Month: September 2016

Lupino Lane on DVD!

If you’ve been stopping by this site for a while, you’ll have probably noticed that Lupino Lane is one of my favourite silent clowns. He may not have reached the character based heights of Chaplin, Keaton or Laurel & Hardy, for instance, but he was a very special talent indeed. Nobody could do out-and-out slapstick like him.Steeped in his family’s tradition of pantomime, music hall and acrobatics, he was almost without equal at creating dazzling, lightning-paced routines out of almost nothing at all. If you’re a fellow fan, there’s some great news of two DVDs featuring his work. If you’ve not discovered him yet, both are a great place to start discovering his often jaw-dropping physical comedy.

Firstly, there’s a volume of five of his silent shorts amongst Grapevine Video’s new releases:

These are from his heyday in Hollywood, working for the (inappropriately named) Educational Pictures.

MAID IN MOROCCO (1925) was his first short for the company. Directed by Charles Lamont, it features Lane honeymooning in Morocco. His blissful time is spoiled when the local Caliph (his brother Wallace Lupino, omnipresent in these films) decides to steal Lane’s new bride for his harem. Lane’s attempts to rescue her produce some great, gag-packed chase sequences, including his amazing stunt of running 360 degrees around the inside of a Moorish arch!
MOVIE LAND (1926) is a great little comedy, with some wonderful routines as Lane makes a date with actress, Kathryn McGuire, accidentally stands her up, then tries to crash the studio to apologise. Best of all is his routine disguised as a stunt dummy. Complete prints of this film contain a Lloyd Hamilton cameo, but it most often circulates as a cut-down edition. Time will tell how complete this print is.
Kathyrn McGuire is again the love interest in
NAUGHTY BOY (1927). A notch below the other two films for gag-packed excitement, this is still a very entertaining two-reeler. It’s closer to a Hal Roach situation comedy in its plot than usual, as Lane is forced to pose as a young boy when is father remarries and lies about his age.
The last two films on this disk showcase Lane’s fondness for dropping his bewildered, mild little character into dramatic or epic settings to provide comic contrast. FANDANGO (1928) has him as an unlikely bullfighter, caught up with serenading sultry Anita Garvin and his rival toreador Wallace Lupino. Directed by Lane under the pseudonym Henry W George, this is one of his best-made comedies, with some wonderful camerawork. BATTLING SISTERS (1929) is a bizarre, futuristic gender-bending semi-spoof of ‘THE BIG PARADE’, with men and women’s roles reversed. One of the rarest films here, it’s also by far the strangest, offering the spectacle of Wallace Lupino, in drag, vamping the helpless house husband Lane!

Grapevine lists a running time of 100 minutes, with music scores by David Knudtson. Order here

Lane didn’t abandon his silent comedy technique totally when sound came in. After returning to his native Britain in 1930, he starred in and directed the comedy feature ‘NO LADY’. Essentially an extended reworking of his silent short ‘SUMMER SAPS’, it’s a bit creaky, but once it gets going it features a host of his classic silent comedy routines (including that ‘running round the arch’ gag) amidst some fantastic vintage location shooting in the seaside resort of Blackpool. The final chase, melding silent comedy to strategically place sound elements, seems to me exactly what Buster Keaton wanted to be doing at this point.

51lpyxejfl__sy300_ql70_Incredibly enough, ‘NO LADY’ has been pulled from obscurity and newly released on a triple-film DVD, ‘The Lupino Collection’, alongside films starring other members of the Lupino showbiz clan. Lane’s brother Wallace supports in the fairly dire ‘ SHIPMATES O’ MINE’, while his niece (and the most famous Lupino) Ida appears in ‘HER FIRST AFFAIRE’. This one’s not so great either, but ‘NO LADY’ is more than worth the price. Order here

Finally, if you’re in the UK and want a rare chance to see some Lane films on the big screen, I’ll be showing excerpts from his career, alongside extracts from his book ‘How to become a Comedian’, at Kennington Bioscope’s Silent Laughter Weekend in London.  We’ll also be showing two very rare LL films in their entirety: his 1927 short ‘ A HALF PINT HERO’, an acrobatic riff on Chaplin’s ‘THE FIREMAN’, as well as the sound film of his hit stage show ‘Me and My Girl’, ‘THE LAMBETH WALK’ (1939)

half pint hero

Lane is about to exact revenge on brother Wallace Lupino in ‘A HALF PINT HERO’. Tom Whiteley looks on.

SILENT LAUGHTER WEEKEND: programme revealed!

Well, the programme for Kennington Bioscope’s Silent Laughter Weekend is here at last! There are still a few additions and potential small changes to come, as well as exact show times, but the majority of the films being shown are now online.

