Monday, February 28, 2011

Lyons & Moran: The Comedy Non-Team


A bout of writer's block inspired me to take a sample of an experimental drug called NZT-48, which is supposed to allow me to access 100 percent of my brain and make me so clever that I will become fascinating to women as good-looking as Abbie Cornish. Unfortunately, no Abbie Cornish has come knocking on my door and the best article that my expanded mind could produce has to do with a pair of entertainers so old and forgotten that I could not find a decent photo of them.

Eddie Lyons and Lee Moran are regarded as one of the first major comedy teams in motion pictures, but I have come to question that distinction after recently discovering that the actors did not normally function as a team in their films. The duo worked apart for much of the time and tended to play adversaries rather than allies. This point will become obvious after we consider a selection of comedies from the duo's 1915 release schedule.

Starting off this group is When Her Idols Fell. The story is centered on a married couple played by Lyons and Victoria Forde. Eddie becomes jealous when he finds that Victoria is infatuated with the famous Italian violinist Slingarlic (Moran) and has invited the musical virtuoso to play at a reception at their home. Eddie, determined to discredit Slingarlic, treats the violinist's bow and strings with axle grease, which makes the violin extremely slippery as the musician tries to play it. This does not diminish his wife's fondness for the violinist, but the woman finds herself less enamored of Slingarlic when she learns that his wife and seventeen children have just arrived from the old country.

The next film is Eddie's Awful Predicament, in which the predicament is that Eddie has a limited amount of funds to take girlfriend Victoria (Forde, again) out to dinner. Victoria's friends, Mrs. Sponge and her daughter, see Eddie and Victoria in a restaurant and manage to squeeze in at the table for a free meal. Eddie, needing more money to pay the bill, excuses himself so he can go outside and sell his watch. Moran, playing a suspicious waiter, does no more than hover around Eddie through much of the film.

The last film, When He Proposed, starts out with Eddie going to meet Victoria's family to gain their consent to marry Victoria. The family, particularly Victoria's brother Lee (Moran), seems more interested in Eddie’s savings account than they are interested in Eddie. Lee is intrigued when Eddie tells him that he has put away money to buy furniture for a new home. Lee is able to persuade Eddie to use the money to buy a car, after which he virtually takes possession of the car.

Lyons and Moran's first feature-length film, Everything but the Truth (1920), made very little use of Moran. Billy Hervey (Lyons), a busy oil company executive, is about to marry his girlfriend, Helen Gray, and he has to make time for wedding preparations. Billy visits a bungalow that is to be a surprise wedding gift to Helen. While at the bungalow, he meets Annabelle Elton, who lives next door with her husband Jack (Moran). Billy learns that Annabelle wants to get fresh eggs from a chicken farm and volunteers to drive the woman to the farm in his car. When they arrive at the house, Billy and Annabelle are made prisoners by an escaped lunatic, who thinks he is running an insane asylum and that the visitors are patients. Following their escape the next day, Billy and Annabelle doubt that anyone will believe what happened to them and they decide to come up with a more likely story to explain their absence. Their story only succeeds in creating complications and arousing suspicions. It is only when the truth finally comes out that the couple is able to clear up the situation.

The comedians also did not act as a team in their next feature Fixed by George (1920). Moran, in the role of George, arranges a party at a country estate to expose an unethical psychiatrist played by Lyons.

I looked hard to find films where the comedians worked together. I was able to find only four examples. In Caught in the End (1920), Lyons and Moran pretend to be ill to remain away from a lecture attended by their wives. The wives return to find their husbands playing poker with friends. The fooling-the-wives genre of comedy is something that later came to be perfected by Laurel & Hardy. In Once a Plumber (1920), the two men are plumbers tricked by an unscrupulous millionaire to run a scam company. In A Political Tramp (1916), Lyons and Moran play a pair of hobos who steal the car of a touring politician and then pose as the politician and his secretary at a prohibition meeting.  By this time, Ham and Bud had patented this type of plot.  The tramp duo could assume a new trade for the day simply by stealing a uniform, a vehicle or a tool bag.  The last example of Lyons and Moran working together as a true team can be found in a "drag" farce called Little Egypt Malone (1915), the plot of which I will discuss in an upcoming book.

The success of a comedy team depends on the mutual dynamic of the partners, with humor largely derived from the partners' interaction. A team shares mutual goals and works together to resolve dilemmas. The scarcity of the interplay between Lyons and Moran makes it difficult to qualify them as a true comedy team.

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