Thursday, February 26, 2009

Confessions of a Ledge Climber

Isla Fisher is getting good reviews playing a pretty but klutzy magazine writer in Confessions of a Shopaholic. Fisher deals with pratfalls and tear-away dresses. She gets involved in a slapstick battle when a sale of designer boots erupts into a full-blown riot. Lisa Schwarzbaum calls Fisher "a fabulous acrobat of physical comedy." Nathan Rabin of The Onion praises her "gift for slapstick." Todd McCarthy of Variety writes glowingly of her "irrepressible comic personality." John Anderson of the Washington Post is pleased by the "incredibly sweet and frazzled" character she brings to the screen.

A number of critics have compared Fisher to Lucy. Comparing a pretty, pratfalling actress to Lucy is nothing new. Critics said that Shelley Long was Lucy. Critics said that Jenna Elfman was Lucy. Critics said that Téa Leoni was Lucy. Frankly, it benefited none of these actresses to be given standing with Lucy.

Schwarzbaum went further back in movie history to find a more appropriate comparison for Fisher. She found that Fisher, who "combines dizzy feminity and no-nonsense verve," is a classic screwball heroine in the tradition of Carole Lombard. Lombard, who started out working as a bathing beauty for Mack Sennett, was in fact an attractive actress adept at physical comedy.

Still, I would like to go back even further to find a precedent for Fisher. I would like to go back to silent comedies. Comediennes in silent comedies tended to be eccentric characters in grotesque make-up. Louise Fazenda, playing a quirky country bumpkin, was all spit curls and pigtails wrapped up in a calico dress. Dot Farley had buck teeth. Gale Henry was as drastically thin as Olive Oyl. Alice Howell wore a tall frizzy hairdo like the Bride of Frankenstein. But, during this period, at least one actress was able to perform physical comedy while remaining pretty and captivating. This one popular comedienne was more realistic than a cartoon character and prettier than a monster. Her name was Dorothy Devore. Devore was a determined go-getter in the mold of Harold Lloyd, except a curvier mold.

Unfortunately, only a few of Devore's comedies are available on DVD. These comedies, including Know Thy Wife (1918), Getting Gertie's Goat (1924) and Hold Your Breath (1924), are charming and entertaining. Devore looks, at times, like a wind-up toy - a tiny, energetic lady carried off hurriedly by shuffling feet. Hold Your Breath, the most outstanding of the group, features Devore pursuing a monkey out on the ledge of a high-rise building to retrieve an expensive bracelet. Let's see Isla Fisher fall through an awning and dangle from a fire hose like Devore does in this film.

Let others call Isla Fisher the new Lucy or the new Carole Lombard. I hereby dub her the new Dorothy Devore.

1 comment:

  1. I'm not sure I've ever heard of Dorothy Devore, but she seems like a candidate for further research. (Then again, I haven't seen enough of other '20s comedic actresses such as Colleen Moore or Constance Talmadge, though they apparently were less slapstick than Devore.)

    Speaking of Lombard, I have a blog dedicated to her, and I cordially invite you to visit...

    Great site you have here.