The British Film

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)

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

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New issue of the Lost Laugh magazine

THE LOST LAUGH #10

It’s here, finally! 1001 things seem to have got in the way of completing it, but here we are. Inside you’ll find the final part of our look at the great Charley Chase’s films, an in-depth appreciation of master British comedian Will Hay, details of other British comics coming to DVD, a guest article about forgotten comedienne Marjorie Beebe, reports from last year’s Silent Laughter Saturday, plus all the usual news and views.

Right -click the link, and choose ‘Save target as…’ to download:

THE LOST LAUGH #10

Why not make sure you never miss an issue? Send an email to movienightmag <AT> gmail.com for details of how to subscribe to the mailing list. It’s free!

Oh, and don’t forget that back issues of ‘Movie Night’ (before we rebranded) are available to download from the magazine page.

Happy Reading!

 

The Full Monty!

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This terrific poster features Monty Banks, in a scene from ATTA BOY. Monty was, even in his day, a bit undervalued, so it’s no wonder he’s not mentioned much these days. A tubby yet dapper little Italian, he presented an appealing cross between Charley Chase’s farces and the Keaton-Lloyd model of thrill-climaxed gangbusters silent comedy. His most famous film nowadays is ‘PLAY SAFE’, or at least an extract titled ‘CHASING CHOO-CHOOS’. It features a stunt-filled train climax that ranks with anything by Keaton or Lloyd. His other starring features, among them HORSESHOES and A PERFECT GENTLEMAN, were of a similarly high calibre (these two films actually shared Keaton & Lloyd’s collaborator Clyde Bruckman as director). Here’s a clip from HORSESHOES. If you’ve seen the 1940 Buster Keaton Columbia short ‘PARDON MY BERTH MARKS’, you’ll notice that writer Bruckman lifted much of that film wholesale from here…

Despite the fact that he got to make features, and despite the evident quality of his work, Monty Banks never seems to have quite ‘broken through’ to full success. Perhaps audiences were just spoiled in the 20s by having such an outpouring of comedy films (generally two a year from Keaton & Lloyd, plus Chaplin’s sporadic efforts, not to mention Banks and all the other contenders). As a result, it was harder to stand out during a time of such riches. Despite Monty’s films being released by Pathe to replace the Harold Lloyd films they had lost to Paramount, he seems to have not been as financially successful as hoped, leaving him to head to England to escape bankruptcy proceedings in 1928.

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The Russians though, seem to have been fond of Monty, at least if their wonderful posters of him are anything to go by. Here’s another great Soviet poster, for A PERFECT GENTLEMAN. I recently watched the BFI’s copy of this film, and it’s an absolute gem of a farce comedy.

The English, too, were Monty Banks fans. Making his home there, he was welcomed by the film industry (as with Lupino Lane) as both star comic (‘ADAM’S APPLE’, ‘WEEKEND WIVES’, ‘SO YOU WON’T TALK’) and director (many films, most notably George Formby’s ‘NO LIMIT’ and ‘KEEP YOUR SEATS PLEASE!’ and several with Gracie Fields). In fact, these days he is best remembered as Mr Gracie Fields; they were married in 1940.

Certainly, his films need re-evaluating and to reach a wider audience. Based on what I’ve seen so far, they’re great fun.

 

The Little Chap with a Big Nerve: Rediscovering Stanley Lupino

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Network DVD’s groundbreaking ‘The British Film’ series continues to illuminate the murky waters of 30s British film comedy. The dominant Film History 101 myth of 30s cinema tells us that the only worthwhile British comedies were Will Hay, Gracie Fields and George Formby. Occasionally, Jack Hulbert or The Crazy Gang get a mention, but mostly everything else is brushed over. Actually, there are hundreds of other 30s British comedies out there, and some hidden gems among them, too.

A gamut of Stanley Lupino films have made their appearance out of the archives for the first time. To me, these are really the highlights of this DVD series. Lupino is a terrific performer, who also took a big hand in the writing of his scripts and musical numbers; indeed, the majority of his films are based on his own musical plays. Lupino’s persona is that of a little cockney playboy, often an aspiring songwriter; usually, he’s down on his uppers. He’s a small fellow, and a little peculiar looking, but he has a whole lot of nerve, and relies on this, as well as his energy, quick wit and acidic sense of humour to pull him through. A typical Lupino put-down, delivered with a sickly mock-earnest grin:

DOORMAN: Your face makes me tired.

