Archive for Al Ernest Garcia

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Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 13, 2021 by dcairns

PAY DAY, continued…

The actual pay day bit of PAY DAY isn’t so hot. Charlie thinks he’s been underpaid, because he can’t count. Seems weird that we’re in 1922 and Chaplin is still getting his character wrong. We don’t think of Charlie as stupid. We presume him to be uneducated, but this business doesn’t seem to suit him, and anyway it doesn’t lead to anything funny.

Yay, Phyllis Allen! A woman who must have been a very good sport, given the way Chaplin always casts her. This is a one-minute, one-facial-expression by the Great Bone Face, playing Charlie’s shrewish wife. This is a rare case where Charlie’s hankering after Edna is actually adulterous, though we don’t know what at the time. The whole gag here is Charlie, out in full view, plotting how he can keep back the housekeeping money from his wife, who is watching every moment,ready to pounce and abstract the cash from him.

The Charlie of PAY DAY is a much more wretched figure than usual. The film can be seen as a fairly vicious condemnation of the working man under capitalism: he doesn’t organise his labour, he’s too busy indulging in the pitiable vices society allows him. The bitterness for once suits Chaplin’s biography, as the son of a man who drank himself to death. Charlie’s left enough drinking money to get thoroughly soused, and we iris out on him and his cronies setting the world to rights at closing time. And what cronies! John Rand, Henry Bergman, Albert Austin, Loyal Underwood, Al Ernest Garcia, and Syd. Is this Charlie’s last film as a drunkard? It has some of the best drunk action.

The coat! Charlie manages to get one arm into his overcoat but the other one goes into Henry B.’s overcoat, and Henry plods off, basically wearing Charlie. Next is a great bit with the cane. The cane is fantastically useful as a prop, as we well know by now. We can relate it to the jester’s bladder and stick if we like. This gag actually requires Charlie to LOSE his cane, so the gag had better be a good one if it’s to be worth it. It is, and it is.

Seeing Bergman struggle with his umbrella, Charlie helps. But what he hands back is his cane, and Henry, too pissed to notice, stands in the rain holding this futile object. As if this weren’t enough, Charlie is now wearing both of their coats. Henry’s miserable condition is funny enough for Chaplin to cut back to him, twice, just standing there like a putz.

This all reminds me somewhat of GOOD NIGHT, NURSE!, the Arbuckle-Keaton short best remembered for Buster’s blood-spattered appearance as a prototype of William Burroughs’Dr. Benway (thanks to Dan Sallitt, I think it was, for that comparison). But it begins with a full reel of a thoroughly guttered Fatty standing, just barely, in a torrential downpour. Impressively abject stuff. It doesn’t seem that likely that Chaplin would consciously imitate it… but then, he did steal the dance of the bread rolls from Arbuckle…

Charlie now has trouble with streetcars.The first one to show up is immediately swarmed by undercranked commuters, buzzing like flies, a rare instance of Chaplin using extreme accelerated motion. It’s like Nosferatu packing his coffin.

Meeting Henry again, Charlie regains his cane (of course, how could I have doubted this?) but loses both overcoats in his haste to catch the streetcar. This is all impressive night-for-night shooting — and unless Chaplin somehow diverted a streetcar into his studio, it seems like he’s intercutting his studio street with a real one, quite seamlessly.

David Robinson notes that PAY DAY was a comparatively brisk shoot, with no major hold-ups save a break when Chaplin caught cold around Christmas. A fairly clear plan, a rarity for Chaplin, enabled him to shoot the second half of the film first. I guess the plot of this one is so simple — basically work, drink, go home — the structure didn’t present any difficulties, and the business of coming up with business was something that came comparatively easy to the authentic comedy genius.

The last streetcar is so fantastically overcrowded it looks like someone pasted it with glue and flung men at it. Charlie loses his grip on it, tearing off another passenger’s trousers, after paying his fare. Here, Rollie Totheroh’s lighting is less successful — the tram is illuminated as if by a moving spotlight. I guess it could be the headlights of a car following close behind. And I guess no other solution would have been available unless you were going to light a whole street for night shooting.

Charlie, drunker than we would have thought, or can believe, rushes into a lunch wagon and grabs a hanging sausage, thinking himself in a streetcar holding a hand strap. Brilliantly, it’s Syd’s lunch wagon from A DOG’S LIFE, though Syd has modified his makeup from that film. Maybe this is the brother of the chap from ADL. I feel the gag, which is magnificent, is weakened a little by coming after some very vigorous athletic business from Charlie which makes me think he can’t be as drunk as he seems here.

Good bit where he tries to light the sausage.

