Archive for May 17, 2020

The Sunday Intertitle: Oil Swindlers

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on May 17, 2020 by dcairns

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A passel of oil swindlers, each clutching his own tiny derrick in readiness.

This is IT’S A GIFT, not the WC Fields classic but the 1923 demi-classic starring Snub Pollard. After he stopped being a pint-sized antagonist to Harold Lloyd the Australian knockabout specialist made a string of his own shorts, the couple I’ve seen are quite odd.

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Pollard plays a madcap inventor hired to help the struggling oil tycoons of America — where is he now, in their hour of need? Underground, same place as the oil. A fat lot of use.

IT’S A GIFT is moderately well-known for this image ~

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Snub’s absolutely non-explosive gasoline alternative. But since he’s a mini-Edison of the slapstick kind, he lives in a Rube Goldberg contraption — if houses are machines for living in, he has taken the idea to its limit. If Caractacus Potts and Doc Brown invented a means to reproduce, their offspring would live in this concatenation of contrived conveniences.

His automated pull-cord-for-service breakfast routine allows Snub to make it halfway through the film without getting out of bed. But you can’t call him lazy. He manages to drop a cop down a manhole and, in loaning his walk-on-water shoes to another, to help save a drowning man, he is apparently responsible for two fatalities before getting to the oil company to render his services.

I’m always interested in these moments of black comic discomfort when they don’t work — this one is pretty ghastly. They don’t make me like the films more, rather the opposite, but I’m interested in the sensibility that produces them. The director here is Hugh Fay, who had his own series of shorts as star, playing a character called Percy. I will check him out, if possible.

In the seriously decayed closing images, Pollard goes full Chitty Chitty Bang Bang as his magnetic motor sprouts wings and takes off — on invisible wires, all in one shot. You wouldn’t get me in that thing.

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