Archive for December 17, 2017

The Sunday Intertitle: Primitive Man

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on December 17, 2017 by dcairns

Was there some kind of rule compelling all great silent comedians to make a film set in the stone age? I’m not aware of a Harold Lloyd variant, but Chaplin had HIS PREHISTORIC PAST as early as 1914 (was he the very first comedian to don furs and act Neanderthal?), Buster Keaton ventured into THE THREE AGES in 1923, and Hal Roach, long before his ONE MILLION BC, made the rather simian comedy FLYING ELEPHANTS in 1928, featuring Mr. Laurel and Mr. Hardy.

Ollie is kind of hard to look at, half-naked in a fright wig, but the dainty way he plays with his club when flirting, as if it were a necktie, is adorable.

Stan also makes for a vaguely repellant sight in blonde curls. Though this movie emerged after the boys had been paired several times, in this one it takes ages for them to meet, and Stan is playing a flighty and poetic youth fairly distinct from his usual brand of simpleton.

This is probably the worst L&H silent I’ve seen, with some titles writer deciding cavemen should speak in a kind of Shakespearean/biblical/medieval argot, Stan spending fully 10% of the running time pulling cactus thorns from his arse, and actual flying elephants (OK, animated drawings) for no good reason.

We do get James Finlayson with a toothache, and a lot of prehistoric mating rituals (the cavegirl flappers are cute), but there’s such a thing as too dumb, even for the boys. Their separation, and Hal Roach’s story credit, gives the lie to his claim to have forged the team, and making Leo McCarey’s right to that honour seem more believable.

By some kind of magic, the laughs begin not with L&H’s first meeting, but immediately before, when the Finn falls down a cliff (always good value). As if the chemistry had seeped through a few rolls of celluloid from the picture’s first bit of Stan & Ollie shared screen time. Unusually, the movie seems to end with Ollie, Stan, Finn and the girl all dead, variously hurled from a precipice and eaten by a bear.

“Good or bad, handsome or ugly, rich or poor, they are all equal now.”