Walter Forde

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The new issue of The Lost Laugh Magazine is now available! There are exclusive articles, rare photos, reproduced articles from trade magazines and news and reviews.

Our cover star this time is British silent comedian Walter Forde; in this issue we focus on his early career and short films (including a complete filmography) , with his feature films to follow in the next issue.

Last time we looked at Monty Banks’ starring comedies. Issue 12 continues his story into the sound era, examining his handful of starring films, and his work as a director.

Other articles include:

*some of Roscoe Arbuckle’s most obscure films

*A Q & A with Ben Model, all about The Silent Comedy Watch Party

*Mabel Normand’s missing film ONE HOUR MARRIED.

*New DVDs featuring Lupino Lane, Laurel & Hardy, Charley Chase and Harry Langdon

*Screening notes on some rare films from Hal Roach and Mack Sennett studios.

Click on the link below to open the pdf of the magazine, or right click and ‘save target as’ to download the file:

THE LOST LAUGH #12

Finally, don’t forget that you can download all previous issues for free from the magazine page.

Walter’s Winning Ways

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In the U.K. in the 1920s, Walter Forde was virtually alone in dedicating himself to comedy film-making in the manner of Chaplin, Keaton and Lloyd, et al. Today he is forgotten by all but handful of film buffs, and even then is usually better remembered for his work directing sound-era comedy thrillers such as ‘THE GHOST TRAIN’ or ‘THE GAUNT STRANGER’.

However, he did some fine work in his two series of comedy shorts and four features in the silent era, and these are more than worth reviving. In recent years his features – ‘WAIT AND SEE’, ‘WOULD YOU BELIEVE IT?’, the recently discovered ‘WHAT NEXT?’ and part-talkie YOU’D BE SURPRISED have begun to be shown, but his short comedies still remain quite obscure. Many exist courtesy of cut-down editions on the obsolete 9.5mm gauge, and 16mm prints also circulate; the BFI holds most of the efforts complete. You can even see a few of the shorts (or parts of them) on YouTube.

Walter made two series of films (1921-22 and 1926-27), punctuated by a short, unsuccessful stay in Hollywood. The first group were made for ‘Zodiac Films’, and the latter ‘British Super Comedies’.
Here’s the first of his Zodiac two-reelers, WALTER FINDS A FATHER in a nice print, courtesy of Ben Model’s YouTube channel. Not startlingly original, but a lot of fun, especially the second reel.

As you can see, Forde’s early style is pretty Chaplinesque (he had originally been a Chaplin impersonator on stage). In ‘WALTER MAKES A MOVIE’, he plays a particularly Chaplinesque bum and petty thief who steals an actress’s purse and then winds up playing the villain in the movie she’s starring in. This shows a clear parallel to Charlie’s early tramp (“He was a bum with a bum’s philosophy – he would steal if he got the chance” – Buster Keaton’s description), and Walter’s body language, funny walk and all, is certainly reminiscent of Charlie. There’s also this restaurant scene that harks back to Charlie’s food filching in ‘A DOG’S LIFE’ and to the restaurant scenes in THE IMMIGRANT).

WALTER’S TRYING FROLIC (snappy titles weren’t Walter’s thing!) has him in a double role as Lord Montmorency Gadabout and his usual character. Beginning with his attempts to sell his dilapidated old car, it develops into Forde’s version of Chaplin’s ‘THE IDLE CLASS’ as he attends a costume party. Sorry about the watermark on this one, it’s the only copy I can find online.

To his credit, Forde played down the Chaplin influence as his career went on, and accordingly the films got better. They were well received in Britain, and in 1923, he was invited to made a couple of films in Hollywood. Quickly he realised that he was a small fish in a big pond and soon returned home. Things weren’t much better back in Britain; with no film offers forthcoming he spent two years playing piano in cinemas before getting a second chance to make a two-reel series.
The second batch of films are smoother and more sophisticated, with less frenetic slapstick and more space given to developed gag routines. Walter’s character is a little more sophisticated, too; it’s immediately apparent that he has shifted from Chaplin as his main influence to the lighter, “boy-next-door” style of Harold Lloyd. To this end, his costume is smartened up with shiny-buttoned blazer and ‘Oxford bag’ trousers, then in vogue. Instead of a bum or petty thief, he is now a smart young man struggling to get by in the modern world. Gone are the building sites and farmyards of the earlier films, replaced with white collar jobs in offices, insurance and tailor’s shops. The gag sequences are more carefully built.

Here’s a brief 9.5mm snippet from WALTER’S WORRIES, featuring some fun tailor shop gags.

And lastly, WALTER’S DAY OUT, my favourite of his short films, shot in the seaside town of Margate in September 1925.