LUPINO: And yours gives me insomnia!

And another:

MAN IN BRIGHT SUIT: Be careful! You nearly spoiled my suit!

LUPINO: Impossible!

Lupino was another member of the illustrious Lupino family. Here, he hams it up with a rather awkward interviewer, discussing his heritage and career:

Stanley was cousin to Lupino Lane, and sure enough, the two performers share a certain comic technique derived from their family training. If you’ve seen Lupino Lane’s films, then Stanley’s wide-eyed, darting glances and jerky, bird-like movements in the face of danger will be familiar. While Stanley was certainly limber enough, he didn’t take the acrobatic slant of Lane, directing ,most of his energies into musical numbers and farce comedy instead.

Typically his plays and films followed one, some or all out of the following formulae: quirky variations on farces (‘THE LOVE RACE’ ‘HONEYMOON FOR THREE’, YOU MADE ME LOVE YOU), moonstruck quests for a girl in a crowd (‘YOU MADE ME LOVE YOU’, ‘CHEER UP’, ‘FACING THE MUSIC’) or a similarly dogged mission to sell an invention, song or play (‘HAPPY’, ‘CHEER UP’ ). All feature some great musical numbers, including comic songs like ‘STEAK & KIDNEY PUDDING, I ADORE YOU’, and creative dance routines. These reach their zenith in ‘OVER SHE GOES’: a perfectly synchronised 3-man song-and-dance routine, ‘SIDE BY SIDE’, filmed with a continuous 360 degree camera pan.

 

the love race It was Lupino Lane who scaffolded Stanley’s entry into films, directing his first two efforts. ‘LOVE LIES’, his debut, remains elusive, but ‘THE LOVE RACE’ has been released in a sparkling print. It’s is a good early effort, obviously stage-based in it’s country house settings, but with a zip to it that transcends a typical 1931 stage adaptation. Based on his play, it features Stanley as Reggie Powley, best buddy to Jack Hobbs, even though their families are fierce rivals. He’s also engaged to Hobbs’ sister Ida. Unfortunately he’s had a baggage mix up and up turns Rita Payne with his case.(Keeping things further in the family, the girls Ida and Rita are named after Stanley’s daughters, by the way)

The contents of the bags get mixed, and Reggie’s fiancé arrives just in time to sees his pyjamas fall out of her bag. Hobbs gets flustered and passes her off as his sister. Confused yet? Well, ‘THE LOVE RACE’ takes delight in piling on complications. Adding to the confusion, Hobbs’ mother has remarried silly ass Ferdinand Fish (Wallace Lupino, here billed as Wallace Arthur—was he just one Lupino too many?). He arrives unbeknown to the mother, and makes himself at home in his new house. Lupino and Hobbs think he’s nuts, and humour him. There’s a terrific scene of Stanley repeatedly conning Wallace out of hisdrink by manipulating a swivelling table. Each time his lips find the glass empty, he mutters “Well, well, well, dear, dear dear…”, rising in incredulity each time. It’s a great example of music hall pantomime, executed by some of its finest exponents.

When the Furious father turns up, now Rita is passed off as Stanley’s wife! Throw in a drunken cabbie looking for his hat, and a gawky spinster determined to wed Lupino, and you have a very entertaining, if highly improbably, high speed farce. The speed becomes literal in a racing car climax which features an amusing cameo from Lane as a race spectator.

His later films streamline the farcical ingredients, to their advantage, but still provide original twists. ‘HONEYMOON FOR THREE’ sees him drunkenly entering the wrong flat and waking up, innocently, in a girls’ bed. The girl’s father happens to be meeting Lupino’s father on business; when the two men find Stanley and the girl together, they insist on their getting married and going on a honeymoon. Stanley agrees to go along with it, promising he will give her a divorce as soon as the honeymoon cruise is over. Her fiancé, furious at being spurned, tags along, threatening Lupino at every turn. Eventually, of course, the newlyweds really do fall in love, and the divorce never happens.