The idea is to showcase silent comedy beyond Chaplin, Keaton and Lloyd. That’s not to put down the magnificence of the eternal trio, but to give a broader picture of the many other fine talents whose films don’t see the light of day enough. Of course, the old favourites make appearances in the programme too, so hopefully there’s something for all silent comedy fans, from those with a casual interest to the more seasoned enthusiasts! All but a handful of these films are unavailable on DVD, and we’re also proud to be presenting several UK premieres of newly rediscovered or restored films.

Below is the programme, mirrored from All events take place at London’s Cinema Museum, Kennington.

Each day’s films will begin at 10am. Exact show times to be announced soon!


kid-bootsKID BOOTS  (1926)

Great American entertainer Eddie Cantor made his screen debut in this adaptation of his 1923 Broadway musical. ‘IT’ girl Clara Bow is wonderfully perky as his love interest. the result is a sparky romantic comedy featuring two American jazz age icons for the price of one! We’re proud to present the premiere of a newly restored version of this wonderful film.

EARLY DAYSfilm_linder

Before Chaplin and Keystone, when Hollywood was still just a sunkissed patch of orange groves, the world centre of film-making was in Europe. Legendary film historian David Robinson introduces the first film comedy stars – Max Linder (deemed ‘the professor’ by Chaplin), Charles Prince and more. The prints being shown today are on the archaic 28mm gauge, and are very nearly as  old as the films themselves. Chris Bird and Brian Giles, who will be running them on equally vintage projectors, are a little younger!




It’s hard to believe, but unseen Laurel and Hardy footage is still turning up almost 70 years after their last on-camera appearance. We present a treat for L & H fans, with a host of UK premieres of long lost footage. Among them are ‘new versions’ of classic silent shorts from Robert Youngson’s personal collection, featuring scenes not seen since their original release. Also showing will be two of L & H’s solo films, recently restored by the Cinemateca Nazionale: Stan Laurel’s Pythonesque Rudolph Valentino parody ‘MONSIEUR DON’T CARE’, and the Hardy solo film ‘MAIDS AND MUSLIN’.


HOME JAMES! (1928)

Laura La Plante, best known for Universal’s ‘THE CAT & THE CANARY’, had several hits in comedy roles. This rarely seen film shows her to winning effect, as a small town girl trying to make it big in a New York department store. Introduced by legendary film historian Kevin Brownlow, from whose collection this print comes.


counting relativesLUPINO LANE – A LOCAL HERO

British comedian Lupino Lane  was something of a local hero to this part of town, being the originator of the ‘Lambeth Walk’ dance craze in his hit musical ‘ME AND MY GIRL’. Long before that, he made a string of wonderful silent comedy shorts, featuring finely honed slapstick and acrobatic skills to surpass even Buster Keaton! We revisit his career with the aid of film clips and extracts from Lane’s book ‘HOW TO BECOME A COMEDIAN’. Includes a full showing of the rare two reel comedy ‘A HALF PINT HERO’ (1927).


Did someone mention Lambeth? We sneak into the sound era to show this exuberant, long-lost film version of ‘ME AND MY GIRL’. Starring Lupino Lane, it enables him to show off several of his favourite silent comedy routines.




Our first programme of the day will contain a few surprises! Among them, we are hoping to show a very rare Harold Lloyd short, and a few more familiar faces…


While silent comedy was dominated by males, it was by no means an exclusive field; there were some terrifically talented female comedy stars out there, too. Michelle Facey showcases two overlooked ladies; Dorothy Devore rivals Harold Lloyd’s high-rise antics in ‘HOLD YOUR BREATH’, while Martha Sleeper shines in the Max Davidson classic ‘PASS THE GRAVY’.


Mack Sennett was the silent era’s first ‘King of Comedy’, responsible for starting the film careers of Chaplin, Harry Langdon, Roscoe Arbuckle and many others. David Glass explains what made his studio so great, assisted by Brent Walker (author of the definitive Sennett book). Includes clips and films restored by David himself.

342_HL-LongPants-portraitTRAMP, TRAMP, TRAMP(1926)

Eternal baby Harry Langdon was at one point considered to be Chaplin’s successor. Today, his idiosyncratic talent is sadly neglected, but he made some wonderfully individual films. Featuring Harry as hapless participant in a cross-country race, this is one of his greatest and funniest films.  Matthew Ross introduces the film, and the context in which Langdon’s unique talent developed.


Walter Forde 2WAIT AND SEE (1927)

Walter Forde, Britain’s best silent comedian, and later an eminent director, in his first (and perhaps funniest) feature film. A great chance to see classic silent comedy played out against vintage English backdrops. Introduced by Geoff Brown, author of the only book on Walter Forde.



Warner Brothers’ first comedy feature to have a Vitaphone soundtrack, this features Charlie Chaplin’s brother Syd in an adaptation of the wartime comic strip by Captain Bruce Bairnsfather. The sterling cast also includes Edgar Kennedy and Harold Goodwin. Introduced by Barbara Witemeyer, daughter of chief Vitaphone sound engineer Jack Watkins.

