The Sunday Intertitle: Another Fine Pyckle

What’s with the mania for replacing the title cards on silent films? The YouTube version above of this early Stan Laurel parody seems authentic, but the version I initially got off the Internet Archive has different, cruder titles and the credits are simplified down to nothing. It was interesting to learn from the more complete version that Tay Garnett wrote the titles, a fact the future director of THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE fails to mention in his (terrific) autobiography.

This version might be more complete as regards credits, but all versions end EXTREMELY abruptly, in a way I doubt was intended. I mean, anything’s possible, and the film is a little shambolic, but I suspect there was originally more to it.

I used to look down on these efforts. Partly because you might occasionally get fobbed off with a Stan film when what you wanted was a Stan & Ollie. accept no substitutes — but the agreeably silly parodies Stan starred in (MUD AND SAND with Rhubarb Vaselino) have appeal. The lampooning of John Barrymore here is very accurate — Stan’s essaying of the transformation is excellent (the knees are the first bits to go evil) and his first appearance is actually really disturbing, owing to the way his wig distorts his features. Stan also throws in some sideways reaching, a hieroglyphic-type pose that seems to owe more to Charles Ogle or Max Schreck than to the mannerisms of the Great Profile. I suspect that pose perhaps dates back further in theatrical history, and was an accepted method of portraying supernatural menace.

(When I was a kid, the accepted mode of impersonating the Frankenstein monster was 1) stiff-kneed gait, yes, fine accurate, and 2) arms stretched out in front like a sleepwalker, something the monster doesn’t do –– except briefly I guess when in that one where he goes blind.)

There’s one very impressive set, but it has a French sign on it so it must’ve been constructed for another, more important film — ah, but are people still watching that film today? (Anyone know what it’s from?)

Producer Joe Rock also made Michael Powell’s first important film, THE EDGE OF THE WORLD. Powell remarked that all his big breaks came from either Americans or Hungarians.

 

5 Responses to “The Sunday Intertitle: Another Fine Pyckle”

  1. bensondonald Says:

    Guesses on intertitle replacement: Many originals had studio names and/or logos, the way this one shows Pathe. If a film had changed hands (or was straight-up pirated), there are reasons to scrub those signs of previous ownership.

    When Blackhawk Films licensed shorts for the home market, they subbed in their own opening titles and intertitles, the latter including a small Blackhawk logo. There was once a note in the “Blackhawk Bulletin” to the effect that while they had a deal to release the Roach-owned shorts, they didn’t have permission to leave in the MGM logos.

    I believe this was also an attempt to protect their own releases from pirates (I’ve seen shorts on bargain videos that ended with a familiar Blackhawk end title).

    A more remote possibility is that somebody in the 20s or early 30s repatriated a foreign print. But if they had access to the text of the American intertitles, that would suggest they had access to an American print — so why bother? Fastidious reconstruction is a much more recent phenomenon.

    Laurel’s gloriously random “The Sleuth” definitely appears to be missing some intertitles that would make a little sense of the plot. My guess there is that somebody packaging a re-release simply left them out to save footage and/or the cost of recreating cards.

    ——————————–

    Recall reading that they used Universal’s Notre Dame exteriors (the cathedral itself appeared in “Phantom of the Opera” a few years previous). Presumably Joe Rock rented for a few days.

    —-

    The thing about some parodies is that many assume a close familiarity with the subject. Haven’t seen the Barrymore, but the bit of Stan stalking the little girl and stealing her ice cream feels like a very specific spoof of something darker. I figured the abrupt ending was itself a joke: instead of appropriately grand melodrama, we get a no-nonsense “Enough of that!”

  2. I haven’t found the exact architecture yet but the site of the failed Esmeralda snatch looks very similar in style. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pWa_SF1Kss8

    The ending felt truncated because the citizens outside are set up as being important. However, I have no idea how else they might have finished it — the transforming hand closeup was already uncomfortably dark.

    In the book and the Barrymore and some other versions, Hyde’s first dastardly act is to trample a waif.

    Rohauer used to replace titles routinely to strengthen his assertions of copyright — Look, a new version, which *I* made! There was also a print of The General which Buster complained had been translated back from maybe French, not too accurately. For a while in the 60s it was the only one you could see.

  3. Interesting you bring up the transforming hand close-up, because I was wondering about that: specifically I seem to remember it’s a direct quote from the Barrymore, so is the very obvious make-up job in this close-up actually meant to be funny? If so, hats off.
    I got perhaps a little too excited about what Joe Dante-esque transformation we’d see in the dog.
    Also, thanks for this. It clearly inspired my favourite sectioin in “the Comic”

    “The the evil that was in side me is now all over my face.”

  4. I think the blunt delivery of the dog pay-off is really funny though. As is DVD’s impression of Stan Laurel’s impression of John Barrymore. And I’ve never seen Hyde pretending to be Jekyll before.

    I did see The Comic years ago, but need to revisit it. Maybe Reiner’s plain shooting style has found its ideal application in these scenes.

  5. The dog pay-off is very funny.

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