The Sunday Intertitle: Animal Crackers

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…

24 Responses to “The Sunday Intertitle: Animal Crackers”

  1. It’s got to be Josephine. What other highly trained capuccine monkey would have been around during that period?

  2. Sorry, ‘capuchin’.

  3. And. Remember the amazing Boo (Ella) from Monkey Shines?

  4. Boo has her own IMDB listing. Under details it simply says – Is a monkey.

  5. I was surprised when I first saw Chase’s musical facility when TCM ran The Real McCoy. No Chase short I saw before then had him do anything musical at all, and TCM ran quite a few.

  6. Tony Williams Says:

    Ever since I recently saw him in SONS OF THE DESERT and that tantalizing introduction to the 60s compilation THE GOLDEN AGE OF COMEDY, I’ve always wanted to see more of his work. Fortunately, the recent DVD re-issue will help.

  7. Paul Duane Says:

    Another chimp with an IMDB listing, Tanga, from Phenomena:

  8. I’ve heard that Bonzo from Bedtime for Bonzo (a chimp, not a monkey) got an Oscar nomination, which puts the current Uggie/Blackie controversy in a new light.

    Chase has a charming singing voice, and I love his line in Rough Seas, “This isn’t a musical comedy!” Post-modernism before cinema even discovered modernism!

  9. @ Paul I’m loving Donald’s accent in the trailer for Phenomena. It veers about wildly before settling on a sort of Brian Cox (the actor not the physicist) cadence.

  10. Christopher Says:

    My first encounter with Chase was with the Hal Roach talkies of the early 30s..I had a super 8mm film copy of Nature In The Wrong-1933(becuase I’d seen pics of it in Famous Monsters Of Filmland,a Charlie Gemora spread)from Blackhawk Films ,which offered all of the 2-reel talkies.I’m going to have to get some of these again on DVD,they look fun,if not always funny..I watched Mighty Like A Moose the other night and like Fiona,I laughed myself silly over the bit with Charley acting as husband and lover. ;o))

  11. I think they’re mostly VERY funny, according to taste anyway. There’s a slight contrast between the greater control of the silents and the more haphazard construction of his later films, but it’s all hugely enjoyable.

  12. not live blogging the BAFTAS?

  13. No, too busy winning the film quiz!

  14. I can’t understand the popularity of THE ARTIST. I was unable to engage with the film. The dog is the best thing in it.

  15. Depressing to think that some people probably attribute the film’s lack of affect to its being silent, while others are tricked into believing it evokes emotions it merely gestures at.

    Uggy is a fine canine, but Charley Chase’s Buddy, whom I’ve enjoyed in three films now, is truly a megastar.

  16. Is it the Radio Times quiz you’re doing? If so, I’M winning it!

  17. No, it was the Filmhouse quiz. Won a box of beer!

  18. But is Buddy the canine equal of Luke?

  19. I see him more as a hairier Matt Damon.

  20. I’ve just got into a Charley Chase obsession too! And just watched ROUGH SEAS last week…I preferred HIGH C’S, but both are good.

    I love Charley…and Laurel and Hardy aren’t familiar to me (not too much, anyway) so I’m fixing to conquer all three of ’em.

    His singing voice was wonderful…I was delighted to finally hear it.

    I too wonder why he didn’t just use ‘Charley Parrott’…I wouldn’t have to run across porn stars every time I go out googling for him. Which is exactly how I found your blog right now: googling for pictures of Mr. Chase, not porn stars. ;)

    Best to you.

  21. Laurel & Hardy are still the funniest boys in the world, imho. Part of what’s nice about the Chase talkies is hearing the same background music (which just PLAYS, with no reference to the action, except when they change the record to create a fresh mood) and the same blocky framing. It’s a very nostalgic world for me.

    You have a huge treat in store! The talkies are a bit more satisfying but I learned to appreciate the L&H silents too, which again have a lot of Leo McCarey input and wonderfully unlikely plotting. And no porn star has yet used the name Oliver Norville Hardy, although the erotic variant is pretty obvious…

  22. Paul Duane Says:

    Just rewatched Them Thar Hills and Tit for Tat, featuring the World’s Angriest Man, Charlie Hall (everybody was a Charlie in those days). The L&H rep company was quite something.

  23. Those are real favourites, especially the latter. Somebody ought to do a real tit for tat routine today — it would be shameless imitation, but it would work.

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