The Trinity Sunday Intertitle: Rheumatiz

From Alpha Video — a company whose products frequently start out in bins and end up in bins — a rare treat, the early Gregory La Cava feature THE NEW SCHOOLTEACHER, starring “Chic” Sale before he started pretending to be old. Being young doesn’t seem to suit him either. Sickly looking fellow. One pupil refers to him as “Readin’, Ritin’ and Rheumatiz” and one feels he has made a sound point.

Typical Alpha picture quality — soft, and utterly lacking in contrast. It’s NOT the fault of the source print, it’s the “transfer” (AKA filming it off the kitchen door in a well-lit room, by the looks of things). But it would otherwise be an impossible film to see (not too easy to see here, either) so I suppose we should be grateful. This is the earliest La Cava feature I’ve seen, and might even be his first, or the earliest surviving one — the same year’s RESTLESS WIVES, also featuring Doris Kenyon, is thought not to have survived. Before that seems to be all shorts, including one with Sale, and before that, cartoons. The following year’s WOMANHANDLED is pretty enjoyable, and available on the National Film Preservation Foundation’s collection, Treasures 5: The West.

The film — well, the intertitle-writer is getting a little carried away, trying to shoehorn in a pun or quip with ever card, and the material, like the star, is kind of wan. But Sale does have some comic chops, and it’s interesting to see him playing a different kind of character from the truculent old-timers he later specialised in. Sadly, he died before he could embark on a third stage to his career, which would have seen him playing old while being old, or else, if he felt up to it, playing young while being old.

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