More back issues now available

I’ve now uploaded all the back issues of The Lost Laugh Magazine, including its earlier incarnations as ‘Movie Night’ to the magazine’s page on this site. Obviously a lot of the news content in the earlier issues is now out of date, and I didn’t have the experience I now have of putting them together, but I hope there’s something to enjoy in there anyway. After a hiatus due to work and family commitments, I’m back to plugging away at issue 11, which I hope won’t be too far away. I always do welcome submissions of anything, from a bit of news on a DVD release or film festival, reviews or full-blown articles. Please do get in touch via the comments section or drop me an email (you can find my gmail address inside the magazine) if you’d like to add something – I always love hearing from you!

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More Laurel & Hardy Revelations

This is the second in a series of posts  about Kennington Bioscope’s Silent Laughter Weekend, where a host of rare and obscure silent comedies were shown.

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I keep saying it, but it’s a damn good time to be a silent film fan. We’ve seen so many rediscoveries of classic comedy footage lately, some that we didn’t even know existed in the first place! For Laurel & Hardy fans, of course the big news has been the rediscovery of the complete pie fight from ‘THE BATTLE OF THE CENTURY’, but there have been other discoveries too. Last year, we saw a new, much improved version of their early short ‘DUCK SOUP’; now comes a similar upgrade for ‘THE SECOND HUNDRED YEARS’, as well as two previously lost solo films.

At Silent Laughter Weekend, these were introduced by L & H experts Glenn Mitchell and David Wyatt, who provided some context for the rediscoveries. When Robert Youngson was compiling his silent comedy compilation films like ‘THE GOLDEN AGE OF COMEDY and ‘WHEN COMEDY WAS KING’ in the late 50s, he was the first person to access many of the silent comedy films for years. He was able to access the films before they decomposed, and the excerpts he chose are in many cases the only surviving material of the films now. However, as well as taking the footage he needed, it turns out that he had a habit of sneakily making copies of whole films that he particularly liked. He kept quiet about this, presumably so he didn’t get into trouble, and the prints went undetected. Meanwhile, by the time companies like Blackhawk got around to issuing commercial prints of the films, many of the masters had gone forever. Youngson’s orphan prints, which have only just come to light, preserved these in the nick of time. This is how the ‘BATTLE’ footage came to be, and is also the provenance of ‘new’ prints of ‘THE SECOND HUNDRED YEARS’ and ‘PUTTING PANTS ON PHILIP’, found by Jon Mirsalis, while examining other films in the Gordon Berkow (ex-Youngson) collection.

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In contrast to the large chunks of ‘new’ footage in ’BATTLE…’, the new discoveries in ‘THE SECOND HUNDRED YEARS’ are less revelatory. They are, however, still worth noting. Essentially, there are a few scenes which go on a bit longer, presumably because advanced decomposition later led to these segments being cut. While these can be seen as fairly minor differences, they do restore the full film to us as the filmmakers intended it to be seen, for the first time since the late 1920s. Here are the key differences I spotted while watching it through:

1) Opening scene: The UK Universal DVD set introduces Stan to us as ‘Little Goofy’, but not Babe. This version offers a tiny bit of extra footage of the pair at the outset, as well as an intro for Ollie: “Big Goofy— convicted on purely circumstantial evidence—- they caught him with both hands in the cash register”. I believe this was included in the US ‘Lost films’ version, but certainly for UK fans this is new.

2) The flooded office: We get a couple of seconds of extra footage, showing Frank Brownlee stepping into the office and falling in the water that has risen through Stan and Ollie’s tunnel.

3) The paint scene: this is the most interesting new bit of footage, as it’s a completely new, albeit short, scene of L & H. After Stan has painted Dorothy Coburn’s behind, the pair run in and out of some parked cars , and the scene fades out, ending the sequence. The Youngson version adds a tag: we fade up on the title “Four hours later—- “ and see the cop still in pursuit of the boys in the dark! Stan drops his paint can, and the cop ends up tripping over and landing in it. This is where the scene was supposed to end.

