Archive for Stan Laurel

The Sunday Intertitle: Bull!

Posted in FILM, Sport with tags , , , , , , , on September 17, 2017 by dcairns

One last Stan Laurel solo film, then we can move on. MUD AND SAND is Stan’s epic denunciation of Rudolph Valentino (here, Rhubarb Vaseline). All the intertitles, or nearly all, rely on bull-based humour.

Hey, I’m not knocking it.

Visual gags are little more varied, depending largely on the deflation of Dorothy Arzner’s melodrama with pratfalls, but Stan’s first, successful corrida, shot from outside the arena walls, is impressively silly. As the other matadors-to-be anxiously wait for Stan to be carried out arrayed on a stretcher with limbs akimbo, like his predecessors, a stuffed cow flies over the wall, crashing unconvincingly to the ground. And then it all happens again.

The repetition of gags is an interesting phenomenon. Buster Keaton didn’t go in for it, unless he could play a variation on the gag to surprise the audience. I suspect this proud refusal to be predictable was a big part of why he was less popular than Chaplin and Lloyd.

Chaplin repeats incessantly, and the recurring arse-kicks or pratfalls become part of a structured dance. Stan just repeats where it seems likely to get another laugh. It’s been suggested that Laurel & Hardy relied more on predictability than surprise: showing the audience the banana peel before it’s slipped on. The comedy coming from the expected gag happening right on cue. But that doesn’t seem quite right. Everybody shows the banana peel first. But only Buster has characters walk over it without slipping — outsmarting or “double-crossing” the audience.

I want to try to analyse L&H’s approach more closely. I do think they’re the funniest, in terms of intensity and volume and duration and frequency of laughs, of any classic era comedians. It doesn’t matter if you personally like them or not — I think their success is measurable and would be borne out by any laffometer. And they seem to use both jokes of predictability and jokes of surprise — the former making the latter more surprising. And of course there’s the measured pace. They jettison entirely the myriad advantages of pace, to concentrate on getting the most out of every joke by worrying it to death. But there’s even more going on than that, and I want to explore it.

This will mean looking at talkies, since I think the talkies are their funniest films. But maybe a silent or two also…

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The Sunday Intertitle: Citrus

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on September 10, 2017 by dcairns

Stan Laurel’s citrus-based comedy, ORANGES AND LEMONS of 1923 just isn’t good enough. I’ve come around to his parody films, which are inventive and silly enough to get you over the major hurdle of No Ollie — they’re different enough, too. It’s not like there’s a role for Ollie in them. But O&L is just basic slapstick, with Stan as, effectively, his old colleague Chaplin in one of his work-based comedies. Stan, like Charlie, is a shiftless and incompetent labourer who is entertained by his own mistakes, especially when they result in his boss or even his co-workers getting pelted with fruit. The lack of solidarity with his fellow employees (see THE PAWNSHOP for instance) is tres Charlot.

(This is the shorter version on YouTube, but it has better picture quality.)

Of course, Stan’s performance isn’t. Despite having worked alongside Chaplin, he never attempted to impersonate him as far as I know. But if he’s not like the Little Tramp, he’s not much like himself, either. Some of his antics are things you might conceivably see Mr. Laurel do in a drunk scene, or some other instance of out-of-character hi-jinks, but he’s devoid of any of his signature moves, gestures and expressions. His Barrymore-Ogle-Schreck monster in DR. PYCKLE AND MR. PRYDE has more in common with the classic Stan than this cheeky chappie.

Stan DOES share a scene with a big fat chap, “Tonnage” Martin Wolfkeil — who acts like a small child, i.e. plays the Stan role. Maybe an idea started to click in Stan’s head as he inappropriately played the leader of this duo for a few seconds of screen time. (One can imagine typecasting dictating that Ollie ought to play the infantile one, with his big baby face, with Stan as the more adult half of the team. Thank God that never came to pass.) This moment feels like one of those cartoon parodies of OF MICE AND MEN — but it hadn’t been written yet. Later on, Stan, no sentimentalist, kicks this inoffensive fellow in the face.

Stan wears an amusing clown-sized sombrero for half the film but, forced to assume a disguise, steals a derby from a chap with a Chaplin moustache — is he slowly becoming himself? Seconds later, that sheepish, chin-stretching beam makes an appearance on his features.

There are only about three good laughs in this thing, but I kind of like how the title bridges the distance between London and the music hall (“…say the bells of St. Clemence”) and California and the cinema. James Finlayson appears briefly.

The Sunday Intertitle: Another Fine Pyckle

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , on September 3, 2017 by dcairns

What’s with the mania for replacing the title cards on silent films? The YouTube version above of this early Stan Laurel parody seems authentic, but the version I initially got off the Internet Archive has different, cruder titles and the credits are simplified down to nothing. It was interesting to learn from the more complete version that Tay Garnett wrote the titles, a fact the future director of THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE fails to mention in his (terrific) autobiography.

This version might be more complete as regards credits, but all versions end EXTREMELY abruptly, in a way I doubt was intended. I mean, anything’s possible, and the film is a little shambolic, but I suspect there was originally more to it.

I used to look down on these efforts. Partly because you might occasionally get fobbed off with a Stan film when what you wanted was a Stan & Ollie. accept no substitutes — but the agreeably silly parodies Stan starred in (MUD AND SAND with Rhubarb Vaselino) have appeal. The lampooning of John Barrymore here is very accurate — Stan’s essaying of the transformation is excellent (the knees are the first bits to go evil) and his first appearance is actually really disturbing, owing to the way his wig distorts his features. Stan also throws in some sideways reaching, a hieroglyphic-type pose that seems to owe more to Charles Ogle or Max Schreck than to the mannerisms of the Great Profile. I suspect that pose perhaps dates back further in theatrical history, and was an accepted method of portraying supernatural menace.

(When I was a kid, the accepted mode of impersonating the Frankenstein monster was 1) stiff-kneed gait, yes, fine accurate, and 2) arms stretched out in front like a sleepwalker, something the monster doesn’t do –– except briefly I guess when in that one where he goes blind.)

There’s one very impressive set, but it has a French sign on it so it must’ve been constructed for another, more important film — ah, but are people still watching that film today? (Anyone know what it’s from?)

Producer Joe Rock also made Michael Powell’s first important film, THE EDGE OF THE WORLD. Powell remarked that all his big breaks came from either Americans or Hungarians.