Sunday, July 25, 2010

my lengthy Slapsticon 2010 review

So I’ve had about a week to recover and digest the films I saw this past weekend at Slapsticon 2010. This is one of the best film festivals that I go to each year and the combination of good flicks and people make it a destination for me each July. I amazed myself as, except for the first film on the opening day, I was able to view every other film on the schedule, but let me start on the first day.

I arrived mid-Wednesday morning for the express reason of making my first trip to the Library of Congress. For a novice researcher as myself this place was an incredible experience. I was able to print out all of the pressbooks for the late 20’s films El Brendel made at the Paramount studios, a continuity script for the 1931 feature “West of Broadway”, and a bunch of info from “Variety” magazine that I hadn’t previously seen. I probably could spend about another month just going through the microfilm, but the doors were closing and I was in need of some food and rest.

Thursday, the doors opened at the theater at 12 noon and the first movie started at 1:00. This late scheduling on the first day is a feature of Slapsticon I’ve always loved, allowing the punters to get up a bit later, enjoy a leisurely breakfast and still have plenty of time to make their way over to the Spectrum. And about the theater itself, although the temperatures outside rarely cracked below 95 degrees during the daytime, the Spectrum was always nice and cool in the theater, but the lobby could have been a bit cooler. As, I stated earlier, I missed the first film (well, maybe 90% of it), “The Great Radio Comedians”, but the next set up was 4 short films from the Weiss Brothers. We got a Snub Pollard, a Ben Turpin, one from Jimmy Aubrey, and another from my favorite of this set Poodles Hanneford. Poodles, it seems, can do almost anything that is asked of him and this short, if the writing or gags would have been better, would have been the best Weiss short of this program. All these shorts looked pretty amazing as good materials have survived on them, and they were all pretty funny.

After a dinner break we got to see some choice Abbott and Costello rarities. First up was the old PD stand-by “Africa Screams”, but unlike all the crappy dupes out there, this one originated from a stunning 35mm print. I have always had fond memories of this film and seeing it from a 35mm print, it didn’t disappoint, other than having some projector issues causing sections of the film to run slow, it was still great to see. The A&C rarities section showed a bunch of commercials for a “Jiffy Pop” type popcorn snack system who’s name escapes me right now, at least 2 versions of the “Who’s On First” routine, and a bunch of funny Lou Costello narrated home movies. After a Monty Banks short we were treated to a 1925 Richard Dix comedy, “Too Many Kisses” which I loved. The more I see of the humorous Dix flicks, the more I wonder where is his rediscovery??

The theater closed and back at the hotel began one of my most favorite aspects of Slapsticon, hanging out in the lobby of the hotel and talking about films until exhaustion drove me to bed. I think I was able to make it until at least 2:30AM every night just soaking in the stories and the knowledge of the film fans/historians in attendance.

Friday AM we were first treated to some early comedies. This is maybe my least favorite period of movies, but the films picked out were more than satisfying to one, keep me awake, and two, keep me laughing (it IS Slapsticon after all). The first shot of the goodness that we were about to see came to the crowd in the form of “Miss Stickie-Moufie-Kiss”, a 1915 Mr. and Mrs. Sydney Drew comedy. The look of horror on Sydney’s face when he comes home from the war and realizes the love he left behind was not the same young woman, but had turned into mushed-mouth-namby-pamby-pamby, was simply amazing and probably one of the best laugh-getters of the whole weekend. Other good ones in this set were shorts with Billie Ritchie, Musty Suffer (Harry Watson Jr.), John Bunny, and a personal favorite, Ham & Bud who I love more and more every time I see one of their films.

I may have been one of the few to look forward to the two animal films featured in the Kids ‘n’ Animals spot. A Snooky the Human-zee, “Ladies Pets”, and a Dippy-Doo-Dads called “The Knockout”. I love the way that these shorts work around the flimsiest plots and can appreciate how much work and patience it must have taken to put these together. And screw PETA, I can watch these, the Dogville Comedies, and Lancelot Link all day long and they never stop being funny. A rare Our Gang, “The Smile Wins”, was shown with French subtitles, but the story was pretty easy to figure out and was quite enjoyable.