4) Finally, there’s a little extra footage of the French prison governors as they are introduced, following the scene above.

While studio publicity referred to this as the first film starring Roach’s new team, and many historians accept it as such , it never seemed quite so clear cut to the studio just what the team would be billed as. Publicity refers to “Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy”, “Oliver Hardy and Stan Laurel”, and even “the new comedy trio, Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy and James Finlayson”! How did the original titles decide it? Revealed for the first time here, they fudge the issue by not giving team billing at all! The film is titled as ‘Hal Roach presents ‘THE SECOND 100 YEARS’’, with the cast following on the next title, like this:

With

Stan Laurel

  Oliver Hardy

    James Finlayson

      Stanley J Sandford

Perhaps the lack of a joint star billing above the title explains the reason why neither Stan nor Babe considered ‘THE SECOND 100 YEAR’ to be their ‘official’ first film, both instead giving this claim to ’PUTTING PANTS ON PHILIP’. As L & H fans know, ’PHILIP’ is actually far less like an official L & H film than this one; what it does have, however, is the billing ’Stan Laurel & Oliver Hardy in…’ before the title. Perhaps ‘PHILIP’ represents the moment when the matter of billing crystallised, a small but significant moment in their history. Speaking of ‘PUTTING PANTS ON PHILIP’, the new version from Youngson’s collection doesn’t contain any new footage, but does offer an upgrade in image quality. Hopefully both prints will be restored and available soon.

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SOLO DISCOVERIES

We were also treated to the UK premieres of two L & H solo films. Both come from Italy’s Cineteca Nazionale, and accordingly have Italian titles. Translation voiceovers were ably provided for us on the day by Susan Cygan.

I wrote about the rediscovery of Stan Laurel’s solo film ‘MONSIEUR DON’T CARE’ a while ago, and particularly one two minute scene that made it to YouTube. To recap briefly, this was a spoof of Rudolph Valentino’s ‘MONSIEUR BEAUCAIRE’, and the only one of Stan’s 12 films for Joe Rock not to be around in some form. However, only 7 minutes of fragments have been recovered. On viewing the full extract, it turns out that the surviving footage is not one or two scenes, but a quick tour through the whole film. We open with Stan, as Rhubarb Vaselino, “practising his favourite hobby”: doing his make up. This is a parallel scene to one in Stan’s other Valentino spoof ‘MUD AND SAND’, both mocking Valentino’s legendary vanity. Here, Stan, applies beauty spots and goes about his ritual with comically oversized accessories.

monsieur_dont_care__still1_Next, we have a brief dinner table scene where Stan enjoys some bathtub gin, and a card table scene, where Stan is playing against a count, and accuses him of cheating. This leads to him having to flee, disguising himself as a barber, a per the Valentino original. There are the brief bones of a comic barber sketch, before we cut into the flirtation scene I discussed at greater length in the last issue: Stan is attempting to escort the lady across a puddle in the street to an anachronistic yellow taxi cab. He lays down his coat, Walter Raleigh style, on top of the puddle. Stepping on it, Stan and escort disappear beneath the water; yup, it’s an early example of the famous L & H bottomless mudhole™! Here’s that scene, courtesy of the Cineteca’s YouTube account:

Following this scene, a title informs us that “ a new lady makes her entrance into society”: cue a great scene of a vampy Stan swaggering along that holds lots of promise. Alas, this is where the footage ends, so we can only wonder what happened next!

‘MONSIEUR DON’T CARE’ looks like it was great fun, up there with the best of the Laurel parodies. Frustratingly, the surviving footage always cuts to another scene before any gags have the chance to build, but there are some very funny moments peppered throughout.

Finally, the Universe’s laws of equilibrium have been preserved, as , to accompany the new Laurel solo discovery, there’s a new Hardy solo film too! Hooray! ‘MAIDS & MUSLIN’ is more complete than ‘MONSIEUR DON’T CARE’; it is ,however, both much less funny and rather less interesting. The star is Jimmy Aubrey, a Karno colleague of Laurel and Chaplin, who made a string of alliteratively titled films (SQUEAKS & SQUAWKS, DAMES & DENTISTS, etc)  like this one for Vitagraph in the late teens and early 20s. While I can usually find something to enjoy in practically any comedian, I have to admit Aubrey leaves me cold in these films. He later showed, in character parts, (eg L & H’s ‘THAT’S MY WIFE’) that he could be very funny, but gets little chance to show any natural gag or pantomime ability in his own films, or at least the ones I’ve seen so far.

movpicwor471movi_0013Take this film, for example. It’s mainly crude knockabout set in a department store, based rather obviously on Chaplin’s ‘THE FLOORWALKER’, right down to a central staircase prop. Here, it’s a precursor of the collapsing staircase Keaton used in 1921’s ‘THE HAUNTED HOUSE’. Did Buster get the idea from here? Whatever, it’s a perfect example of why Keaton was head and shoulders above performers like Aubrey; in ‘MAIDS & MUSLIN’, there’s no reason for the prop to be there, and the only gags that happen are people falling down it. Keaton, on the other hand, furnishes a reason for the staircase, and adds in a host of different variations on its use, that almost make it a character in itself.

The best scene in ‘MAIDS & MUSLIN’ is actually outside the department store, as Babe chases Jimmy. Jimmy hides amongst some dummies and Babe searches for him, slowly becoming more and more suspicious. It’s a fun little moment of quiet between the slapstick madness, and significant that Aubrey is funniest when doing pretty much nothing, and leaving the reacting to Babe. The (unintentionally) most amusing moment of all though, is surely when the heroine writes a note describing Aubrey as “cuddly and charming”! What had she been drinking? I can’t think of any two less suitable adjectives!

Hardy almost certainly wouldn’t have used this description, as Aubrey had him fired from the series shortly after for upstaging him. It’s easy to see why, based on the evidence of ‘MAIDS & MUSLIN’. Even behind his huge prop moustache and eyebrows, the touches of humour Babe added to his traditional ‘heavy’ roles really shine through in a film with few genuinely amusing gags, and show how sophisticated his acting style was compared to most of the other performers in the film. Speaking of other performers, there’ s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-him scene of Monty Banks, and director Dick Smith (Alice Howell’s husband) also has a small role. It might not be a classic, but ‘MAIDS & MUSLIN’ is an interesting film to see, and helps paint a fuller picture of Hardy’s solo career.

These two films have been rescued and restored in 4k by the Cineteca Nazionale. Many thanks to them, both for their efforts in doing so, and for allowing the films to be shown as part of Silent Laughter Weekend.

Silent Laughter: Banjo Eyes & The It Girl

Take a couple of dozen silent comedians, rare and rediscovered film, brilliant accompanying musicians, special guests, some insane acrobatics, bomb duels, a murdered rooster, a song and dance craze and one very drunk pantomime horse, and what do you get?

The London Silent Laughter Weekend, of course! Hosted by the wonderful folk at The Kennington Bioscope, magnificently curated by silent comedy expert David Wyatt and upgraded from last year’s inaugural one day event, the festival consisted of 12 shows turning the spotlight on some unfairly neglected but often brilliant performers (Oh, and Jimmy Aubrey…). Over the next few blog posts, I’ll be revisiting some of the films we saw, including stars such as Syd Chaplin, Lupino Lane, Dorothy Devore, Walter Forde, Harry Langdon, Max Linder and Laura La Plante

Over the course of the weekend, we had a peek into several different areas of silent comedy not often seen. For instance, it’s easy to forget that, as well as the very visual, film-trained Hollywood performers,several Broadway stars made silent films. Will Rogers, Leon Errol, Eddie Cantor, WC Fields all came from the Ziegfeld Follies and all, improbably enough, transferred their largely verbal acts to silent films.sometimes, they transferred stage hits directly (in fact, even The Marx Brothers very nearly made a silent film version of THE COCOANUTS). While these stars all had much bigger success in films once sound came in, several of their siLents hold up very nicely indeed. Eddie Cantor’s KID BOOTS(1926) , kicking off the show, was a nice example. He had been playing in the hit show for three years when he made this film version. To atone for anything that was lost in translation from stage to screen, Paramount added in Clara Bow, just on the threshold of ‘It girl’ mega stardom, and a host of visual comedy sequences.

kid-boots-ad

Ol’ Banjo Eyes is Kid Boots, a tailor’s assistant. He is fired but can keep his job if he sells burly Malcolm Waite a suit. He makes a mess of it, of course, and makes a hasty exit before bumping into Clara, who is Waite’s girlfriend. Gazing into her eyes, he offers to sew her skirt, but distractedly sews his own suspender into it at the same time; this leads to a great sequence where he is pulled along the road after Clara. Bumping into Waite again, Kid Boots hides in a hotel, and finds himself becoming a key witness in Lawrence Gray’s divorce case. Gray has come into a fortune, which is enough to persuade his conniving ex wife (Natalie Kingston) that maybe she doesn’t want a divorce after all… Gray hides out at a golf resort with Kid Boots to escape the ex and her lawyer; who should be staying there but Clara and Malcolm? Things gather pace now as Cantor tries to woo Bow, while avoiding Malcolm, and Gray tries to avoid his ex and her lawyer, who are trying to frame him in a compromising situation to nullify the divorce.

There are some great sequences to replace the dialogue comedy of the original show. Some are slightly adapted versions of familiar silent comedy material—a brutalkid-boots physio routine borrowed from Chaplin’s ‘THE CURE’, some high and dizzy thrills and a race to the courthouse that owe a debt to Lloyd’s ‘GIRL SHY’, and others more original. The highlight is a sequence where Kid Boots tries to make Clara jealous; his date has stood him up, but that won’t stop him! With the aid of a carefully placed screen door, he acts out a date with himself, baring his left arm and adding powder and a bracelet to simulate an imaginary girlfriend’s arm. Milking it for all it’s worth, he manages, in a pantomimic tour de force, to make it appear as though his ‘girlfriend’ can’t keep her hands off him. One of the funniest sequences we saw all weekend, this scene shows that Cantor, despite his predominantly verbal style, could master visual comedy as well as anyone.

Mention must also be made of Clara Bow’s great performance. She simply pops off the screen with life and vitality in every scene, and adeptly handles comic timing. It’s plain to see that super stardom was about to happen to her, and indeed it did. By the time KID BOOTS was released, the NYPD had to hold back crowds at the film’s premier. All in all, KID BOOTS is a wonderful little film, and appeared even more so in a beautiful new restoration by Paul Gierucki.

.Take a look at the whole film here: (not as nice a looking print, but certainly decent enough)

 

 

 

 

 

Next up: some Laurel & Hardy rediscoveries!

Pierre Etaix 1928 – 2016

pierre etaix 2Sad, sad news.  Pierre Etaix, though hardly as well-known as Jacques Tati, was a masterful pantomimist, comedy constructionist and perhaps the last genuine heir to the silent clowns. It was a thrill to see him in person at Bristol’s Slapstick Festival a few years ago. So many of the performers I love passed on years before I could ever hope to catch a glimpse of them in the flesh, so to see M. Etaix in real life was an absolute treat.

After the showing, I wrote an article about him, which I revisited in a blog post earlier this year.

The Guardian has published a well-composed obituary here.

And here’s how Pierre Etaix needs to be remembered. His best short film, ‘HEUREUX ANNIVERSAIRE’ (‘HAPPY ANNIVERSARY’) from 1962:

 

 

Rarities on the Big Screen: October & November

Autumn’s well and truly here in the UK, and as the dark nights creep into the daytime, it’s good to know there are lots of upcoming silent comedy screenings coming up as light relief, including some very rarely seen films.

