Archive for Hal Roach

The Sunday Intertitle: Primitive Man

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on December 17, 2017 by dcairns

Was there some kind of rule compelling all great silent comedians to make a film set in the stone age? I’m not aware of a Harold Lloyd variant, but Chaplin had HIS PREHISTORIC PAST as early as 1914 (was he the very first comedian to don furs and act Neanderthal?), Buster Keaton ventured into THE THREE AGES in 1923, and Hal Roach, long before his ONE MILLION BC, made the rather simian comedy FLYING ELEPHANTS in 1928, featuring Mr. Laurel and Mr. Hardy.

Ollie is kind of hard to look at, half-naked in a fright wig, but the dainty way he plays with his club when flirting, as if it were a necktie, is adorable.

Stan also makes for a vaguely repellant sight in blonde curls. Though this movie emerged after the boys had been paired several times, in this one it takes ages for them to meet, and Stan is playing a flighty and poetic youth fairly distinct from his usual brand of simpleton.

This is probably the worst L&H silent I’ve seen, with some titles writer deciding cavemen should speak in a kind of Shakespearean/biblical/medieval argot, Stan spending fully 10% of the running time pulling cactus thorns from his arse, and actual flying elephants (OK, animated drawings) for no good reason.

We do get James Finlayson with a toothache, and a lot of prehistoric mating rituals (the cavegirl flappers are cute), but there’s such a thing as too dumb, even for the boys. Their separation, and Hal Roach’s story credit, gives the lie to his claim to have forged the team, and making Leo McCarey’s right to that honour seem more believable.

By some kind of magic, the laughs begin not with L&H’s first meeting, but immediately before, when the Finn falls down a cliff (always good value). As if the chemistry had seeped through a few rolls of celluloid from the picture’s first bit of Stan & Ollie shared screen time. Unusually, the movie seems to end with Ollie, Stan, Finn and the girl all dead, variously hurled from a precipice and eaten by a bear.

“Good or bad, handsome or ugly, rich or poor, they are all equal now.”

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The Gay Blade Runner

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , on March 28, 2017 by dcairns

Blimps! Gimps! Simps! Gender-fluid futurism erupts at The Chiseler, direct from Hippfest!

Here.

The Sunday Intertitle: Hooves of Doom

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on March 19, 2017 by dcairns

NO MAN’S LAW is a 1927 western romp starring Rex the Wonder Horse, whose oeuvre I have not really investigated until now. More intriguingly still, it’s a Hal Roach joint, and so features players such as James Finlayson and Oliver Hardy, who plays villain Sharkey Nye. Ollie was about to make his first film in actual partnership with Stan Laurel (a movie I hope to see on the big screen next weekend), but at this point he was still playing a lot of baddies. He’s been given an eye-patch and a rather fearsome scar disappearing up under it, allowing us to vividly imagine the horrible empty socket…

Looking the part as he does, all Ollie has to do is avoid using any of the gestures that would later become trademarks of his comic persona. It wouldn’t do if Sharkey Nye suddenly started coyly fluttering his necktie, for instance. Fortunately, he has no necktie, so Ollie isn’t tempted in the direction.

The problem arises when Nye catches leading lady Barbara Kent (of LONESOME fame) indulging in a spot of skinny-dipping. Kent has been equipped by the scenarists with an unsuitable character name, Toby Belcher, which makes her sound like a Restoration roué who should be played by Hugh Griffiths, but she’s been equipped by Nature with a lissome form which the ultra-clear lake water does little to conceal. This isn’t the problem, by the way. I have no problem whatsoever with this.

The problem is that Ollie is now called upon to espy the bathing damsel and perform a reaction suggestive of malign lust. This is an emotion not usually called for from “Babe” Hardy, and I’m not sure it’s in his repertoire. What he decides to do to suggest malign lust is hitch up his belt over his belly with a firm tug, which is the Universal Oliver Hardy Symbol for girding one’s loins for battle. It’s more usually followed by slicing off the top of somebody’s derby or pelting them with a lot of rice pudding. To make it suggest immanent, rapacious lechery when it has those other associations (from later films) is a big ask. I mean, the pants-hitch is a perfectly sound dramatic choice, and if it were anyone else doing it, I think we’d accept it without question as a valid encapsulation of malign lust. But how could Ollie know that future audiences would be watching his career out of sequence?

Anyway, Rex is on hand to drive the leering Nye away and save young Belcher’s honour. At film’s end, Nye is still unreformed, and indeed even deeper-dyed in villainy, and so Rex takes the law into his own hooves and simply tramples the big fellow to death. This is a bit disconcerting, and not just because it’s Ollie’s chubby, cherubic fist we see uncurling in death. Hyperintelligent animal heroes are all very well, but we prefer it, I think, when the dog summons help when the leading lady is tied to the railroad track, rather than leaping on the baddie and tearing his throat out. Likewise, a horse hero should, I feel, confine himself to racing to the rescue, expressive whinnying and the like. Equine homicide I disbar.

It’s an interesting notion, though — there have been several films about intelligent, killer cars, but nobody so far as I know has made a western horror film about an evil horse. They could call it something like EVIL HORSE.

(Probably it will turn out that several such films exist, most of them also featuring Cary Grant singing.)