The afternoon brought a bunch of Hal Roach comedies, first up being a Harold Lloyd Lonesome Luke picture that I really didn’t care for. Pretty choppy and not all that funny. But it got better with the others shown, including a really funny Paul Parrott from 1923, “Shoot Straight”. His brother, Charley Chase, was well represented all weekend and 1933’s “Fallen Arches” shown in this section was a good short to start off the Charley love. Lastly, there was a short by Billy Gilbert and Ben Blue appearing as the “Taxi Boys” in Taxi Barons”. I will go on record by saying although I like El Brendel, I see NOTHING redeeming about Ben Blue. Possibly the most unfunny and annoying comedian of all time.

After a short break we were treated to another installment of Rob Stone’s Rarities Show. This is one of my favorite features in the Slapsticon program every year I have been and this year did not disappoint either. Out of all the shorts and fragments Rob bought this year, it was pretty unanimous that the surviving 2nd reel of the Stan Laurel comedy “When Knights Were Cold” was one of the standouts of the whole weekend. The gags were top notch and the laughs just kept on coming throughout the roughly 8 minutes it was projected. The gag using the rose trellis to scale the castle wall was pretty ingenious and a gut buster.

Next up, Roscoe Arbuckle’s 1920’s film “The Round Up”. This was one of the films I was most excited about seeing when the schedule was first posted. Roscoe plays a straight role in this western and although there are some funny moments, his work in a dramatic role was pretty amazing and I wish there would have been more of this type of work for Arbuckle. The picture was excellent, by the way, and hope to see it again someday.

The night ended with a short and feature starring Edward Everett Horton that were highly enjoyable. The 2 reel “Horse Shy” had to do with a guy (Horton) who is scared of horses, but must learn to like them to win the girl (Nita Cavalier) and the pre-code feature ”Wide Open” where Horton plays opposite a delicious Patsy Ruth Miller in a light comedy concerning the 78 record business. In both films Horton is excellent, but how he ever got the girl in any film has always perplexed me as he seems way too scared of women to even make headway, but it’s Hollywood and everything works out alright for Eddy in the end.

Saturday evening may have brought what the media wanted us to believe was the highlight of the festival, the first public screening of “A Thief Catcher” with an unbilled Charlie Chaplin appearance, but there was plenty more great and rare films, starting off with Dave Snyder’s Animation Fest. This is another aspect of Slapsticon I love, seeing vintage cartoons on Saturday morning. I could have done without the Donald Duck and the usually dreadful Andy Panda, but the jazzy overtones of Betty Boop’s “Snow White” and the Walter Lantz produced “Voodoo In Harlem” certainly made up for those two shortcomings.

After a break, came the Sennett Spot featuring a half dozen of pretty decent shorts. The highlight for me was the Charlie Murray & Ford Sterling boxing farce “Don’t Weaken” with superb performances turned out by both veterans as well as Harriet Hammond and James Finlayson. The Andy Clyde short from 1930 “The Bluffer” was interesting for showing a good example of early color, but other than that novelty, the story was pretty much of a stinker.

Out the whole weekend, I looked forward to the next bit the most. First up was the East Coast premier of the restoration of Charley Chase’s 1929 feature for Universal, “Modern Love”. Although we saw a couple reels worth of silent footage a few years back, the opportunity to see this film put back together with the original soundtrack and sound sequences was very nice. It didn’t bowl me over (I thought some of Chase’s dramatic scene’s to be pretty flat) but I thought it was a pretty good film with a decent story and good acting, especially from Anita Garvin during the dinner sequence. Another Chase film followed, this time a picture that was not included in the Columbia TV package sold to TV. “South of the Boudoir” was a really funny two-reeler with cute Ann Doran as well as supporting actor Bud Jameson providing a bunch of laughs. Both films are well worth seeing if they come anywhere near you.

Another revelation came next with the showing of the 1934 British screwball “You Made Me Love You” starring Stanley Lupino and the beautiful Thelma Todd. The premise is pretty straight forward, about a guy trying to win the heart of a girl who is headstrong, leading to comedy situations throughout. I must also say that Thelma Todd looked exceptional in the many close-ups provided her during the film; I don’t think she ever looked better.

Next up was the promoter’s dream, the showing of an unknown Charlie Chaplin appearance. I won’t go into the details of its rediscovery (that can be found elsewhere) but “A Thief Catcher” is a funny film. The lead, Ford Sterling, is a bit over the top, but not enough to be annoying and I must say that as soon as you see Chaplin’s character enter the picture, there is ABSOLUTELY no doubt who you are seeing. Rounding out the Chaplin spot was a few outtakes from “The Count”, a couple of trims from an unknown comedy showing an intoxicated (I think) Charlie bowling and a dog with a chair tied to it chasing the ball down the lane, a nice looking print of “The Bond” and a few sweet outtakes from that picture.