The excellent Silent Film Calendar website is a great go-to for keeping updated on these, but here are a few that stand out:

SILENT LAUGHTER WEEKEND

silent laughter logo

I’ve plugged the London Silent Laughter Weekend a couple of times before, but it’s now less than two weeks away (October 22nd-23rd)  so if you haven’t booked tickets yet, now is definitely the time to do so! Amongst the programme are Harold Lloyd’s classic ‘WHY WORRY’ as well as newly discovered Laurel & Hardy footage (a ‘new’version of THE SECOND HUNDRED YEARS, plus newly rediscovered solo films from Stan and Babe) and many classic forgotten comedies including Harry Langdon in ‘TRAMP, TRAMP, TRAMP’, Laura La Plante in ‘HOME JAMES’, Syd Chaplin in ‘THE BETTER OLE’, Dorothy Devore in ‘HOLD YOUR BREATH’ and Lupino Lane in ‘THE LAMBETH WALK’, plus some of his classic silent shorts. For the die-hards, there’s plenty of rarely seen stuff, and if you’re just tipping your toe in past Chaplin, Keaton or Laurel & hardy, this is a great place to start! With live accompaniment and introductions from historians including Kevin Brownlow and David Robinson, it’s a steal at just £16 for a day ticket or £28 for the whole weekend!

I’ll be posting a couple of blog entries about some of the films in the next couple of weeks, but in the meantime there’s more information here and here

 

THE BATTLE OF THE CENTURY & MORE AT LEEDS FILM FESTIVAL

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As if that wasn’t enough rare Laurel & Hardy for you, there’s another chance to see the newly rediscovered ‘BATTLE OF THE CENTURY’, featuring the complete, uncut version of Stan and Ollie’s epic pie fight, “as nature intended”! There’s still no sign of a DVD release for this version, so it’s worth catching if, like me, you had to miss the screenings last year. ‘BATTLE’ is showing as a double bill with Harold Lloyd’s ‘SPEEDY’ (my favourite Lloyd film)

sppedy adJust before this screening is another double bill: the wonderful ‘EXIT SMILING’ (1926) and Keaton’s ‘MY WIFE’S RELATIONS’. ‘EXIT SMILING’ stars Beatrice Lillie in one of her regrettably few films. In this tale of a travelling theatre troupe, Lillie shows that she is equally adept at both wonderful visual comedy and touching moments of Chaplinesque pathos. That she didn’t make more films is a great loss. The version of ‘MY WIFE’S RELATIONS’ being shown is Lobster Films’ new restoration, featuring a completely different end scene!exit

Both shows are at the wonderful City Varieties Theatre in Leeds on Monday 7th November, ‘EXIT SMILING’ at 17.45, and ‘SPEEDY’ at 20.15. Combined tickets are available for just £13, or £10 concession. (Elsewhere as part of the festival, not a comedy but a wonderful film, is the new restoration of Abel Gance’s ‘NAPOLEON’)

 

CAMBRIDGE FILM FESTIVAL1333255352

Cambridge Film Festival offers some morew goodies: A double bill of Keaton’s magnificent ‘THE CAMERAMAN’ with ‘THE HIGH SIGN’ on 22nd October, and a rare chance to see a René Clair comedy, LES DEUX TIMIDES (TWO TIMID SOULS), on 24th October.

Good times indeed for silent comedy film fans, at least in the UK!

