I apologize for the late notice; I only learned myself a couple hours ago. TCM (United States feed) is spending tonight showing “Leonard Maltin’s Short Film Showcase”. It’s a bunch of short films, as you’d think. Some of them I’ve seen; some are new to me. Many of them are comedies. There are a handful of travelogues, musical shorts, and dramas too.
Robert Benchley gets a couple entries, with “A Night At The Movies” right around … now, Eastern time. Three hours from now, less about ten minutes, Pacific time. Or, “How To Sleep”, sometime after 5 am Eastern and Pacific. Thelma Todd gets four entries, two of them with ZaSu Pitts. I’d recommend any Thelma Todd or ZaSu Pitts piece sight unseen. Some of the shorts, including at least one Thelma Todd one, star Charley Chase. Chase is an interesting person. In the silent era he was one of the second-tier comedians who kept edging his way up into the first tier, right up until he attempted a movie adaptation of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and made basically every choice wrong. That’s not on tonight and you’ll think better of Chase for that. There’s also, somewhere around 12:45 am, “Buzzing Around”, starring Roscoe Arbuckle, about inventing a magic rubber coating that makes things unbreakable. Other miscellaneous things include a bunch of Pete Smith specialties. Pete Smith made a lot of short films, mostly comedy documentaries, all with a reliable American Cornball tone. You’ll either kinda like it or not.
As I say, I don’t know how much of any of this I’ll watch. It is probably good for dipping into as you have ten minutes. One I am warily curious about, and that’s running sometime around 5:20 am, is titled “The Black Network”. The summary: “In this short film, the owner of a shoe polish company sponsors a radio show that showcases black performers”. So this does sound like a chance to see people whose talents were discarded. But, ooh, that mention of shoe polish does not sit well at all. Mm.
To keep up the listing of things and numbers and especially countries that’s oddly popular around here let me review what WordPress says the humor blog did here the past month. The big news is I had my most popular month, by page views, on record, 468 things looked at, which is thrilling because I’d hoped that sometime I’d write stuff that was viewed by not more than ten percent less than 500 times in a single month. There were 199 unique visitors, too, which ties for second for my all-time records without being a suspiciously neat 200. I bet WordPress deducted one just so it wouldn’t look like too round a number was being reported. Anyway, all that’s up fro February 2014’s 337 views and 170 visitors, and even the views per visitor went up from 1.98 to 2.35.
The top five articles this month produced a four-way crash for fifth place, which isn’t that always the way? But here’s the list of them:
- The Chuckletrousers Decade, a lightly biographical bit about something funny that happened on Usenet back when Usenet happened.
- I’m No Good At Music, the really not at all exaggerated story of how bad I am with doing music.
- Next, The Comics, pointing over to my mathematics blog and showing off a Beetle Bailey cartoon printed literally days after the Soviet Union had the world’s first successful intercontinental ballistic missile launch.
- Dream World Investment Tips: My Little Pony Edition, as apparently there’s a very peculiar fortune to be made out of this show.
- Warnings From The Dream World: Trans-Dimensional Travel Edition, as there are hazards in going through dystopian alternate universes and hassling with their movie cashiers.
- Five Astounding Facts About Turbo, That Movie About A Snail In The Indianapolis 500, because really isn’t every fact about this movie astounding?
- Escaping To Lansing, and the various disasters you won’t see there.
- Better Eating For 2015, and how Olive Garden figures it will provide this.
The countries sending me many readers this month were the United States (342), the United Kingdom (22), and the Canada (11). Just a single reader each came from Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Pakistan, Russia, and Switzerland. None of those were on the list for February, so again, the whole world is very gradually kind of tolerating my stuff.
Among the search terms that brought people here:
- “robert benchley’s “opera”” (I put it into three parts, Die Meister-Genossenschaft, then Il Minnestrone, and then Lucy de Lima, though the original article had them all run together)
- “any course is there to run departmental store” (there probably are but I’ve never taken one)
- “odysseus’s letter to penelope for school” (the good Robert Benchley once again turns out to be my biggest draw here)
- “dreams transdimensional” (no idea how this could have brought anyone to me; it must have been somebody’s prank)
- “the indianapolis 500 snail”, as well as “movie turbo facts”, “turbo movie fun facts”, “what is interesting in the movie turbo”, and “can a snail race in indianpolis 500”
- “charley chase” (I’ve linked to Love, Loot and Crash and to A Versatile Villain before).
- “ben turpin side of house scene” (I’m not sure it’s what they were looking for, but, Ben Turpin is credited with the first pie-in-the-face movie scene)
I’d like to put up another silent comedy for you today. From April 1915 here’s Love, Loot and Crash, starring Charley Chase as Harold, the suitor, and Josef Swickard as Peter Cushing’s Alternate Doctor Who. The short was one of Mack Sennett’s last Keystone pictures before he switched from Mutual to Triangle pictures for distribution, which is valuable information for you fans of motion picture distributors of the mid-1910s. It’s also got a lot of the essential elements of a Mack Sennett comedy: befuddled homeowners, appealing if slightly bland suitors, bumbling cops getting locked in the basement, ditch diggers having motorcycles jump over them, fruit vendors getting their wagons smashed, burglars dressing as servants, elopement, driverless cars running in loops on a pier, all that. The easily embedded YouTube version starts with a commercial, I’m afraid, but the archive.org one I can’t make easy to just show on WordPress.
A pre-fame Harold Lloyd has a small part in the picture. If you don’t look up what character he plays, you can use this as a test of the principle of Clark Kent’s disguise: his character isn’t wearing the glasses that Lloyd would become famous for.
Today I’d like to offer another silent comedy, Snub Pollard’s 1924 Sold At Auction. If my research on this is correct, Snub Pollard came to star in this Hal Roach short when Harold Lloyd took some sick days. Also interesting to me, at least, is that it was directed by Charley Chase, another of the second tier of silent movie comedians; and James Finlayson also has a role, as camper and as homeowner. The version at archive.org includes a soundtrack, with “King For A Day” opening the action.
It starts off well, I think, with a winning baby-basket-at-the-doorstep introduction to Pollard, and has some of the great bits silent comedies offer. It also uses a really striking melting-film wipe to a flashback that I’m surprised I haven’t seen used more. The camping scene’s fun, and includes a bit of stop-motion animation of the kind that I love seeing in silent comedies, and there’s a wonderful runaway piano.
I’d like to offer another silent comedy here, this one 1915’s A Versatile Villain, starring Charley Chase. You probably don’t recognize the name and that’s honestly fair enough as his heyday was 85 years ago and he wasn’t in the top tier of silent (or early talkie) comedians. Even his name sounds like an attempt at the mockbuster equivalent of Charlie Chaplin. But he still did some fine work.
A Versatile Villain is also pretty neat in being the sort of parody of Victorian melodrama that’s pretty near the only way anyone sees Victorian melodramas; it’s easy to see the conceptual heritage to, well, Dudley Do-Right, down to the shacks of crates marked DYNAMITE and all that. It’s enough to make you wonder if there were ever a time that this sort of story was being told except for the comic thrill of finding it all ridiculous. I’m inclined to believe that no, these stories have pretty much been absurd exaggeration from the start, or pretty near, that curious sort of entertainment that spoofs something which doesn’t quite really exist, or at least exists nothing like its spoofs do.
The video is available at archive.org, but since I can’t embed that, here’s a YouTube version: