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Silent Laughter 2019 announced

It’s back! Kennington Bioscope presents another weekend of classic & rare silent comedy at the historic cinema museum. Lots to enjoy in a packed programme, including classics like Chaplin’s ‘THE GOLD RUSH’ and Lloyd’s ‘GRANDMA’S BOY’, plus rarely seen films starring Marion Davies, Gloria Swanson, W.C. Fields & more. There’s also a chance to see Laurel & Hardy’s recently rediscovered ‘THE BATTLE OF THE CENTURY’, and I’m looking forward to presenting some of Charley Chase’s finest silent shorts.

As always, films will be accompanied by the cream of silent film accompanists. Best of all, it’s only £30 for a weekend pass! Don’t miss it – tickets available at www.kenningtonbioscope.com

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New issue of The Lost Laugh Magazine out now!

So, I finally got round to finishing the new issue – number 11! This time, there are articles on Monty Banks’ feature comedies, perennially soused character actor Arthur Housman, some Laurel & Hardy discoveries, and reviews of rare films starring Harold Lloyd and Lupino Lane.

If you’re a subscriber, hopefully it’s arrived in your inbox now; if not, head to The Lost Laugh Magazine to download the pdf.  I do hope you enjoy reading it!

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A few thoughts on ‘Stan and Ollie’

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“Will it be in black and white?” asked one teenage boy to his parents as we all queued to see STAN AND OLLIE. Judging from overheard conversations, he was just one of many who were about to have their introduction to the boys. It’s lovely that there were potential new fans in the audience; I crossed my fingers and hoped that the film would be up to the challenge.

Like many others, I had first greeted the news that a Laurel and Hardy biopic was to be made with some trepidation. Surely there would be lots of drama, lots of untruths and lots of scenes battling ex-wives. My fears eased a little as I heard more about the project, although I always feel a tiny bit peeved that these kind of films tend to focus on their stars’ fading years, rather than showing them in their prime. There’s more drama, more light and shade to be had that way, I guess

Sure enough, STAN AND OLLIE gets much pathos out of the boys’ waning years, but that pathos is genuine, and there’s a lot of warmth too. And, in the end, the decision to focus on later years makes sense as the tours were where their friendship really formed a special bond. It’s a bittersweet little film that really does come from a place of love and respect. Let’s get this straight, though; it is not a documentary. I can live with that. I don’t really care that they rolled tours that took place in 1947, 1952 and 1953 into one, that they might have swapped Morecambe for Worthing or added some small events that didn’t happen . Most of the attention to detail is astounding, and the essence of the boys’ situation is preserved, but this is storytelling, after all. Along the way, some of the supporting characters find themselves rather caricatured. The domineering and squabbling Ida Laurel and Lucille Hardy or the sleazily conning Bernard Delfont are slightly unfair portrayals, but are comically done and add a good dose of humour. I was glad that, as the film went on, the wives were allowed to become more three-dimensional in their relationships to the boys and each other.

I have more trouble with the portrayal of Hal Roach as a stereotypical Hollywood bully. While undoubtedly he held the boys’ contracts to his advantage, he wasn’t the villain he’s portrayed as. I suppose the point of the brief prologue is to set up how the boys got to their 50s situation, but it’s still rather unfair. The other bit that sticks out like a sore thumb is the infamous scene where the boys argue over Babe’s appearing without Stan in ZENOBIA. While I’m sure the team probably did have at least the odd, brief cross word in thirty years, the scene just doesn’t ring true. In fact, it plays exactly like what it is: a scripted attempt to make a moment of conflict and convenient soundbite for the trailer. Still, the fact that the worst fight the script writers could conjure involves no shouting and no bad language perhaps just goes to show how deep the two men’s friendship was. At least it’s over soon and quickly forgotten.

The fact that that the gentle love between Stan and Babe shines through in all of this is a credit to the performances. Steve Coogan and John C Reilly had a hell of a job to pull off such recognisable, loved characters, as well as their offstage personas. In my opinion, they do a terrific job on both counts. The makeup makes them real ringers for the real-life men, and they get the voices down very well indeed. There’s just the right mixture of regret and good humour in their acting, and Coogan does an excellent job of conveying Stan’s gentle air of English repression. As far as the onstage personas, Laurel’s abstract vagueness is always slightly harder to convey than Babe’s precise mannerisms. Coogan grasps the importance of Stan’s eyebrows, and generally gets his flailing movements right, if not quite 100%. A reprise of COUNTY HOSPITAL on-stage is a blast, and as the two do a double door routine in long shot, I really had to remind myself that I wasn’t watching the genuine article. It’s a new variation of an L & H routine, not an exact copy, but feels totally authentic.

