Roy Del Ruth was one of very few Keystone directors to graduate to anything resembling the big time — Capra was the exception, attaining far loftier status. While many small-time silent boys fell by the wayside when sound came in, RDR surprisingly was at the forefront of the talker boom at Warners, where his old dark house spookshow THE TERROR was apparently quite innovative, and he churned a host of fast-talking comedies with the likes of James Cagney.
SKYLARKING (1923) is one of those early slapstick shorts, starring a fellow called Harry Gribbon who has a funny name and lots of technique but just isn’t very funny. The movi also features Billy Armstrong as a recklessly destructive blind man who anticipates W.C. Fields’ sightless nemesis Mr. Muckle, and cameos by Scotsman Andy Clyde and Teddy the Dog. None of these made me laugh, but my eyebrows levitated as if painted with Cavorite at the sight of the sightless proto-Muckle. Had Fields already used a version of this character on stage?
I like the special effects, as Gribbon takes to the air, which benefit from incorporating camera movement along with double exposure for a dynamic and halfway convincing effect. And I like this intertitle, which could easily have been converted into dialogue for one of the peppy pre-codes RDR made later. Sennett films frequently recycled catchphrases and gags heard in bars in just the way Warner scenarists would do in the thirties.
Oddly, the visual gags of the Sennett era didn’t generally make it into those films, even the comedies, apart from that riotous sequence with monkeys and custard pies in LADY KILLER — for zany imagery, you really have to look to Del Ruth’s later HORROR MOVIES (here and here).