In 1927, Forde was given the chance to star in feature films, and turned out four efforts that are most enjoyable, and worthy of a DVD release (come on, BFI!). In the wake of his future successes, his two reelers were largely forgotten. Viewed today, they seem undeniably crude compared to the contemporary efforts of the best Hollywood comedians, but on their own terms are an enjoyable novelty, not to mention an incredibly valuable training ground for his talent. It’s not quite fair to judge them by the same standards as the Hollywood comedians; the British film industry was simply not geared to producing quality comedy films at speed, and so the opportunity to learn ‘on the job’ was never as available. The slow advances of his career in films meant that he was never going to improve as quickly as Harold Lloyd, for instance, who took dozens of films to reach a mature version of his ‘glasses’ character. Forde made only about 15 silent shorts in twice the time, but nevertheless you can see an outline of a character coming into focus, comic technique developing. One has to admire Forde’s efforts at forging a film career, trying to develop a unique style. The films, while not comedy classics, are entertaining and fascinating for the glimpses they offer of a vanished Britain.

I’ve done quite a bit of research on Forde lately; you can read the full story of Forde’s early career and his short films in the upcoming issue ofTHE LOST LAUGH MAGAZINE, which will be free to download soon. Stay tuned!

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LOST CLOWNS: A baker’s dozen!

Fresh from a fantastic weekend in London for Kennington Bioscope’s ‘SILENT LAUGHTER SATURDAY’, the blog is now ready to launch properly. Reviews of films from the weekend to follow, but before we get to that, here’s a brief rundown of some of the greatest forgotten comics you’ll find here. Sure, we’ll be featuring Keaton, Laurel & Hardy etc, too, but these are some of the comics who need a bit more information and appreciation about them on the internet, the core purpose of this site. As time goes on, I’d like to add pages for each of these performers to the site to hopefully become a definitive reference source, but for now, here’s a brief introduction to some of my favourite lost comedians…

  1. DAN LENO

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Going right back to the music hall days, it’s impossible to conceive of many of the later British comedians without Dan Leno. His sketches and whimsy were beloved by the Karno comics, and absorbed into their acts. Just look at that bowler-hatted, vacantly grinning face and tell me you don’t see Stan Laurel. Chaplin loved Leno, too. Leno died young at the turn of the century, and has left only scraps of his act, but he left a long shadow in British comedy.

2. MAX LINDER

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Just as influential, in his own way, was Frenchman Max Linder. Stage-trained Linder made films from the mid-1900s for Pathé. These films may look primitive, with their cardboard, painted sets, but Linder’s acting is remarkably subtle and sophisticated. As a silk-hatted boulevardier, he maintains this pleasingly low-key style as he is pulled into ridiculously farcical situations, such as being carried through the streets of Paris in his bath!

Chaplin, again, was a huge fan. He became friends with Linder (below), dedicating a photo to him, “To the one and only Max, the Professor. From his disciple, Charles Chaplin.” Linder’s sophisticated, dapper style in the face of eternal embarrassment was also a huge influence on two other great silent comics, Raymond Griffith and Charley Chase.

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3. ROSCOE ARBUCKLE

circa 1920: A full-length studio portrait of the silent screen comedic actor Fatty Arbuckle (1887-1933) wearing a black hat and sticking his finger in his mouth. (Photo by Mitchell/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

It’s amazing how many of these underappreciated comedians had such an influence on the more enduring names. It was Roscoe ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle, then Mack Sennett’s biggest star, who persuaded the producer not to fire a young, temperamental Chaplin. He’s also said to have provided the original tramp costume’s oversized pants. The eternally generous Arbuckle later had an even more profound impact on the young Buster Keaton,giving him his first screen roles and teaching him the ropes of film-making. On his own account, he made some really charming and funny screen comedies, before his career was unduly and unfairly stopped by a 1921 scandal. To this day, it’s impossible to write a paragraph about him without mentioning it, so I’m just going to shout from the rooftops, “HE WAS INNOCENT!” once more.

4. MABEL NORMAND

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The first really popular screen comedienne, Mabel was also a pioneering female director. From the mid 1910s, she was directing her own films at Keystone, later moving into feature films for Goldwyn. She’s great proof that women could be both funny and attractive at the same time, which was a difficult thing to achieve in such a male-dominated industry. Mabel was a wonderfully lively performer, who deserves remembering more for her pioneering work.

5. ALICE HOWELL

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Alice Howell took a more clownish approach to her humour. Her round, eternally started kewpie doll face, topped off with a mass of frizzy red hair was instantly amusing, and totally suited the ditzy characters she played on film. However, she was still a true original, almost a forerunner of Lucille Ball. Her films are sadly scarce, but reveal a uniquely funny lady. “Everyone a Howell!” was her strapline.

6. LUPINO LANE

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To see one of Lupino Lane’s films is to suspend belief in the laws of physics; he was a phenomenal acrobat who surpasses even Keaton. Tracing his family’s history in entertainment back to 1642, he was a proud inheritor of the pantomime tradition, and could do pretty much anything: acrobatics, dancing, singing, crosstalk routines, juggling. He later added starring in, writing and directing Hollywood comedies to his resumé. These films are great little two reelers, maybe not deep in characterisation, but they make up for it in a whirlwind of gags and acrobatics. Lane’s signature stunts include rising up from the splits, somersaulting down flights of stairs, and running 360 degrees around the inside of a proscenium arch! In later years, he returned to England, where he originated the role of Bill Snibson in ‘ME AND MY GIRL’, along with the famous dance, ‘The Lambeth Walk’. He should be recognised as a national treasure in Britain, but is undeservedly forgotten.

