Archive for Eric Campbell

The Sunday Intertitle: Jazz Lizard Harold

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on April 9, 2017 by dcairns

TWO-GUN GUSSIE (1918) is an early, inferior Harold Lloyd short with a western setting — something Harold returned to fairly often. A pointless opening scene establishes Harold playing piano back east — I suspect deleted footage might have made more sense of this. But we do see Harold “shooting” the keys with his index finger (he still had all his fingers at this point), a la Chico Marx. The Marxes were already a big noise in vaudeville, so it’s quite possible this is a direct swipe.

The best jokes in this silent are verbal, from the insane word soup of this intertitle, to the signs behind the bar saying things like “No drink sold stronger than liquid fire” and “If you ask for credit you will get it in the neck.”

But when the hulking bad guy (William Blaisdell) wants to demonstrate his strength, he does so by plucking the legs off a chair. Now, how much strength that takes depends on how securely the legs are attached, so the gesture means nothing, and certainly lacks the hyperbolic terror of Eric Campbell bending a street light just to show Chaplin how strong he is in EASY STREET. Western saloon furniture is notoriously flimsy, but having Blaisdell maybe break the legs in half might have worked better. But he’s just torn Harold’s shooting iron to pieces, so it’s all kind of an anticlimax…

Bebe Daniels (top) also appears, but has little to do (more evidence of missing scenes). Pretty soon, Lloyd’s films would show more structure and better gags, and give Daniels slightly better roles, but they never exploited her comic potential to its full extent. She would have to wait for her own star vehicles…

 

The Sunday Intertitle: Boy Meets Girl

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on August 7, 2016 by dcairns

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I had started feeling like I was neglecting Harold Lloyd a bit — you know, that feeling you get when you’ve been neglecting Harold Lloyd a bit — so I watched two shorts from 1919, BUMPING INTO BROADWAY and BILLY BLAZES ESQ. Both films co-star Bebe Daniels, whose comic gifts are somewhat underexploited, and Snub Pollard is a second, backup banana. The latter is a western parody with some great things in it, notably super–cowboy Harold’s way of rolling a cigarette: paper placed flat in hand, tobacco poured wantonly over it, whole lot crunched up in fist and furiously smushed about — palm opens, revealing one perfectly rolled ciggie.

But BUMPING INTO BROADWAY has the best intertitles so I thought I’d just reproduce a bunch here. Not only are they reasonably witty, every one of them has a bit of cute artwork.

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Some very funny stuff in this one, too, though it’s pretty brash and violent by Lloyd’s standards. The Harold of a few years later probably wouldn’t have clobbered so many policemen for so little reason. The best bit of violence is Noah Young, a popular thug player of the day, beating up a defaulting boarder (Mark Jones). This demonstration of savagery is a plot point to show Harold the terrible fate awaiting him if he doesn’t pay the rent, and this idea is borrowed from Chaplin’s THE IMMIGRANT, where Eric Campbell mangled a restaurant customer who couldn’t pay for his meal, as the hero watched in alarm. But the Young/Jones fight is even more impressive and startlingly acrobatic: the massive Young (Buster Keaton’s rival in ONE WEEK) had been a circus weightlifter, which explains why he has a neck with the circumference of Delaware, while Jones was a Lloyd/Hal Roach regular, often playing drunks.

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Good work! And Harold’s mortified expression in the background really ices that comedy cake of inhuman brutality.

The Sunday Intertitle: Chaplin and Comic Suspense

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on January 17, 2016 by dcairns

Weird online copy of Chaplin’s THE IMMIGRANT with subtitles in place of intertitles. The thing is, most of Chaplin is out of copyright — ALL American films made before 1920 are public domain — but the good restorations are all copyright the people who made them. If you have this on DVD, watch that instead.

Synopsis: economic migrant Charlie comes to America in search of a better standard of living. Damn him! How dare he?

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Though the first half of this nakedly two-part movie has some strong stuff, especially Charlie looking twice at the Stature of Liberty, the second section, kicking in at the ten-minute mark, builds to a striking crescendo of comic terror, all based around wannabe Scotsman Eric Campbell’s murderous head waiter. Comedy and fear really go together well, but I don’t see much today that really exploits anxiety on behalf of a sympathetic character in order to get shriller laughs. For instance, just enjoyed the first episode of the lumberingly-titled but fleet-footed Ash Vs Evil Dead, and it’s alternately suspenseful and hilarious, but there’s almost a firewall between the laughs and scares, and character sympathy was never a big part of the first three movies. I’ll definitely be watching more, though, and Ash’s new buddies are likable so who knows?

I vividly remember watching THE IMMIGRANT with my mum, who gets very excited during suspenseful bits (her mother was even more fun to view with — scenes of high tension would cause her arms and legs to rise in the air as if on strings. My dream as filmmaker is to make a packed house of five hundred people all do this at once). Chaplin, struggling into the story by his usual method of rehearsing and filming until things found the right form, devised a clear menace, plausibly put his hero in its path, and then let him squirm. “Comedy is a man in trouble,” as the saying goes. It’s not certain if his companion, Edna Purviance, is also in danger, or if she will merely be a witness to his punitive drubbing, but either way her presence amplifies the menace.

Freud announced, with typical fatuity but unusual accuracy, that Chaplin was “a very simple case” — compelled to relive the humiliation of poverty in his art. Like the traumatic slap endlessly replayed in HE WHO GETS SLAPPED, Chaplin’s career was a reenactment of his childhood. No wonder the role of the Tramp came to oppress him.