Archive for Josephine the monkey

The Glasses Character

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on March 13, 2019 by dcairns

I’ve contributed a video essay, with editor Stephen C. Horne, to the new Criterion release of THE KID BROTHER. Harold seeks that elusive edge! Josephine the monkey travesties the human form! Constantine Romanoff exudes depravity!

You can buy it here (US) and here (UK). It’s a charmer!


Scotch Reels

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 16, 2014 by dcairns

My second trip to Bo’ness for this year’s Hippodrome Festival of Silent Cinema allowed me to spend the whole day there, seeing shows from 10.30am until 7.30 pm — Keaton, Bowers, Chase, Von Bolvary, Murnau, Ozu. In the company of delightful people such as Pamela Hutchinson of Silent London, ace accompanist Neil Brand, writer and Edinburgh Film Fest director Chris Fujiwara. With a weird tartan theme going on.


I’m no expert on tartan. I think my own family pattern is the Clan MacCavebear. What was peculiar was that from the Charley Bowers film on, every movie had a strong tartan presence. THERE IT IS (1928) features cinema surrealist Bowers as Charley MacNeesha of Scotland Yard (visualised as a pen full of kilted men, milling about aimlessly), who investigates crimes too baffling and stupid for the ordinary police, assisted by his kilted flee, MacGregor. Pamela pointed out that Bowers kilt, an obscenely short plaid pelmet, grows mysteriously longer in the final scene where he’s wed Keaton co-star Kathryn McGuire. What is the hidden significance of this?

In LIMOUSINE LOVE (1928), Charley Chase, on his way to his wedding, gets saddled with a naked lady (quite a good role for Viola Richard, since she has to be filmed in close-up throughout). The tartan this time is worn by Josephine the monkey (who also co-starred with Harold Lloyd in THE KID BROTHER and Buster Keaton in THE CAMERAMAN). She crops up quite gratuitously here, wearing an adorable little monkey kilt. Inexplicable.

German cabaret star Ilse Bois in DER GEISTERZUG/THE GHOST TRAIN/LE TRAIN FANTOME (1927, an Anglo-German co-production screened via a French print) plays a temperance campaigner all in plaid, which is stretching a point but her name is Miss Bourne — and in the Hungarian version of 1933 it’s “Miss Burns,” which does sound Scottish. Given her surliness, I suspect she’s meant to have Celtic qualities.

When I spotted two tartan blankets draped over extras in THE LAST LAUGH, I felt confident in predicting that Ozu’s DRAGNET GIRL (1933) would feature some example of the Scottish national pattern. I knew that tartans are not unknown in the east due to Tatsuya Nakadai’s tartan muffler in YOJIMBO. Thanks to an interview he gave to Alex Cox, I even know the Japanese for “tartan muffler,” which I believe is “tarutana muffura.”


Handsome Joji Oka’s is a particularly fine example.

When I got home, I had to re-check Buster Keaton’s THE BLACKSMITH, as I hadn’t been watching out for tartans in that one. There’s a fair bit of plaid on display. And also an acrobatic lady who MAY be a young Charlotte Greenwood. I’m no forensic identification expert, but how many comediennes could do the splits back then? Perhaps somebody else with a DVD and a keen eye could look into this for me?

The Sunday Intertitle: Give Chase a Chance

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on February 19, 2012 by dcairns

This intertitle, from the Charley Chase-Leo McCarey short HIS WOODEN WEDDING, strikes me as the greatest achievement of western civilisation. Of course, by tomorrow I may have a new favourite… Seems likely the whole film grew from this one pun, since it’s the most “logical”, compact and perfect aspect of the movie. Getting to the line requires considerable ingenuity upon McCarey’s part, and considerable suspension of disbelief for the audience.

Charley is about to be wed when his malicious rival slips him a note —

Two funny things — the insanity of the rival’s scheme, and the fatuous signature “A FRIEND.” Plot contrivances pile up like rugby players, eventually convincing Charley that the note speaks true.

Charley immediately imagines what married life will be like a few years hence, in this Nightmare Vision of the Future —

All Charley’s clan have Long John Silver peg-legs (his wife still looks quite normal, but Charley isn’t taken in by that).

Even Buddy the dog gets in on the act. (Yay, Buddy!)

It’s getting so that a Chase film without an appearance from Buddy leads to disappointment as inevitably as a film with Jeffrey Hunter in it. The only acceptable substitute is Josephine the monkey. I long to see Chase’s Tarzan spoof, NATURE IN THE WRONG, because it has a great title, because the idea of Chase as Tarzan is very fine, because it features Charles Gemora as a gorilla and James Finlayson as the voice of a lion, and because Josephine must surely turn up somewhere in there. (Plot: “Charlie receives a letter from a company in Texas telling him he’s related to Tarzan.”)

I recollect a gag very similar  to the peg-leg family in The Simpsons when Aunt Selma is contemplating marriage to the short-sighted Hans Moleman. Her imagination conjures a room full of myopic kids, stampeding around, crashing into each other and the furniture. I seem to recall one toppling out the window. All in a shot just few seconds long.

(I think the swipe is perfectly allowable, even if deliberate, and I’ve unconsciously pilfered from The Simpsons myself so I’m in no position to throw stones…)

Next week I really will write about Max Linder…