 

 

Les Aventures de Monsieur Keaton

Who says Buster Keaton never made a decent sound feature? His 1934 French film, ‘LE ROI DES CHAMPS ÉLYSÉES’ is an obscure and often overlooked gem. le-roi-1

After falling from the heights of making prestigious features at MGM to taking whatever low-budget work he could get in the mid 30s, not to mention going through a rough patch in his personal life, it’s perhaps not surprising that Buster had a fairly low opinion of the work he was doing at this point. For all that, his first films after leaving in MGM, a series of two-reelers for Educational Pictures, have some fine moments amongst them. Clearly, this was a great demotion for him though,  and he jumped at the chance to regain his slipping stardom when the offer came for him to appear in a feature length film. The only catch was that he had to go to France to do so; Buster was still revered in Europe at a time when America had put him on the scrap heap. Happily, this meant he was pretty much guaranteed a sympathetic ear to his ideas.

So, in the early summer of 1934, with two Educational shorts under his belt (‘THE GOLD GHOST’ & ‘ALLEZ OOP’) Buster and his then-wife, Mae, left for France. Travel expenses weren’t included in the contract, so they travelled by freighter to save money.

As might be inferred from this, the budget of the film was not bottomless; while certainly much more generous than the Educational films, there were financial troubles from the start. The production company, Margot films, became unable to complete the production due to financial difficulties, and proceedings were picked up by producer Seymour Nebenzal. Nebenzal ran Nero Film, a Berlin-based company whose top successes had been director Fritz Lang’s ‘DR MABUSE’ series. As the Nazis’ stranglehold began to tighten on Germany, Nebenzal, Lang and the rest of the company had relocated to Paris.

The change in production was probably a good thing; while the budget was still relatively small, Nebenzal was an experienced man and used to juggling costs to sensitively fit the budget to the film ; The shooting schedule was a fairly hasty 12 weeks, and the film isn’t as elaborate as the best of the Keaton silents, but in other areas there was no skimping; there’s a full orchestral score, some lavish sets and plenty of location shooting.

 

The plot of the film is strong and fairly elaborate. Buster Garnier works as a publicist for an ailing company, but dreams of becoming a great actor. His job is to hand out ‘bank note’ flyers while pretending to be a millionaire; meanwhile, the company has just received 5,000 francs in cash to solve its financial worries;. Of course, there’s a mix-up, and Buster ends up giving out the real banknotes to all of Paris, including a pretty young waitress (Paulette Dubost) who he falls in love with. Fired from his job, he contemplates suicide, but his mother (Madeleine Guitty) gets him a job in a theatre production, “Le Roi des Champs Elysees. It’s been fairly simple thus far, but now things start to get a bit more involved. Buster’s part in the play is an escaped convict; the same night, an American gangster, Jim Le Balafre (also played by Keaton), escapes and his gang pick up the wrong Buster and take him back to their hideout! After a variety of mix-ups, there’s a wild chase back to the theatre, where Buster arrives back on stage, captures the crooks, makes the play a roaring success, and gets the girl!

 

le-roi-4

Buster on location in Paris; the Café du Trocadero is still in business today!

The film opens with scenes of Buster riding in the back of a car down the Champs-Elysees, throwing away bundles of his fake money. As Buster rides past famous landmarks like the Arc De Triomphe and L’Opera, it’s almost as if the scenes were filmed just to say “Look! We’ve really got Buster Keaton here! In Paris! Wow!”. Nevertheless, the wonderfully bright and sunny atmosphere stops the sequence becoming gimmicky and captures the feel of silent comedy nicely.

 

 

In fact, ‘LE ROI…’ is closer to the spirit of a silent comedy than perhaps any other of his sound films (far more subtly so than his later pastiches). There are lots of throwaway pantomime bits, and many of the sight gags, especially during the early scenes, are very subtle and witty. When handing out the genuine money, Buster wanders through a wedding party. One minute the groom is declaring his undying love to his homely bride; when Buster hands him the money, he runs away down the street shouting “SAVED! SAVED!”