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Stanley Lupino and Thelma Todd in ‘YOU MADE ME LOVE YOU’

One of Lupino’s most unusual films was made in 1933, and it is also one of his best. ‘YOU MADE ME LOVE YOU’ is one of a series of early 30s English films by British International Pictures featuring Hollywood stars in an attempt to bring prestige to the domestic industry. As such it features lots of resources thrown at it. There’s wonderful comedienne Thelma Todd moonlighting from appearances in Hal Roach comedies, during a promotional trip taken with Roach and Charley Chase. Rather than a jarring contrast, Todd’s Hollywood glamour is a great foil to Lupino’s English musical comedy and pantomime heritage. The film is ably directed by slapstick comedian Monty Banks, who himself makes a cameo. To top it all off, the last ingredient in this cinematic hodgepodge is a screenplay by Frank Launder, based on Shakespeare’s ‘THE TAMING OF THE SHREW’! Unlike many of the films made by comedians in unfamiliar foreign studios (Atoll K, The Invader, El Moderno Barba Azul, anyone) works out just dandy, thank you very much.Such a contrived confection really should be dreadful, but there’s so much talent in here that everything comes off beautifully. The performances are pitch-perfect by all concerned, and the script zings with one-liners and comebacks. Stanley Lupino’s usual moonstruck lover, small but determined to get his way and laugh in the face of bad luck, is made for this film; having seen Thelma, he is determined to win her over, even when he finds out she’s a holy terror. He hatches a plan to “treat her mean”, with lots of comic contrivances along the way, including cheerily putting her through an awful honeymoon, before everything turns out happily. The whole film is a barely believable piece of fluff, but it is packed with such energy, humour and movement that it carries off its unlikely ingredients with aplomb.

Similar in tone, and very nearly is good is ‘FACING THE MUSIC’, which sees Lupino again in dogged pursuit, this time to the beautiful secretary to a temperamental opera singer. Once more, it’s Lupino’s energy that really carries the film through some great visual comedy and dance routines.  Films like these prove Stanley Lupino to be one of the most under-rated English film comedians, his films glossy, well produced and action packed.  He undoubtedly offers the most rewards of any comic performer yet rehabilitated by Network’s ‘The British Film’ series. See for yourself here!

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DVD review: Aldwych Farces, vols 1 & 2

I’m working through a Christmas haul of DVDs, including several from Network DVD’s superb series, ‘The British Film’.

 

Long unavailable on VHS or DVD, the appearance of The Aldwych Farces is a much overdue treat. These were the first real comic successes of 30’s British cinema, based on a long-running series of comic plays written by playwright Ben Travers, and staged at the Aldwych theatre by Tom Walls. Beginning in 1930, they transferred to the screen and continued to be filmed through to the mid-30s, becoming a much-loved series. Most of the films nucleated around three comic actors. Tom Walls usually played a devious reprobate, well-to-do but sly and planning some kind of scheme. Ideal foils were provided by monocled silly-ass Ralph Lynn (pronounced Rafe Lynn), and bald, timid, bird-like Robertson Hare, who inevitably found himself mixed up in the middle of things, wailing “Oh Calamity!” In addition, many other regulars added to the fun: French Yvonne Arnaud, old harridan Mary Brough, or the superb, dithering Claude Hulbert.

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The core of the farces: Tom Walls, Robertson Hare and Ralph Lynn.

Unlike some of the surprisingly dynamic comedies in the British Film series, the Aldwych Farces wear their heart on their sleeve as stage adaptations. Tom Walls directed the films, and has been accused of directing the actors in a stage play and then pointing the camera at them. Some of the films certainly do suffer from this, and there are some rather long scenes that need a bit more pep, closer to the stodgy, theatrical style we tend to associate with 30s films. However, this is certainly not true of all of them, and in a way this is part of their charm.  In any case, the Aldwych films mostly survive their limitations to remain pleasant and entertaining examples of a bygone form of entertainment. The scripts contain many funny lines, wordplay and situations, and the performers have honed wonderful timing through their years of association. Their stock company of intrinsically British types are masterfully played, and the ensemble comedy points the way to Ealing Studios’ later comedies.