It’s such attention to detail that really makes the film a joy. I particularly liked the little touches of 50s culture sprinkled through: the queen’s coronation, a skiffle band or a poster for ABBOTT & COSTELLO GO TO MARS, reminding us how far society had changed. The fact that Laurel and Hardy still made people laugh in the atomic age, so far from Model Ts and sunny California streets, reminds us why they are special, and still funny. If you asked me for a deep reason of why I love Laurel and Hardy beyond just laughing at them, I’d reply that their films, however unintentionally, speak deep truths about humanity, and the nature of friendship and love. The best compliment I can give STAN AND OLLIE is that it conveys much of the same.

 

Happy New Year!

A very Happy New Year to you! Yes, I’m still here… I’ve spent most of 2018 working on a few non-film projects, but The Lost Laugh is returning with a new issue very soon. I’m just in the proofreading stages now so expect to have it finished within a fortnight. It’ll be mailed to subscribers, and available to download from here shortly afterwards.

Here’s the cover:

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Every one a Howell!

CCP_Fig163d_Howell_WFP-HOW021Silent film accompanist, historian and DVD producer Ben Model has produced some wonderful releases over the last few years, highlighting forgotten comics such as Marcel Perez, Monty Banks and Johnny Hines. Now he’s just announced his next Kickstarter project: some prime works from wonderful but forgotten comedienne Alice Howell.

Alice was a big star in the late teens and early 20s; she was one of the few women permitted to be funny in her own right in the male-dominated world of screen comedy. Her image was quite unique; piled-up frizzy red hair and a permanently surprised expression made look rather like a manic doll. With her scatty but carefree working girl was an ancestor to Lucile Ball. You can read more on her here.

 Sadly, all but a few of her films have been lost, and many of those only exist forgotten in archives. This release hopes to free some from the vaults of the Library of Congress. A worthy project indeed, and one I’ll certainly be backing. Here’s the info direct from Ben’s page, and the link below.

“This Kickstarter will fund a project that brings 6 extremely rare Alice Howell silent comedy shorts to DVD, made from 1915-1925, selected by me (Ben Model) and by silent comedy film historian Steve Massa. The films that will be on the DVD will be seen in new digital scans of archival 35mm and 16mm materials preserved by the Library of Congress, and will be scanned by the Library of Congress’ lab. I will create a brand new custom musical score for each film.

All of the films will require exposure adjustments and some may need new intertitles or main titles.

The DVD box art will be created by professional graphic designer and silent era aficionado Marlene Weisman. The DVDs will be professionally authored and they will be made available for sale on Amazon.com, as I have been doing using successfully for 18 of my DVD releases, and will be publicized.

This Kickstarter covers all costs for the DVD’s production and release, as well as of the making of and shipping of backer DVDs.

Films scheduled to be on the DVD (subject to change):

  • How Stars are Made (1916)
  • In Dutch (1918)
  • A Convict’s Happy Bride (1920)
  • His Wooden Legacy (1920)
  • Distilled Love (1920)
  • Under a Spell (1925)”

Go buy! THE ALICE HOWELL DVD PROJECT

 

That’s That!

One of the Laurel & Hardy items I’ve wanted to see for the longest is ‘THAT’S THAT!’. It was a gag reel compiled by Hal Roach Studios editor Bert Jordan, on the occasion of Stan Laurel’s 47th Birthday. It’s been shown at a couple of L & H conventions, and a really ropey off-screen dupe of a short section once appeared on YouTube, but now it’s been fully restored by UCLA and put online. And it’s a strange eight minutes, to be sure…

Jordan had access to all sorts of outtakes, bloopers and sound effects in the Roach vaults, and used them to cobble together a bizarre little stream-of-consciousness short, replete with non-sequitirs, random effects, animations and amusing juxtapositions ending up like something Spike Milligan would have been proud of!

