Month: March 2020

A Teddy Tale

The EYE film institute in the Netherlands has a terrific YouTube channel, with an especially rich selection of early European comedies. Here’s one that jumped out at me from it’s title: TEDDY A MANGÉ DES GRENOUILLES, or ‘Teddy eats Frogs’!  This is a delightfully bizarre variation on the typical one-gag chase films made in the 1900s. Here, the little gendarme Teddy steals a man’s breakfast, overindulges on frogs’ legs and feels some side-effects. Soon, he can’t stop jumping, and is causing havoc on the streets of Paris with half the town in pursuit. It’s a wonderfully silly short, with great acrobatics and some dangerous stunting – at one point, he jumps all over the roof of a moving steam engine, while a lady is being dragged behind it!

I’d never seen a ‘Teddy’ film before. Turns out his real name is Édouard Pinto. In common with most of the early European clowns like Robinet, Polycarpe and Cretinetti, Pinto worked under a screen character name used in each film.

He was born in Lisbon in 1887 (How many other Portuguese silent comedians can you name?) and  began performing on stage from the age of eight. He played ‘Pif-Paf’, in an act with his older brother, and together they toured around Europe and Africa. It was in 1906 that he was talent-scouted by Pathé to make films for them. After an eighteen month contract, he moved on to the Lux Company, where the above film was made.

Pinto later went on to direct himself, but WW1 interrupted his career. Like Max Linder, he suffered gas attacks and injuries in the conflict, and was invalided out in 1916. Fortunately, he was rehabilitated enough to resume his film career.

teddy pinto

From July 1919 to January 1920 he played in LE FILS DE NUIT,  a serial shot in Algeria and France. Filming a scene in Saint-Remy-de-Provence he had a terrible accident: “The bridge that was supposed to give way under its weight gives way too soon. Teddy, with his horse, fell ten metres and crashed into the bottom […] he was pulled in a pitiful state: open left shoulder, dislocated arm, sprained wrist, dislocated right knee. Teddy, after three months of care, still uses his left arm with some discomfort.”

The experience put Pinto off films. After a couple more appearances, he retired from the screen. It’s sometimes been said that physical comedy and ballet aren’t too far apart ( W.C. Fields referred to Chaplin as “a goddamn ballet dancer”), and Pinto is perhaps more proof. He spent the rest of his career as a teacher of modern dance.

The Unknown Marx Brothers

THE UNKNOWN MARX BROTHERS is a superb documentary from 1993, which presents a biography of the brothers, while also focusing on rare and unseen clips from the history of their act. Highlights include Harpo’s silent film cameo in TOO MANY KISSES (1926), trailers for THE BIG STORE and DUCK SOUP, their 1931 routine from THE HOUSE THAT SHADOWS BUILT, outtakes from the aborted TV pilot THE DEPUTY SERAPH (1959), and Groucho’s YOU BET YOUR LIFE SERIES, assorted solo TV spots and various home movies.

There are also valuable interviews with family members and co-workers. Lots of great stuff packed into 85 minutes!

Lifting Lockdown Spirits

Hope you’re all doing ok out there in this strange new world. Thank goodness for technology, which means we have a wealth of entertainment at our fingertips, and what a tonic the great comics can be in troubled times. I’m digging through some old favourites and finding some new gems to share here.

It seems like there’s never been a better time to share this classic radio episode of Hancock’s Half Hour, in which Tony and his housemates Sid James, Bill Kerr and Hattie Jacques try to pass a Sunday stuck indoors. It’s one of the best examples of Hancock’s humorous despair, finding comedy in the mundane everyday. Incidentally, it was a favourite of Stan Laurel, who kept a tape copy in his collection.

On a similar note, here’s Lupino Lane on enforced lockdown during a rainy holiday, in SUMMER SAPS (1929).  Wherever you’re isolating, I hope you have better neighbours than this!!

On a serious note, I hope that this terrible situation isn’t treating you too badly. Stay safe and well, and keep smiling!