Leaving his brother at the lunch wagon, Charlie meets… his brother, playing someone else. The shuffling of players is as bold as that in a Monty Python film (where it feels quite natural — it’s the OBSCURE OBJECT trick played over and over again).

Back at the Chaplin residence, Phyllis Allen is not quite “nursing her wrath to keep in warm,” in Robert Burns’ immortal phrase, but she’s asleep with a rolling pin ready in her hand, so she can wake up berating. A title tells us it’s five a.m. Charlie has been wandering lost, presumably, for hours, unless closing time was a lot later in the 1920s. Actually, since the Volstead Act had been in effect for two years, the whole thing may be an anachronism — but if we assume Charlie and his mates were at a speakeasy, closing time probably doesn’t apply so he might have left at, say, 4 a.m. On the other other hand, speakeasies probably didn’t encourage customers to gather, swaying, on the street outside. Let’s just agree this is Chaplin’s version of Los Angeles-London, where the pubs still open.

Not such a great backdrop. Quite detailed, but I think what lets it down is the way the building we see is square-on with the window, which is perfectly possible, even likely, but increases our sense of looking at a painted flat, and the large, featureless expanse of ground at the bottom. Charles D. Hall usually did better than this.

Inside Charlie’s flat is a far superior window view, though it seems to contradict everything about the previous one. Strictly speaking, the views of these two adjacent windows should be nearly identical. And, in fact, Hall seems to have painted over View #1, adding the roof corner to the foreground which vastly improves the sense of perspective and the compositional interest. The lighting also really helps this one.

The table laden with cats is a great, rather abstract gag. I like the fellow on the left who thinks he’s in an Ozu film. The cat infestation has cleaned up Charlie’s supper, but fortunately he’s come home with a huge sausage. Thus nature balances itself.

A tiny cat steals the massive sausage. I suspect a long balloon may have been substituted, otherwise the feat would be impossible. One is put in mind of those ants carrying burdens far heavier than themselves.

Charlie oiling his boots so they won’t squeak is an excellent gag, very him. In a sound film he could have fun deciding whether the oil works.

A cartoon gag — the alarm clock shakes as it rings. My first thought was that this was a necessary exaggeration, but it really isn’t — the bell atop the alarm clock is quite capable of showing us that it’sgone off. So Chaplin wanted the exaggeration — but it’s an unusual move for him.

The next gag — Charlie,undressing for bed, immediately goes into reverse so that he seems to be dressing FROM bed, gaslighting his wife into believing he’s been home for hours, was good enough for Steve Martin to nick it in THE MAN WITH TWO BRAINS, I believe. And I think Martin’s version might be better, because of the fluidity of the movement: Charlie oversells the idea of his being flustered, improvising desperately. I guess that’s his thing, whereas Keaton could do things like a man in a dream.

The threat of Phyllis is once again used for dramatic/comedic irony/poignancy, as she lurks behind Charlie, full aware of his latest imposture. Like John Lennon in Norwegian Wood, he “crawls off to sleep in the bath,” but like himself in ONE A.M. and A NIGHT OUT and CAUGHT IN THE RAIN, he finds the tub full of water. The movie, like those pervious ones, could have ended there, but Chaplin finds a flurry of variants — he turns on the hot tap so he can have a nice warm sleep, Phyllis catches him so he pretends he’s bathing, fleeing the scene he retrieves his last penny from under the doormat but she’s watching him, yet again. He ends on a furious closeup of Phyllis, gesticulating with a milk bottle, and the superimposed THE END is surely a more modern addition.

Astral Projection Booth; or, Carter Beats the Devil

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , on July 24, 2013 by dcairns

I’m in London today on a Mission of Great Importance. More later! But meanwhile ~

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Episode 15 of our serial photoplay and THE TRAIL OF THE OCTOPUS finally slithers to its corruscating conclusion. Even more excitingly, part of the final episode is missing, thus retaining that all-important sense of mystery and frustration. The lost sequence means we can never know the identity and fate of masked malefactor Monsieur X… those responsible for restoring the serial insert a few shots culled from elsewhere and one bogus special effect, and while leaving X’s ID unsolved, suggest that after a hypnotic duel with oriental mastermind Wang Foo, X is dragged off into another dimension by spectral hands.

I call bullshit on that! You just didn’t get talk of other dimensions in 1919 serials. I have my own theories.

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First, the mystery man’s secret identity — for weeks I was convinced he must be Raoul Bornay, the shifty Tunisian gentleman. But Bornay perished several episodes ago, slain by an envenomed knife handle in Montmartre. Still, I don’t think I’m being unfair to serial photoplaywright J. Grubb Alexander when I suggest that he might stoop to resurrecting a slain character. In fact, he has already done so, three times in this serial.

