Fiona thought THE MATRIMANIAC had the funniest intertitles she’d ever read: the great Anita Loos was the scribe responsible, and they zing with silly wit. When the father whose daughter has eloped with Doug Fairbanks tries to give chase and finds his tyres have been punctured, the title reads simply, “Assorted curses.”
I confess I’m unable to choose between the contemporary action comedies of Doug Fairbanks (THE MOLLYCODDLE is a good one) and the period swashbucklers (THE BLACK PIRATE, THE THIEF OF BAGDAD). Both have their points. I love the spectacle and frippery of the historical farragos, but it’s undeniable that the teens and twenties-set yarns have more energetic bustle and throb, coming close to Keaton in their vision of a rough-and-tumble knockabout Young America, and Doug’s persona can take wing more fully in this locale.
In THE MATRIMANIAC, Doug is attempting to elope with Constance Talmadge (Keaton’s sister-in-law, a good comic in her own right, best-remembered now for INTOLERANCE). Complications ensue when the train leaves with Connie and Doug’s rival, but without Doug. Furthermore, lawyers from her father are en route on the next train, bearing an injunction to prevent the wedding. Doug must commandeer any transport available (railrodder, mule, automobile), writing a sheaf of IOUs as he does so, and kidnap a handy minister so the ceremony can be performed before the heavy hand of the law obtrudes.
At only 45 minutes, this is a peppy little number, well-preserved and showcasing Fairbanks at his most charming. He does a fair bit of athletic leaping and climbing, and even travels from building to building by way of telegraph wires, but his most impressive moment is a leap from the path of an oncoming locomotive, the kind of sure-death stunt no leading man would be entrusted with, post silent era, until the advent of Jackie Chan. Doug makes sure to spin around and pass close to the camera after his jump, just so we can see it was really him doing it.