Archive for Seven Years Bad Luck

The Sunday Intertitle: The Last Gun

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on October 22, 2017 by dcairns

Charley Chase (of all people) talks tough in SITTIN’ PRETTY, directed by Leo McCarey in 1924. A typically well-ordered yet lunatic farce plot, in which Charley impersonates a police officer (borrowing his prospective father-in-law’s uniform) in order to dispel a particularly shameless carjacker from his auto, then gets roped into police business — capturing a rampant lunatic (played by Charley’s brother, James Parrott).

This leads to the most famous bit, an early run of the mirror sequence from DUCK SOUP (1933, also McCarey). Charley confuses his prey by donning a false beard and impersonating his reflection.

Clearly, McCarey must have seen Max Linder’s rendition of this gag in 7 YEARS BAD LUCK (1921). Or some other version now lost to time.

While much shorter than Groucho and Harpo’s version, this sequence contains many of the same ideas, including business with hats, and the crazy man retreating to one side to formulate his next plan, slightly undercranked. It doesn’t play on a gradual escalation of mistakes by the reflection, which reach such lunatic heights in the Marxian routine — surely, we think, Groucho must have got wise by now… or by now…? In this version, Charley’s first ridiculous mistake causes his whole act to be rumbled.

Instead, the comedy comes from Charley’s supernatural adeptness at anticipating what the madman will do next, so that he appears in a derby, a top hat and a straw boater just as his opponent does. No explanation is possible as to how he manages this, so McCarey simply stays with the bamboozled loon for the duration.

Here too, we may see the 1933 refinement of the routine as a big improvement — rather than temporarily leaving his hero’s viewpoint, McCarey makes one hero (Groucho) the one who’s being tricked and another (Harpo), the trickster, so the comedy comes from the tension generated by Groucho’s failure to get smart and Harpo’s illusion-jeopardising blunders.

Nevertheless, the short (one-reel) SITTIN’ PRETTY is an uncommonly satisfying little comedy.

 

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Max, Mon Amour

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on February 24, 2012 by dcairns

OK, so 7 YEARS BAD LUCK is an American film, but its writer-director-producer-star is Max Linder, who’s as French as you can get. He’s as French as the two men pushing a piano across a zebra crossing we saw yesterday. And they were very French.

Actually, having enjoyed the film hugely, I find I’d rather sample images than say too much about it…

Of course it introduces a version of the Mirror Scene, later borrowed by Leo McCarey for Charley Chase and then the Marx Brothers. The estimable David Kalat points out, in a DVD extra in the box set Becoming Charley Chase, that Chaplin did the first known screen version of two identical characters meeting and one thinking the other might be his reflection… then Charley Chase directed a Billy West short in which that shameless Chaplin imitator repeated the gag. But Linder’s is the first to use an actual empty mirror frame to provide real justification for the confusion.

Max sees his end approaching.

Frizotto the dog pays the price for jeopardising Max’s romantic plans.

The film starts out slow and purposeful, taking its time to milk the mirror gag for suspense (even though nothing’s really at stake in this version, you still bate your breath waiting for a slip-up by Max’s doppelganger) — then it goes hell for leather into a variety of loosely connected sequences, mainly revolving around Max trying to ride a train without a ticket. It’s not a masterpiece of structure by any means, and a chase into a zoo is thrown in to provide some kind of spurious climax… I’m glad of it, though, because it leads to some delirious images and gags —

Max, inexplicably, has no fear of lions, and lions love Max, so he gets into their cage to escape his pursuers (les cops). One intrepid flic dons medieval armour to go after Max, but by the time he’s inside the cage, our hero has slipped away. More chasing, and a brief cutaway to the cop’s armour lying empty on the floor of the lion cage. He’s been eaten!!?

“I’m just crazy about the back of your neck.”

There’s also a hair-raising moment of Max striking a match on his lioness friend’s ear. Now, the ears of all cats are very sensitive, and lions have a way of letting you know they’re annoyed — Harold Lloyd nearly lost another set of fingers that way shooting THE SIN OF HAROLD DIDDLEBOCK.

Every Which Way…

Max is delightful — it’s really hard to process the fact that he and his wife committed suicide just five years later.

It’s standard to say that Max’s high comedy elegance influenced Chaplin, whose masterstroke was to give that dapper quality to a homeless street scoundrel. And Max’s influence also lives on in the wonderful Pierre Etaix, right down to the gap-toothed smile. But when you come down to it, Max is just Max, a one-off, and an original.

Below: Max and manservant; Charley and James Finlayson; Groucho and Harpo and Chico.