Wednesday, June 8, 2011
Comedy Films of 1916
The University of Michigan continues to make digitized editions of The Moving Picture World available for viewing online. I always make a point to search through these editions to make note of the comedy films of the period. The other day, I read about a number of comedy films from 1916.
The plot of He Wouldn't Wear Glasses, a comedy produced by the short-lived Rolma Films, relied on a simple situation. Max Figman removes his eyeglasses because his girlfriend doesn't like how he looks in them, but his vision becomes so blurry that he mistakes another woman for his girlfriend.
Domestic relations were the source of comedy in Charity Begins at Home. Harry Myers, angry that his wife (Rosemary Theby) has given away some of his clothing to beggars, allows his wife to experience the drawbacks of charity by bringing home a bunch of stray animals.
Parents believe that their daughter and son-in-law have a baby on the way when in fact they are awaiting the delivery of a dog in a Mutual comedy called That Dog-gone Baby.
Harold Lloyd directs raw army recruits in a comic drill in Luke's Prepardedness Preparations.
The L-KO comedy The High Diver's Curse relied on the stock premise of an incompetent stagehand who disrupts a variety of acts. First, the stagehand (Dan Russell) blasts an actor with a hose during a rain scene. Next, during an acrobat routine, he reveals that an actor standing on his partner's shoulders is in fact being held up by a rope. Soon after, he carelessly tosses a banana peel on stage, which causes a troupe of dancers to lose their footing and slip across the stage. Finally, a high diver is preparing to dive from a platform into a bucket of water when the stagehand removes the bucket and causes the diver to come crashing headfirst into the hard floor.
The High Diver's Curse fits well in a discussion of gag traditions. To start, Russell relies on two common props - hoses and banana peels. Other film comedians had sprayed a hose in a crowded theater. Max Linder did it in Max plays at Drama (1912) and Charlie Chaplin did it in A Night at the Show (1915). Even more notable, the film showed how the scope of a gag could be expanded. The standard gag of a man slipping on a banana peel was now transformed into a full-scale comic dance number. As it worked out, the tradition of the incompetent stagehand was carried forth in the coming years by such comic luminaries as Larry Semon and Buster Keaton.
How about a cartoon, too? A robot amok story formed the basis of the Bray cartoon Percy and the Mechanical Man (1916). Percy sets out to prove the capabilities of his new robot creation by getting the mechanical man a job as a window dresser. Unfortunately, Percy presses the wrong button and the robot proceeds to forcibly carry the store manager and various customers behind a dressing screen to randomly clothe them in a series of inappropriate outfits.