1926’s light comedy “The Cave Man” with Matt Moore, Marie Provost and an early appearance from a striking Myrna Loy was shown next. I enjoyed the picture having seen it once before at Capitolfest in Rome, NY, but I did hear some grumblings from some of the other film go-er’s who didn’t think that the film was enough comedy to be featured under the Slapsticon banner.

A round of sound shorts closed out the Saturday festivities. A Lupino Lane film that was scheduled was unavailable at show time so Lloyd Hamilton’s “Prize Puppies” was shown instead. A Daphne Pollard short, “Dangerous Youth” was hilarious as was “Gents of Leisure” with Chester Conklin and Vernon Dent. I am not a huge fan of Andy Clyde but his 1935 Columbia, “Old Sawbones”, gave me a few chuckles.

Sunday was the last day of movies but by no means did the quality of films diminish. The morning started out with a bang. First off was an Al St. John picture, “Honeymoon Trio”, directed by Roscoe Arbuckle under the William Goodrich pseudonym. This film also featured a most annoying, but highly enjoyable role from co-star Walter Catlett who seems bent on breaking the newlyweds up. Then came the Clark & McCullough two reeler “In A Pig’s Eye”. For me, it was my first opportunity to see a C&McC short with a live audience and this being one of my favorite’s of the duo, it didn’t disappoint. Add to that more great films from Harry Langdon, Leon Errol, and Charley Chase made my exhausted mind wake up and get ready for the afternoon.

After lunch was the Johnny Hines 1923 feature “Luck” which makes me wish that more of his films were more easily accessible to the public today as they are pretty humorous and fast moving. Tons of other quality comedies were shown with Billy Dooley, Lupino Lane, Bobby Vernon, Lloyd Hamilton, finally finishing the regular program with “Fluttering Hearts” featuring Charley Chase and Oliver Hardy, but that doesn’t mean the good times were finished as a few more others were crammed in, including pictures by Wallace Lupino, Billie Ritchie, John Bunny, and another winner from Mr. & Mrs. Sydney Drew.

We said goodbye to the Spectrum and made our way back to the hotel for the annual post-Slapsticon banquet on the top floor of the Holiday Inn which gives a great panoramic view of the Patomic and Georgetown. Lots of fun and good conversation (and maybe a good drink or two) then it was back to the lobby for another round of shooting the bull well into the early morning. A nice way to end Slapsticon 2010.

I must say a big round of thank you’s to the organizers who put this great show together, to all the accompanists who played along with all the silent film, you did an AMAZING JOB! It was especially great to meet a lot of new people that I had only “spoken to” during my time participating on online film forums, thanks; you made my weekend a whole lot more interesting.

I would like to say to anyone who has never attended a Slapsticon to try and make it at least once. It’s a fantastic festival put on by people who really know and love comedy and the dedication shows! Can’t wait for 2011.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Flagg, Quirt, and Olsen - on record

Always on the lookout for new and interesting El Brendel items, the Theater Director of Rome, New York's Captiol Theater, Art Pierce, turned me onto this little number he heard via the RADIOLA! channel on the internet radio feed Live365. It's a 1929 performance by Buddy Morgan and his Veterans, "Sergeant Flagg & Sergeant Quirt" (Columbia 2011 D), and reveals the relationship of the crazy, women loving and hating each other duo from such Fox films as, "What Price Glory" (1926), "The Cock-Eyed World" (1929), "Hot Pepper" (1933), and "Women of All Nations" (1931) in song:

With their trademark "Sez you, Sez me!" slogan, actors Victor Mclaglen (Flagg) and Edmund Lowe (Quirt), brought these two rough hewn characters to life, peppering in saucy language with equally sexy adventures with females around the faux-silver-screen globe.

This recording mimics the situations from 1929's "The Cock-Eyed World" and uses impressions to imitate the lead voices. What is particularly interesting is the Brendel Swede voice communicating probably the best known sceen from the film, the "lay of the land" sequence:

It might also be noted that the Flagg and Quirt characters (as portrayed by McLaglen and Lowe) appear in the short film "The Stolen Jools" (1931) with El Brendel in a minor sketch. The film characters are parodied in the 1932 "kids" short, "War Babies" starring a very young Shirley Temple in the lead role of Charmaine. Then in 1952, 20th Century Fox decided to remake "What Price Glory" with James Cagney (Flagg) and Dan Dailey (Quirt) before the book was finally closed on their travels.