 

There is barely any dialogue at all until at least 20 minutes in; Keaton’s lines were purposely reduced to bypass his need to speak French. The film has recently been subtitled, but is so primarily visual that it makes perfect sense even if you don’t speak the lingo. Of course, this fits Keaton’s own sound dictum of only using talk when necessary, and Buster is the calm at the eye of the hurricane, remaining passive as he causes havoc around him. He’s surrounded by some rather stereotypically verbose European actors, but none of them mow him down like Jimmy Durante had, and in fact it makes a rather good contrast to his stoic demeanour.

His first meeting with Paulette Dubost is entirely wordless, and yet beautifully expressive, as he becomes totally captivated with her and just looks deeply into her eyes. As he eventually leaves, he keeps popping back round the street corner to have one last look at her. It’s a bit reminiscent of Harold Lloyd’s meeting with Jobyna Ralston in ‘THE KID BROTHER’, but only Keaton could create such a convincing expression of lovelorn longing with such minimal action.

When he does speak, he’s dubbed in a rather slimy and unappealing voice. Why this was deemed necessary is puzzling; while not a great linguist, Keaton could at least get by in French, and had spoken it in phonetic versions of his MGM films. Furthermore, he obviously did speak the lines in French before he was dubbed over; his lip movements match, and in some scenes, a few utterances like “Oui” and “Moi?” remain in Keaton’s own husky voice. At the very least, they could have let him use his own voice for the American gangster character, for which his accent would have been perfectly acceptable.

No matter, most of Keaton’s performance is pantomime anyway. It should also be mentioned how well he plays his dual role; his deadpan demeanour works surprisingly effectively as a villainous trait, and he imbues each character with different traits, never leaving you in any doubt which Buster you’re watching.

le-roi-5

Two Busters for the price of one!

 

 

Another strong suit of the film is its wonderful music score; obviously expense was not spared on this. The result is perfect, jaunty in the comedy sections, beautifully wistful in all the romantic spots, rousing in the chase sequences, and often very carefully synchronised to the action onscreen. There’s even an overture before the film begins, and exit music! Best of all, the clunky wordless segments that characterised some of the Educational films are filled, giving a real rhythm to the film.

Many of the gag sequences return to familiar themes in ‘LE ROI…’: Buster’s unsuccessful attempts at suicide recall ‘HARD LUCK’, the gangster’s tricked up hideout ‘THE HIGH SIGN’ and his wrecking of a stage show is familiar from both ‘SPITE MARRIAGE’ and ‘SPEAK EASILY’.

Interestingly, it’s not just Buster’s own past that is revisited; the final chase sequence, with Buster trying to get the entire police force to chase him, is lifted from Harold Lloyd’s short ‘FROM HAND TO MOUTH’ (1920). The cheap budget necessitated use of stock footage from Fritz Lang’s ‘THE TESTAMENT OF DR MABUSE’ to fill out the sequence, but it’s used sensitively and effectively. The scene, and the onstage slapstick battle that follows it, is an exciting and effective climax to the film. It’s also not the only Lloyd gag to be seen in the film. As well as the previously mentioned similarity to ‘THE KID BROTHER’, there’s also one suicide gag lifted from ‘NEVER WEAKEN’(1921). It’s interesting to speculate whether this was Buster’s decision, or if the credited scenarist Arnold Lipp threw them in. If it was Buster’s call, then was it in homage to Harold, or due to a lack of inspiration on his own part?

Probably, like the Educational films, the short shooting time didn’t leave Buster with the luxury of all the time he needed to dream up the perfect gags. My main criticism of the film is that we do get rather too many gags that riff on the theme of Buster getting stuck on ladders, door frames, chandeliers, etc. Of course, he always performs them well, but such scenes of frustration are hardly the trademark of swift-paced silent Keaton, nor as inventive.

le-roi-6The other rather un-Keatonesque thing about the film is his smile at the film’s fadeout. Yes, you read that right; in the final scene, Buster tentatively kisses Paulette, then grabs her in his arms, purrs “Ohhh Baby!” in his dubbed French voice and breaks into a massive grin! Keaton had fought this his entire career; he told Rudi Blesh how director Chuck Reisner insisted on a smile to close ‘STEAMBOAT BILL, JR”, but how the audience hooted it off the screen at preview, and faced the same fight when making ‘THE CAMERAMAN’ at MGM. It’s puzzling that he agreed at this point; perhaps the more emotional Europeans insisted on it, substituted it for a stone-faced ending in the cutting room, or maybe Buster was just losing the will to fight.

