The Sunday Intertitle: Bronchial Mixture

I wanted to see a typical “Broncho” Billy film to admire his gunplay, but the first one I came up with, HIS REGENERATION, isn’t typical at all. Firstly, Chaplin is in it. Secondly, at some point Essanay decided to capitalize on his walk-on appearance by making him the top-billed star and erasing poor Broncho. Thirdly, it’s not a western. I remain unsure how much of Gilbert M. Anderson’s post-GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY were the western’s he’s most associated with. He seems to have made quite a few comedies.

But, with his strange, unhandsome countenance, Anderson does seem to have played a lot of “good bad man” roles, like William S. Hart a bit later, and the modern crime story HIS REGENERATION (not a rip-off of Raoul Walsh’s feature-length gangland epic THE REGENERATION, it came out months prior) exemplifies this.

Since I was a newcomer to Broncho, I at first struggled to tell him apart from the man he fights at the start of this movie. It’s a good fight, though, and the cutaways to enthralled/horrified extras, really enhances the drama. Broncho seems like a good director.

What he should never have allowed is the appearance by Chaplin, which throws the whole thing off. Chaplin’s whole style of acting, or indeed being, is antithetical to the slightly underplayed melodrama going on with Anderson. Of course it turned out well for the star, whose company produced the short and profited by cashing in on CC’s cameo, but it wrecks the movie, which is disjointed anyway. The whole barroom opening is disconnected from what follows, and the film’s entire plot takes place during the subsequent burglary sequence.

Still, Anderson’s performance is very good — he uses his eyes well, although the darkened eyelids is a strange piece of make-up. But the delicate little raising of those kohl-smeared lids set in that big, harsh face on that big, burly body makes for an electrifying contrast. In the burglary, he and his partner black up completely for nightwork, so the whites of their eyes pop out of the gloom like characters in a cartoon blackout. But with added luminous shirt collars.

Incidentals: the guy Broncho fights is future director Lloyd Bacon; Ben Turpin’s wife Carrie is somewhere in there (I want to picture her with matching crossed eyes but of course no); future Preston Sturges players Snub Pollard and Vic Potel are in the mix.

HIS REGENERATION stars Alkali Ike; Frozen Body of Jasper Adams; Adenoid Hynkel; Princess of Dawsbergen; Director of Comedies (uncredited); A. Panther; Madame Zola (uncredited); Faulty Shooter (uncredited); and Mr. McKeewie.

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