That’s Gratitude for You
A late report from Pordenone Festival of Silent Film (Le Giornate del Cinema Muto) ~
The comic Polidor is most likely to be familiar from his late roles for Fellini (a clown in EIGHT AND A HALF, an elderly actor in TOBY DAMMIT) but he was a successful comedy star in his own right in the 1910s. Tontolini and Polidor were his screen names in most territories, but in the Dutch print of EXCESSIVE GRATITUDE screened at Pordenone he has been re-re-christened Flippie.
Flippie is suicidal because he has no money and it’s always raining (making this a perfect match for SYND in which Lars Hanson has the same problem). But when a good Samaritan gives him his wallet and umbrella, the clown’s exaggerated despair becomes equally disproportionate gratitude. The Roberto Benigni schtick soon drives his benefactor to thoughts of homicide. Failing at outright murder, he eventually shoves Flippie into the path of a slow-moving hand-cart, which graphically slices off both his legs at the knee, in an impressive Meliesian jump-cut trick effect. The Samaritan turned mutilator repairs to a roadside café triumphantly brandishing the amputated limbs, their trouser legs still miraculously attached, but is appalled by Flippie’s reappearance, perambulating around on his stumps like Lon Chaney in THE PENALTY, as infuriatingly upbeat and appreciative as ever.
Despite how it sounds (early Daffy Duck meets early Peter Jackson?) this was actually pretty funny — the product of an age when black comedy did not exist as a concept, it’s simply the product of filmmakers trying whatever struck them as funny or surprising. Nevertheless, if I’d seen this as the sensitive kid I used to be, the limb-lopping gag would have left me traumatized for DAYS.
Polidor expresses his excessive gratitude in TOBY DAMMIT, Fellini’s episode of SPIRITS OF THE DEAD.