It begins with full Roach titles; THAT’S THAT was the original working title for THE LAUREL-HARDY MURDER CASE. Alternate takes from MURDER CASE form a large part of the footage, along with its Spanish language counterpart NOCHE DE DUENDES. There are also chunks of OUR WIFE, LAUGHING GRAVY, DIRTY WORK and the then-current WAY OUT WEST. Outtakes from the latter include a shot of Tiny Sandford in costume (replaced by Stanley Fields in the finished version) and Stan’s double Ham Kinsey reciting the declaration of independence!

L & H co-star Charley Chase makes an appearance, messing up a scene from MANHATTAN MONKEY BUSINESS and cursing; Edgar Kennedy provides a wrap-up comment for the short. There are also glimpses of Mae Busch, Jimmy Finlayson, Charlie Hall, Babe London and Gordon Douglas.

Most interesting of all is a very brief deleted gag from SONS IN THE DESERT, from the attic scene. Stan is attempting to pull something on a string up to the attic, but manages to get it caught on a radio set, which falls over and explodes.


Moments like this make you wonder what else was once lurking in the vaults and now vanished. A fascinating, if bizarre, way to spend eight and a half minutes… Many thanks to UCLA and their funding donors for making this available! We really are spoiled these days… If you want to give a little something back you can support UCLA’s Laurel & Hardy Preservation fund here: https://www.cinema.ucla.edu/support/laurel-and-hardy

Here’s ‘THAT’S THAT’ online:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AapRK62 … e=youtu.be

 

April on Talking Pictures TV: Laurel & Hardy, Norman Wisdom, Will Hay, Frank Randle & more.

Lots more goodies on TPTV this month for fans of classic comedy, particularly old British stuff. Here are some of the top picks…

Laurel & Hardy films continue to be shown:

Sun 08 April 19:35   Helpmates

Tue 10 Apr 18 13:35 Brats
Wed 11 Apr 18 10:15 Below Zero
Thu 12 Apr 18 11:20 Towed In A Hole
Fri 13 Apr 18 23:05 Our Relations
Sat 14 Apr 18 9:35 Below Zero
Sun 15 Apr 18 9:35 Tit for Tat Mon 16 Apr 18
4:25 Private Life Of Oliver the 8th
Tue 17 Apr 18 10:20 Pack Up Your Troubles
Tue 24 Apr 18 18:40 Sons of the Desert
Wed 25 Apr 18 18:35 Pardon Us
Mon 30 Apr 18 15:50 The Laurel-Hardy Murder Case

No new titles that haven’t been shown already, but there are rumours that some of L & H’s shorts, including their silents, are to appear soon…

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Walter Forde

 

Speaking of silents, you can see L & H co-stars Charley Chase and Mae Busch in the early Keystone comedy SETTLED AT THE SEASIDE. It’s on at 15.00 on Tuesday 10th April.  Obscure British silent comedian Walter Forde even makes an appearance! His 1922 short WALTER WANTS WORK shows on Friday 13 April at 7.50. Later a notable director of comedy and thrillers, three more of his films are airing: GASBAGS with The Crazy Gang on Thurs 12th April at 8.00, the Jimmy Durante vehicle LAND WITHOUT MUSIC on Thu 26 Apr 18 6:00, and at the beginning of May, ROME EXPRESS: Fri 04 May at 14:30.

There’s also the tail end of TPTV’s Will Hay Season, with

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‘BOYS WILL BE BOYS’ (1935). An early effort, it’s just a notch below his best and he hasn’t found stooges Moore Marriott and Graham Moffatt yet, but there are some great examples of his bumbling schoolteacher routine. You also get the amusing Claude Dampier in a supporting role. ‘BOYS WILL BE BOYS’ shows on Thursday 5th April at 10:40, and is repeated at 12pm on Sunday 8th.

 

The films of another music hall/variety legend also get an airing. The ramshackle works of Frank Randle are a whole lot less polished than the Will Hay films, and can be difficult to sit through in their entirety. Randle was an utterly fascinating comic though, a manic force of nature, and his films certainly have their moments. Often the anarchic Randle was shown in an army setting, a perfect mismatch for his contrarian persona. SOMEWHERE IN CAMP is one example, showing in the small hours of 27 April at 2.45am.  WHEN YOU COME HOME is Randle’s most polished film, a curious piece which makes him much more of an underdog. It’s on at 9.30 on Tuesday 24th April.

