Archive for Hal Roach

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.)

The New Year’s Intertitle

Posted in Dance, FILM with tags , , , on January 1, 2017 by dcairns

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From AN EASTERN WESTERNER, starring Harold Lloyd, directed by Hal Roach. The shimmie (or shimmy) was considered a highly salacious dance, which is why everyone thought it was cute when four-year-old Jackie Coogan did it on stage. More innocent times, etc…

The Sunday Intertitle: Hello, Mabel

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on August 24, 2014 by dcairns

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No wonder the Goldwyn lion looks grumpy: he’s only a painting. In those days, lions were only paintings. I guess it was Mayer who fleshed him out.

Two more Mabels. Mabel Normand left Keystone for the same reason nearly everyone else left — Sennett paid badly — and for another reason, that she was tired of being on the bottom of the bill with short films while everyone else was making features and getting all the respect.

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At Goldwyn, she made WHAT HAPPENED TO ROSA which is pretty funny in places but only really gets going when Mabel drags up. The romantic comedy angle suffers from a lack of any real problem to solve, and the movie fizzles out. But the “plot,” in which gullible counter-hopper Mabel is convinced she has an exotic Spanish other self, at least allows her to be exotically glam. But it’s funnier seeing her as a boy with a coal-smudged face, throwing herself all over the furniture.

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Much more interesting, we thought, was THE NICKEL-HOPPER, produced by Hal Roach. Roach had the right slapstick sensibility, and Mabel excels as a taxi-dancer whose work-shy father ruins all her chances at romance, until…

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There’s a great back garden chase climax on this one. It’s a weird length, 37 minutes, but it’s jam-packed with shenanigans. And the cast! In one scene we get Oliver Hardy as an exuberant jazz drummer — and it’s impressive to see one of the most distinctive movie outlines inhabited by a whole different personality, sans moustache and equally shorn of his trademark fiddliness — and Boris Karloff, playing the same kind of Not Safe In Taxis sex louse he would essay so memorably in FIVE STAR FINAL (under the name T. Vernon Isopod, which I never get tired of saying).