But there’s another strong possibility, and it has the advantage of also clearing up the question of X’s fate. What if Monsieur X was Wang Foo all along? We know that Foo can bilocate using his “atomic form,” and this bilocation ability becomes central to the plot in this final installment. The only puzzle would be the incidents when Wang Foo and Monsieur X seems to be working to different agendas. But that could easily be explained away as bad writing, which already explains so much in this series.

Anyway, last we saw, Ruth Stanhope was being menaced by a dwarf behind a sofa. However, to all our surprise I’m sure, he fails to stab her to death, and another mystery is cleared up when the disembodied eyes which have been peeping in at us since episode one appear again and turn out to belong to Omar, Professor Stanhope’s manservant, unseen since the first episode.  Omar dispatches the stunted “ape-man” but is himself felled by a poisoned dart, thus closing that loophole neatly. It’s a thrilling action sequence and I suggest we watch it together ~

I like the dainty way Omar wipes his hands after they’ve encircled the ape-man’s unwashed throat.

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And featuring Woodrow Wilson as himself!

Seriously, ever-resourceful/opportunistic director Duke Worne splices in a bit of actuality film of the visiting prez.

What else? Professor Stanhope is rescued and his bearded kidnapper (the false Monsieur X, the guy who seemed to die in episode 1) is arrested. Ruth escapes too.

Meanwhile, Wang Foo succeeds in opening the stone safe with the last of the sacrificial daggers we’ve been chasing since episode one. Conveniently forgetting the crucial symbols (or “symbals”) tattooed on Professor Stanhope’s arm, he uses the ancient Egyptian figurine stashed there to jumpstart his astral projection booth, where he can mass-produce spectral clones of himself to go forth and do his evil eastern bidding. He also plans to cause a blackout, during which his maxi-me army will loot the city using a dirigible fleet.

Waitaminute, dirigible fleet? Did J Grubb Alexander just pull another deus ex machine from his capacious ass? It must be like a TARDIS in there. Like a vast library containing the plots of everything ever written. The Library of Alexander. Up his ass. I hope science found a way to extract it after his death.

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To my delight, the zeppelin raid is rendered using the medium of cut-out animation, a technique hitherto unseen in any serial photoplay I know of. It’s certainly a first for this one. OCTOPUS keeps on giving.

Anyhow, Carter traces Wang Foo to his lair, where the busy megalomaniac is still cranking out astral replicas of himself. The crafty stereotype promptly turns suicide bomber, tugging a lever which, he explains, will cause a cylinder to fill up with “radio gas” so that both men will be “blown to atoms” ~

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Wait a minute — that says “down to atoms.” I guess by Episode 15 J. Grubb Alexander’s faithful spellcheck (the 1919 version of spellcheck was known as “Mrs Alexander”) was worn out.

As Wang Foo, Al Ernest Garcia, persistently billed as “Earnest Garcia,” drops his inscrutable act and suddenly starts cackling like a stereotyped Mexican bandit. His oriental moustache morphs before our eyes into something Alfonso Bedoya would be proud to sport. And is that a gold tooth, or just a missing tooth?

The misspelled Mexican actually had a more distinguished career than anyone else associated with OCTO, appearing for Chaplin in THE IDLE CLASS, THE GOLD RUSH, THE CIRCUS, CITY LIGHTS and MODERN TIMES (as president of the Electro Steel Corps).

Anyway, radio gas, yes. This was the age, you’ll remember, when the word “radio” was irresistibly futuristic and jargon-y, able to enhance any sentence or phrase with a mystical glamour, as in “Radio City Music Hall.” Modern equivalents might be words such as “sharknado,” “sideboob” and “Belieber.” I’m wondering how a gas-powered radio might function, and am forced to imagine the strange apparatus used in Thomas Pynchon’s Against the Day, whereby messages are sent through the gas mains using pulsations in the pressure which can be detected by spies wearing gas masks connected to the supply. Interestingly, the novel ends around the time of TRAIL OF THE OCTOPUS…

Carter Holmes escapes death! By jumping out the window. Big explosion, and the primal Wang staggers about in a classic barnstormer’s death scene, before expiring amid rubble. His clones fade from existence via a series of dissolves, and America is made safe.

Coda: Duke Worne enlists a lookalikey Woodrow Wilson to pop in at the end and congratulate the heroes for “defeating this gigantic octopus” which menaced San Francisco. I fear the faux-Woodrow is confusing this serial with the plot of IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA.

The End.