A later star comic, Norman Wisdom also gets a look-in with THE BULLDOG BREED at 21.00 on Weds 4th April, and UP IN THE WORLD

Also from the 1950s, there are several other British comedies, amongst them:

Wed 11 Apr 18 6:00 The Naked Truth (1957), a Terry-Thomas vehicle.

Sat 14 Apr 18 6:00 Chance of a Lifetime (1950).  Basil Radford, Bernard Miles, Kenneth More, Patrick Troughton & Hattie Jacques in the tale about the staff of an engineering firm who take over after going on strike.

Tue 17 Apr 18 14:00 Keep It Clean – Ronald Shiner comedy about a dry cleaning business.

Thu 19 Apr 18 6:00 Innocents In Paris . A great cast of comic actors, including Alastair Sim & Margaret Rutherford.

Mon 23 Apr 18 9:45 The Madame Gambles (1951). Comedy. The owner of a dress shop gambles the shop away to her bookie who inherits, not only the shop, but the manager.  Starring Richard Hearne (Mr Pastry) and Petula Clark.
Mon 23 Apr 18 11:20 The Galloping Major 1951. Director: Henry Cornelius. Stars Basil Radford, Sidney James, Jimmy Hanley & Janette Scott. A very Ealing comedy feel to this tale of a racehorse.

Sun 29Apr 18 13:50 Three Men In A Boat 1956. Laurence Harvey, Jimmy Edwards & David  Tomlinson star in this adaptation of Jerome K Jerome’s novel.

Lots more goodies, too. The full schedule is available at talkingpicturestv.co.uk/schedule . Thankyou TPTV for continuing to show such a diverse range of films!

 

 

A note from ‘Nipper’

Here’s something I just picked up on eBay for the princely sum of £1.75… An original autographed postcard from Lupino Lane’s career as a boy comedian. In those days he was billed as Master ‘Nipper’ Lupino Lane. The nickname came from the expression ‘little nipper’, but Lane grew to dislike it as a ‘nipper’ was also slang for a pickpocket. He preferred to be known as ‘Nip’, an appellation which would stick with him for the rest of his life.

The eBay listing dates it as 1910 but I’m fairly certain it’s from before then; Lane looks much younger than 18 in the photo, so I’d date it from the first half of the 1900s. There’s a note on the back soliciting ticket sales. I wonder if it was successful..

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Keaton in Conversation

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It’s always a pleasure to hear Buster Keaton speak. That deep and rasping voice so full of life and stories. Here he has a genuine audience in interviewer Fletcher Markle, who seems fascinated by him, and has at least read his autobiography. The interview takes place at Buster’s ‘ranch’ home, and there are some nice shots of him and Eleanor at home in the garden.

Some of Keaton’s answers ramble away from the question a bit, but they are always entertaining, and he seems engaged in the conversation. There are some chunks missing here and there, so occasionally the subject of conversation changes abruptly. Overall, this is a fascinating document though. What wouldn’t you give to be a fly on the wall…?

Fletcher Markle interview

 

(Whispering) Whoopee! Charley Chase talkies on DVD

Charley Chase: At Hal Roach: The Talkies Volume One 1930-31Charley Chase has gone from being an under-represented figure  on home video releases to having much of his classic work out there in superior quality. Thanks to DVD releases from Kino, AllDay Entertainment and Milestone films, a majority of his existing silent work can now be widely seen. In recent years, even his late sound shorts for Columbia have even been pulled from the vaults and released by Sony.

All this is extremely heartening, but the holy grail has always been his Hal Roach sound shorts. Picking up from where he left off in silent days, Chase kept on churning out little gems at Roach until 1936. The distinctive charm of the Roach films, with their stock company and background music, along with Chase’s excellent performances and some great gags, made these a wonderful bunch of films. More’s the pity that they’ve been so hard to see! There was a period when the films  were aired semi-regularly on TCM in the USA, and it has been possible to cobble them together through a ragbag assortment of bootlegs from off-air recordings, VHS transfers and  often ropey 16mm prints, but a legitimate and comprehensive release, in nice quality, has remained elusive.