 

The film did good business in France, and was exported across Europe, but was destined never to make it across the Atlantic. Unlike the market for Spanish-language films with the large Hispanic community in some areas of Los Angeles, there was not a large ex-pat community of French speakers in America. Long before the dawn of the Art-house cinema, Paramount, or anyone else just didn’t have a market for French language films. It wasn’t until the 1970s, when William K Everson turned up a 16mm print, that American audiences would get the chance to see Buster’s French almost-classic.

 

Most likely, this failure to reach America and and re-invigorate his stardom, was Buster’s main reason for his subsequent low opinion of the film. As you can probably tell by now, I’m really a big fan of ‘LE ROI DES CHAMPS ELYSEES’, and so, in terms of quality alone, I find his views puzzling. As with his Educational films, part of the blame probably lies with the fact that it was generally an unhappy time in his life that he later wanted to forget (of his marriage to Mae, he later said “it didn’t last very long, which is the nicest thing about it that I remember”!) .Additionally, Keaton’s purist nature must have hated both the restricted budget and, especially, the idea of using stock footage, no matter how intelligently it was done. In fact, it’s very likely that he never saw the finished film! Had he seen how well it was put together, with careful editing and an excellent score, he may have had a better opinion.

‘LE ROI DES CHAMPS ÉLYSÉES’ has always been one of the most obscure Keaton films to pick up, but it’s definitely worth the effort. For the time being, at least, it’s on YouTube, in a print apparently off Spanish TV. Even with a fraction of a budget of the MGM sound films, for me it manages to surpass them all. Take a look and enjoy this most underrated of Bk films:

 

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This article is adapted from one I wrote for issue 2 of The Lost Laugh magazine (then called ‘Movie Night’)

Hooray for Captain Spaulding (and a toast to Mrs Rittenhouse)

Today marks 126 years to the day since Julius Henry Marx (Groucho to you and me) entered the world. Here’s some prime Groucho, from ‘ANIMAL CRACKERS’:

35 years later, after the passing of Chico and Harpo, Groucho re-enacted this sketch while hosting TV’s ‘HOLLYWOOD PALACE’. While he was without his brothers, legendary foil Margaret Dumont turned up for one last appearance alongside him. Aged 82, she’s still recognisable as the same statuesque dowager who added so much to the Marxes’ shows and films. It has sometimes been said that she could pull of such parts convincingly because she was in real life bereft of humour and bemused by the brothers’ antics, but I’ve never bought this. She certainly seems to be having a good giggle at Groucho during this scene, anyway! Sadly, just a few days after filming this, she too passed away.

 

marx-book

Of course, before it was ever a film, ‘ANIMAL CRACKERS’ was a hit Broadway musical. The Marxes’ musicals and stage tours are all set to be covered in a new book. ‘FOUR OF THE THREE MUSKETEERS: THE MARX BROTHERS ON STAGE’ by Robert S Bader promises to be”the first comprehensive history of the foursome’s hardscrabble early years honing their act in front of live audiences”. It’s available October 15, with a list price of $35.00. Here’s some more information.

 

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 www.silentlaughter.org. 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!

 SATURDAY 22ND OCTOBER

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!

 

LAUREL & HARDY – AND STILL THEY COME!

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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).

THE LAMBETH WALK (1939)

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.

 

SUNDAY 23RD OCTOBER:

SILENT SURPRISES

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…

SLAPSTICK IN SKIRTS

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’S FUN FACTORY

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.

 

THE BETTER ‘OLE (1926)

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 www.kenningtonbioscope.com