Didn’t get around to viewing any Max Linder this week, which had been the plan — but I’ve been delving deeper into the wonderful world of Charley Chase. Ridiculous that it’s taken this long to form an appreciation of this comic. For some reason I’d found him a little bland before, but that was based on a few excerpts. Since some of Chase’s films have quite convoluted plots, they take more time to get going than the usual silent comedies, and there’s a slow-burn effect that doesn’t come across in clips.
DOG SHY is another collaboration with Leo McCarey, whose farce plotting is comparable to PG Wodehouse. He would have been a great man to adapt “Plum”. And I’m not just saying that because here Charley impersonates a butler, which is a very Wodehousian trope.
There’s a lot more to it than that, of course. Charley is trying to rescue a nice flapper from marriage to a dastardly Duke. But Charley is also deathly afraid of dogs. And the family dog is also called The Duke. The lady of the house instructs her new butler to give the Duke a bath. He’s a little surprised, but then, rich people are famously eccentric, aren’t they? She warns him that The Duke may offer resistance, and he shouldn’t be afraid to use force.
Charley, very amused by the whole thing, attempts to lure the human Duke away from his lady friends by enacting various bathtime activities. His versatility as mime gets a good work-out here, and both the Duke’s incompehension and exasperation and Charley’s hilarity add immensely to the pleasures of the scene. Once he finally lures his prey into the bathroom, the ensuing struggle takes on some of the qualities of a homosexual rape, without, thankfully, any of the concomitant vulgarity.
Of course, once the confusion is straightened out, Charley’s problem worsens, as the canine Duke (played by “Buddy”), is much more intimidating and just as resistant to washing.
The plot thickens as Charley’s elopement gets tangled with a burglary and a dognapping, all three schemes depending on a midnight howl signal — it’s remarkable how McCarey uses the absurdity of his plotting to his advantage. Even though this is a comedy, it’s easy to imagine such improbability cause irritation as much as amusement.
As in MIGHTY LIKE A MOOSE, Buddy gets the last laugh, offering a paw of congratulation to Charley upon his eventual triumph, then snapping at him when he attempts to accept it.
We also watched ROUGH SEAS, a Chase talkie enlivened by Thelma Todd being cute as a French stowaway, and Napoleon the monkey being cute as a French monkey stowaway (“Remember how I found you on the battlefield?” asks doughboy Charley, and Josephine lies down and plays dead.) I have to assume that Napoleon either comes from the same simian stable as Josephine, companion to Buster Keaton in THE CAMERAMAN and Harold Lloyd in THE KID BROTHER, or else is actually Josephine in drag (the monkey wears a miniature doughboy uniform just like Charley’s).
Here’s Josephine with Harold in THE KID BROTHER.
It’s a pleasure to hear Charley speak (and sing!). His voice and delivery seem to lower his social standing slightly, although some of that may just be the role he’s playing here. Rather than the middle-class man about town, he’s more of a blue-collar goof, and his “Aw honey” manner seems weirdly to be the inspiration for Bruce Campbell’s entire screen persona.
Directed by Chase’s brother, James Parrott (why Chase didn’t use his real name, which is eminently humorous, when acting, is a mystery to me), ROUGH SEAS lacks the fastidious construction of DOG SHY, preferring just to cram a bunch of silly people and ideas together on a ship, but it’s entirely winning and very funny. Now that most all of Laurel & Hardy’s films are familiar to me, discovering Chase’s world seems like a new lease of life.
Somebody’s helpfully uploaded edited highlights of Charley and Thelma (and Napoleon) in ROUGH SEAS, preceded by its prequel, HIGH C’s…