignity was as much of a mismatch for the outrageous situations as Charley’s own polite embarrassment was, and the combination made for some very funny scenes. In my opinion, this is the best and funniest of their collaboarations of this nature

‘IN WALKED CHARLEY’ begins with Henderson feigning a manic episode to stop his wife and daughter from going away on holiday. Charley, as travel agent delivering the tickets, gradually gets sucked in to the situation. It’s an interesting touch that he is on the very fringes of the action; his initial appearance almost seems like a cameo in someone else’s film. He walks out the door before being called back, and all the way through the film keeps trying to make his exit. Each time, howver, Henderson’s pretty daughter (Jacqueline Wells,  aka Julie Bishop, best remembered from L and H’s ‘ANY OLD PORT’) begs him to stay and help humour him. Charley’s desire to leave as he gets pulled deeper and deeper into implausible situations enables him to show his full spectrum of comic reactions, from polite confusion, to disbelief, to furious exasperation as he is dragged further and further into the chaos.

This structure basically acts as a framework for some silly, but funny sequences. Highlights include Charley trying to give Henderson a bath, but ending up dunked himself and Del attempting to teach him a game called “The King’s Pond”, which is an excuse to give him a soaking. Best of all is his insistence that they sing and dance a duet together, with Charley as the girl, dressed in a lampshade for a skirt!

The two men would mine a similar vein of camp humour to a much greater extent in the same year’s ‘MR BRIDE’, but ‘IN WALKED CHARLEY’ is briefer and wilder. Not one of Charley’s masterpieces maybe, but a funny and undeservedly forgotten film from a rich period in his career. Thanks to YouTube (and a print from an Argentinian archive!), here it is, albeit with annoying idents on the print…




One comment

  1. Hi Matt, just a pity that the you tube upload is only half of the first reel , because the whole film, about 20 minutes, is great and, as you say in your write-up, the lamp shade dance is really funny as is the horse in the bed and it’s shock reaction when it sees itself in the mirror….. Great as usual Matt ….keep ’em coming.


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