 No longer. Step forward expert comedy historian Richard M Roberts and The Sprocket Vault, who have achieved what no-one else has been able to in bringing some of Chase’s sound shorts to DVD (it’s the first in a planned series of volumes, which will hopefully work through all the other Chases). Simply by existing, this set would be automatically brilliant; that it presents the films in the best quality possible, with great extras and authoritative commentaries, makes it an absolute  triumph.

Chase’s earliest talkies are currently unavailable, so this set picks up with THE REAL McCOY, his first release of 1930, and goes through to his last release of 1931. Within these parameters, you get some of his all time best, including WHISPERING WHOOPEE, LOOSER THAN LOOSE, THE HASTY MARRIAGE and, of course, THE PIP FROM PITTSBURG. Disc 1 covers 1930, and disc 2 1931. The chronological nature means that you get to see how Charley developed his approach to comedy during the early sound era.  This was a transitional period for Chase, and while sound gave him no cause for alarm, it did give him pause for thought, and to try some new approaches and variations in character. As well as films in the vein of his silent farces like LOOSER THAN LOOSE and DOLLAR DIZZY , several  of the 1930 films are particularly offbeat and experimental in nature. FIFTY MILLION HUSBANDS is a really fun little short full of quirky bits of business and GIRL SHOCK is a particularly unusual comedy, with Charley bordering on Harpo Marx-style mania every time a girl touches him. This one was new to me, and while it’s not one of Chase’s all-time best, I find it a fascinating film. Present also are his experiments at making mini musicals, HIGH Cs and its wonderful companion piece, ROUGH SEAS. Not all the experiments are entirely successful, but that said, practically everything Chase did is diverting and most watchable, especially for L & H buffs, who can enjoy seeing familiar Roach faces like James Finlayson and Charlie Hall in other roles.

See the source imageOf course, the most famous supporting player to feature opposite Charley is the pip herself, Thelma Todd. Their partnership resulted in some absolutely charming comedies, of which THE PIP FROM PITTSBURG endures the most. This simple tale of Charley’s attempts to turn off a blind date, then trying to undo his work when it turns out to be Thelma, is elegantly told and full of great sight gags. As a fascinating extra, the Spanish phonetic version, LA SENORITA DE CHICAGO, is included. While it loses Thelma Todd, it gains an extra reel, including a song from Charley and some bridging scenes that actually make it flow much better than the English original  (for more details on  THE PIP FROM PITTSBURG and Chase & Todd’s other films together, take a look here)

While PIP is most definitely a highlight, some of the less vaunted shorts are just as delightful.  Personal favourites:

See the source imageLOOSER THAN LOOSE, a charming romantic situation comedy, where much of the humour is down entirely to the wonderful performances of the cast;

HASTY MARRIAGE, full of great sight gags and slapstick in a tale of streetcar romance;

ONE OF THE SMITHS, a hillbilly comedy with some terrific mechanical gags, and a much funnier update of L& H’s upper berth sequence, as Charley tries to share his tiny berth with a large tuba!

THE PANIC IS ON, riffing on black humour gags spoofing the depression. There’s an added bonus of a nice little cameo from Laughing Gravy.

Richard Roberts provides detailed and entertaining commentaries for all the film. It’s clear that this is a labour of love, and we owe a huge vote of thanks for the effort in creating the set. As he has said, it is hoped that other volumes in this series will follow; that just depends on how well this first volume sells. So what are you waiting for? Buy, buy, buy!  I’m certain you won’t regret it. It’s hard not to like Charley Chase, and this set is a must-have if you have even the slightest interest in his work, or that of Laurel & Hardy and the Hal Roach studios. While the Chase talkies are generally looser than his impeccably constructed silents, there’s a heckuva lot of talent in these films, and a heckuva lot of fun, too. And there’s plenty more where that came from: Many of the films that the prolific Chase made in 1932 and beyond, such as YOUNG IRONSIDES, HIS SILENT RACKET, NURSE TO YOU, MANHATTAN MONKEY BUSINESS and POKER AT EIGHT, are as good as anything he ever did, so here’s (greedily) hoping for more volumes soon!

Buy Charley Chase at Hal Roach: the Talkies, volume 1 from Amazon. Buy them for your friends too, while you’re there!