7. CHARLEY BOWERS

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The films of Charley Bowers are as jaw-dropping as Lupino Lane’s, but for different reasons. Bowers isn’t an astounding performer, but he was an incredibly talented animator and gagman. In two series of comedies in the late 1920s, he mixed his wild, incredibly realistic stop motion animation into live action films starring himself. The results are incredible, a world where pussy willow trees sprout living cats, mice fire guns, cars hatch from eggs and the figures inside paintings come to life. Beloved by surrealists like André Breton, Bowers was just way ahead of his time, and returned to obscurity before being rediscovered in recent years.

8. HARRY LANGDON

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Langdon is usually cited as one of the “big 4” names of silent comedy, with Chaplin, Keaton and Lloyd, but he’s far, far less well remembered than those performers. Part of the reaon, I think, is that he is very much an offbeat, reactionary performer, a minimalist in reaction to the overblown chaos of Mack Sennett madness. Now that we’re less familiar with this, it’s harder to place Langdon’s curious, quiet style. He played an overgrown baby of indeterminate age, his performances marked by long silences and the tiniest flinches in facial expression. He was proclaimed as the next Chaplin in his day, but crashed and burned through a combination of factors. He’s kind of a marmite performer, an acid test for your appreciation of silent comedy. Those who ‘get’ him revere him. Among them were Chaplin, Keaton and Stan Laurel. That must count for something.

9. LLOYD HAMILTON

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You might recognise the photo above from our header image. Lloyd Hamilton (on the left) is another comedian’s comedian, a reactionary type who has a similarly ‘marmite’ appeal to Harry Langdon. Playing a curious overgrown Mama’s Boy type, he walked with a prissy waddle and treated everything with disdain. A typical Hamilton film has little story, but is simply a string of disasters to showcase his fine reactionary comedy. However, he’s hamstrung (pardon the pun) by the lack of most of his best films, and the fractured and scattered nature of what remains. But, as Mack Sennett said, “[Lloyd Hamilton] had comic motion. He’d do nothing but walk across the screen and make you laugh.”

10. CHARLEY CHASE

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I simply adore Charley Chase. Debonair, charming and a multi-talented gagman, director and story-constructionist, he had a knack for creating beautiful little farce comedies that escalate to heights of absurdity yet remain completely believable throughout. For example, ‘MIGHTY LIKE A MOOSE’, in which he and his wife have plastic surgery without telling each other, meet on the street, and then embark on an affair. It’s a totally ridiculous story, yet made believable and human by the warmth and skill of Chase and his team. Chase continued doing some great, charming work in the talkies, making short films at Hal Roach studios that need to be seen more widely.

11. WALTER FORDE

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Walter Forde was once billed as ‘Britain’s only comedian!”. That’s rather stretching it, but he was the only comedian making film comedy shorts and features in Britain for most of the silent era. Forde’s work in this area continues to be undervalued, but is slowly being re-evaluated. He played a likeable chap, “two parts Chaplin, three parts Harold Lloyd,” as one reviewer put it, and directed his films himself. A shy man, he gave up performing in 1930, and instead became a renowned director of both comedies and dramas.

12. WILL HAY

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Taking Walter Forde’s place as premier comic of British films in the sound era was Will Hay. Hay’s music hall character was an incompetent ignorant schoolmaster who was barely a step ahead of his pupils. This enabled him to follow a rich line of comedy, transferable in films to any position of seedy authority: ship’s captain, shyster lawyer, policeman, or stationmaster in his all-time classic ‘OH, MR PORTER!’. Hay’s films are acknowledged as classics, but as a performer he needs some more love. he’s another superb reactionary comedian, a master of pauses, sniffs and shady glances to sell material that looks feeble on paper. He’s also one who stands up very well today, as British bureaucracy and incompetence hasn’t gone anywhere in the 65 years since his passing…

13 CLARK & McCULLOUGH

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We close with a wonderfully vibrant act who flourished in sound comedies. Clark and McCullough were successful on Broadway before making a great little series of sound two-reel shorts for RKO in the early 1930s. They are often considered Marx Brothers rip-offs (partly due to Bobby Clark’s painted-on glasses), yet turned out a brand of humour uniquely their own, rich in movement, dialogue, pantomime and farce.

As I leave off here for now, I’m already thinking of the other comics I haven’t included here today… Raymond Griffith,  Jack Hulbert, Stanley Lupino, Snub Pollard, Thelma Todd… Rest assured, they’ll all have their place here. I hope you’ll bookmark this site and keep dropping by from time to time to share these great performers with me. Next up, some highlights from ‘SILENT LAUGHTER SATURDAY’, featuring some of the names above.