The Sunday Intertitle: A Case of Elephants

AN ELEPHANT ON HIS HANDS is an inaccurate title for a 1920 comedy short which blatantly contains TWO elephants. The filmmakers are selling themselves short. So at some later point, a distributor has spliced in the more accurate ELEPHANTS ON HIS HANDS, which is clumsier but at the same time somehow funnier.

Very fat man Hughie Mack is the leading man — freaks of nature are very much the film’s stock-in-trade, along with odd sights like a dog with a serving plate strapped to its back, bringing in the bacon. John George, the diminutive thug from Houdini’s serial THE MASTER MYSTERY, also a favourite of Rex Ingram, appears briefly as the world’s shortest policeman.

The only real interest is the sight of elephants walking about inside a large metropolitan hotel. There’s also a dream sequence in which Hughie is tormented by elephantasms in his slumber. A brief double exposure of the pachyderms wafting by in single file dimly anticipates THE ELEPHANT MAN.

Weirdly, apart from the crude main title added after the fact, the intertitles are elaborate things, some featuring little stop-motion figures running (well, sliding) about. They’re not exactly attractive, but someone put some effort into them. Makes me think the deleted main title was probably the highlight of the film.

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2 Responses to “The Sunday Intertitle: A Case of Elephants”

  1. bensondonald Says:

    More surrealist elephants (this video deletes the opening scene establishing this as a meeting of the Liars’ Club). Further stop-motion nightmares occur later in the film:

    Showman Billy Rose produced the stage spectacle “Jumbo”. The biggest laugh was Jimmy Durante attempting to steal the title character.
    ROUSTABOUT: “Where are you going with that elephant?”
    DURANTE: (With umbrage, and with live elephant standing directly behind him) “What elephant?”
    Many years later “Jumbo” became a Doris Day movie, clearly referenced (although unnamed) in the book “A Confederacy of Dunces”. I may have pointed this out before, but it’s worth a second jaw drop. It goes from SongBoyd to Huh? around 3:18

  2. Charley Bowers is amazing — the most persistently dreamlike filmmaker who ever lived. He seems to have tapped into the plasticine worms segment of Eraserhead long before David Lynch ever thought it up.

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