Sunday without Intertitles: A Scotsman and an Australian walk into a detective agency, a mansion, a train…


Found this in a random search of YouTube. Comedy short starring Australia’s Billy Bevan and Scotland’s Andy Clyde, apparently packaged for TV at some point in the past under the title Comedy Capers. The short itself claims to be called THE CRYSTAL BALL.

No such film exists on the IMDb, but a search turned up WHISPERING WHISKERS, which matches the cast list and plot synopsis exactly, so the mystery would seem to be solved (but read on…)

Del Lord apparently directed, with many cartoonish gags — the best, for my money, being the sudden stop-start of the train at the end.

Billy_Bevan_(1)

Billy Bevan and friends

Clyde, from Blairgowrie in Perthshire, went on to play Hopalong Cassidy’s sidekick, California Carlson. Billy Bevan, from New South Wales, played a lot of cockneys in talking films (there weren’t enough Australian roles, and who in Hollywood could tell the difference?) — you may have seen him in BRINGING UP BABY or CLUNY BROWN. Here, they play nondescript clowns — the fact that their characters change from cleaners to detectives to hobos, with little apparent motivation, can’t have helped them build consistent characters in the space of the film’s twelve-minute runtime.

But IS it a film? Silent shorts can be pretty eccentric, often rebooting their narratives halfway through when the initial set-up runs out of steam (look at any of Keaton’s early films for Arbuckle). But this one breaks cleanly in two, with its opening situation never resolved, and its central character recast in life and transplanted to a fresh locale at the halfway mark, apparently by supernatural means.

The movie starts off screwy, with an unexplained mission to a Spanish-deco mansion which then turns into a kind of séance. But all this at least seems to be causally connected — I presume the weirdly baffling narrative was fairly clear until somebody cut out all the intertitles for kids’ TV (because kids don’t like to read, and never understand anything anyway). But when the crystal ball transforms Bevan and Clyde into a knockabout Vladimir and Estragon and teleports them to a railway track, something tells me that what we are looking at is two separate shorts spliced together. Maybe this happened in 1926, when Mack Sennett was dissatisfied with the ending of the detectives/fortune-teller flick and the train/tramps flick was running short, or maybe it happened later, in television land. Or else this is the slapstick ancestor of MULLHOLLAND DR.

Silencio! There, I’ve said it.

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