Tickets are available through

Rare Ham


Lloyd Hamilton exists now like one of those dusty, anonymous portraits hanging in a long corridor. To most people, if his image is seen at all, it is a faded likeness of the flesh and blood he once was, the achievements of his life almost totally forgotten. While this analogy could go for a good majority of the performers I write about here, none have faded or fallen so far from their previous colourful heights as Hamilton.

With his offbeat humour and fantastic reaction-based comedy, ‘Ham’ was once considered among the funniest men in the world (he was reportedly a favourite of both Chaplin and Keaton). But his career was dogged by spectacularly persistent bad luck. This continued beyond his early death, as his best films went up in smoke, leaving only a fraction of his works scattered in archives. Most of these are from the bookends of his career, either embryonic versions of the style he later perfected, or tired re-workings that his heart clearly wasn’t in. Only in snatches of classics like ‘THE VAGRANT’, ‘CRUSHED’ or ‘MOVE ALONG’ can we see what really made him special.

So, when a scarce or previously unseen Hamilton film turns up, it’s a pretty big deal for Ham’s fans (all 17 of us). Could each new discovery be the one, the film that restores his tattered reputation beyond doubt? A couple of years ago, a very rare example of his films, ‘A HOME MADE MAN’, turned up on eBay in a 16mm print. I placed several bids but lost out. The film never resurfaced; I figured it had gone to someone who didn’t want to share it with the world. That is, until I mentioned it to a friend, and it turned out that they had known the person who bought it. (Not only this, but there were some potential plans to have it telecine-ed (sic) with some other rare Ham films in the hope of possibly putting together a DVD of a few of his films. Excitingly, I finally got the chance to see the film a little while ago.

The stakes were high,  but the chances of it being a classic were pretty low. It was among Hamilton’s last silents, as problems with alcohol were taking their toll. Of another 1928 release, ‘ALMOST A GENTLEMAN’ critic Raymond Ganly’s review was short but brutal: “Remember how good Lloyd Hamilton used to be? Weep when you see him in this.” These late silent shorts tended to eschew his character based comedies for random gags and gratuitous slapstick. Would ‘A HOME MADE MAN’ be any different?

Well, as expected, it’s not the holy grail of Hamilton films. But, I doubt it would have made Mr Ganly weep, either. It was a pretty good comedy, below the Hal Roach comedies of the same time and Hamilton’s better previous work, but enjoyable. Like another late period Ham short, ‘BLAZING AWAY’, it has two distinct halves, and is based around Ham finding a job.

In the first reel, Ham has been sent by the employment agency to a soda fountain-cum-gym run by Kewpie Morgan. Morgan takes one look at him and winces, but he’s desperate, so Ham gets the job. Next we get the incompetent soda jerk routines you’d expect, with ice cream splattered, eggs broken and plates smashed. In fact, it’s all quite similar to the early scenes of Buster Keaton’s ‘COLLEGE’, from the year before. However, Hamilton is able to show what made him special. The way he delivers hackneyed gags in this line is uniquely his own, and it is not the slapstick itself that causes the laughs, but rather his hurt dignity. As a result, you feel less like you’re watching a Keaton rip-off, and more a reaction comedy that anticipates Oliver Hardy’s attempts to master simple tasks. As a result, the soda bar gags are the best moments of the film.


Another typical Hamilton twist on standard material: he is carrying a huge pile of plates, that wobble to and fro. He loses his footing, and theplates are sliding all over the place…. but the crash never happens as he safely reaches the counter. Morgan and Hamilton sigh with relief; “I never broke a plate in my life,” says Lloyd. However, he has placed them on top of his apron on the counter top, and as he walks off, the plates finally crash to the ground.

Fearing for his remaining crockery, Morgan sends Hamilton in to the gym as a personal trainer. After all, if you can’t trust someone with breakables, then why not trust them with peoples’ health? Here, he predictably makes an equal mess of things, first trying to instruct a line of athletes in a nicely choreographed sequence, then taking to the gym equipment himself. Things go downhill from here, as his efforts on the rings lead to him swinging out of the window and clinging on to the ledge in a pretty feeble Harold Lloyd ripoff.


Once he is safely back inside, the film ends with him pitted against Morgan in a boxing match, which he surprisingly wins. Ham victoriously leaves the gym behind.


OK, so it’s not the classic  we could hope for. But, it does show what Hamilton could do, even with mediocre material, and as such I’m very glad to have seen it. Certainly it’s a decent comedy short for the time, and he makes the most of his opportunities, even when the material is subpar. Hamilton was without doubt a great, individual comic performer with his own distinct style. Yet again, after viewing one of his films, I’m left with the question: What could he have done with better material?