Thematically, this is very much the frothy pre-war world familiar to readers of P G Wodehouse; a world of country houses, suspicious wives and relatives. There’s nothing controversial and lots that is stereotypical, but it’s all in good fun. Even better, the films come two to the volume (one later effort, ‘STORMY WEATHER’ was also released singly a few years ago). So far, they are a mixture of some better known and lesser efforts. Hopefully, the most celebrated efforts ‘THARK’ and ‘TONS OF MONEY’ will also come along on future DVDs.

Volume 1 features ‘A CUCKOO IN THE NEST’ and ‘ TURKEY TIME’. ‘CUCKOO..’ centres around Ralph Lynn accidentally being forced to spend the night at a country inn with an old flame (Yvonne Arnaud) after they both miss their train, hire a car together and become stuck in the rain. To satisfy the suspicious, god-fearing harridan of a landlady (Mary Brough) they pose as a married couple. Unfortunately, Lynn’s wife has witnessed them going off together and followed, in tow with her dreadful mother and alcoholic old fruit of a father (Tom Walls). Naturally, Yvonne’s husband also turns up on the scene, leading to lots of awkward moments for Ralph. Lynn carries much of the comedy scenes, sneaking in and out to avoid the landlady, struggling to bed down on the floor, retrieving  a dog in the rain, or rehearsing his excuses. However, it’s Tom Walls’ drunken old reprobate who provides the best laughs, forever searching for a drink or a pretty girl before being beckoned by his wife’s call. As a director, Walls lives up to his reputation, though. ‘A CUCKOO IN THE NEST’ moves with the viscosity of treacle. With a bit more pep, it could have been a classic, but just misses the mark despite some funny moments.

‘TURKEY TIME’ boasts much better direction, including the interesting idea of giving each character a little vignette to introduce themselves in the opening credit sequence. It takes place at Christmas, with Walls and Lynn joined by Robertson Hare in the main nucleus of characters. Walls is a pugnacious chap, whose fights land him in bother, especially with his fiancé when he defends the honour of a showgirl on the pier. Lynn is a jolly chap who tags along with Walls, and has fallen in love with the showgirl . Their antics to help her out constantly land henpecked Robertson Hare in trouble with his wife. This one is lots of fun.

Volume 2 contains two of the best farces. ‘A CUP OF KINDNESS’  benefits from the additional  presence of Claude Hulbert, who I always find irresistible. It’s a modern day Romeo and Juliet story in suburbia:  neighbours, the pompous Walls and uptight Hare constantly do battle, while Ralph Lynn and Dorothy Hyson are their star-crossed offspring. Lynn and Hulbert are both hopeless at holding down jobsm but get mixed up in some dodgy shares that threaten to throw the family into disgrace. Things get a bit slow toward the end, but there are many funny sequences, including a dotty fantasy sequence that sends the whole cast back to the Stone Age.

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Robertson Hare, Gordon Harker and Ralph Lynn in DIRTY WORK.

DIRTY WORK stands slightly apart from the other farces in that Tom Walls doesn’t appear , though he still directs. In his place is the superb comic character Gordon Harker, who brings his rough-edged posh cockney (“Oh yerrrrrrs”) to the table. Harker is the doorman at Cecil Parker’s jewellery store, where Ralph Lynn and Robertson Hare also work. Thieves are targeting the store; Lynn and Harker attempt to set a trap for them, roping the reluctant Hare in to pose as a burglar. Meanwhile, the thieves have plans of their own to frame the trio for the robbery…

This one starts slowly, with lots of talk-heavy scenes in the jewellery store, but gets going at a good clip once the plans are hatched. The comic break-in scenes are excellent and this turns into maybe the funniest of all the films on the two discs. The highlight is undoubtedly Robertson Hare’s horror at being forced to shave his moustache and try on wigs to disguise himself as the burglar!

The Aldwych Farces are undeniably dated, and sometimes just a bit too polite. But, they offer plenty of smiles and even the odd belly laugh, and point a clear way to the later character ensembles of Ealing and the Boulting Brothers. As an influential part of British comedy cinemas, they’re more than worth revisiting.