Saturday, March 28, 2009

Lloyd Hamilton Gets His Start

These stills show Lloyd Hamilton in his early roles at the Kalem Company in 1914. Hamilton is partly hidden in the background of the first still. He is the man in the derby at the far right. The film is Sherlock Bonehead.

The still at right is from A Peach at the Beach. Hamilton, who is still experimenting with his make-up and costuming, is wearing a derby, a mustache and a putty nose. Hamilton, in fact, is wearing a putty nose in all of these stills. Bud, who played Hamilton's son in this comedy, is seen here clinging to his mother for protection.

Hamilton is campaigning against Marshall Neilan in a town election in A Substitute for Pants.

Hamilton is a Union general in The Deadly Battle at Hicksville.

Hamilton flirts with a secretary rather than mop the office floor in Lizzie the Lifesaver.

Amerikanische Marine-Groteske

A print of Lloyd Hamilton's Jolly Tars (1926) was recently discovered by a German museum, Deutsche Kinemathek. This print was distributed to German theaters under the title Amerikanische Marine-Groteske.

The Optimist

An advantage of this blog is that it has given me the opportunity to present photos of Lloyd Hamilton that did not make it into my book. Here is an ad for The Optimist (1923).

Lions, Speedboats and Bathing Beauties

A-1 Video has also put together a compilation of Imperial Comedies, including Wine, Women and Sauerkraut, Twenty Thousand Legs Under the Sea, The Motor Boat Demon, A Lady Lion and A Bankrupt Honeymoon.

It has been said that a good physical comedian could walk onto a bare stage with nothing more than a step ladder and manage in no time to get an audience laughing. But physical comedy can flourish wonderfully on a grand scale. It can benefit from high production values, which make the action bigger, faster and splashier. This was proven by the big-budget Imperial Comedies that the Fox Film Corporation produced in the late 1920s. The casts were sizable, the sets and locations were lavish, and the gags were big and often catastrophic. The series was admirably supervised by George Marshall, who went on to a long and successful career directing features for Paramount, M-G-M, Universal and Twentieth Century Fox.

The primary weakness of the series was that it lacked star comedians. The leading men were not actors anyone knew. They were young, blandly good-looking actors with no particular talent for being funny. Richard Walling. Nick Stuart. George Harris. Gene Cameron. Allan Forrest. Not one true comedian in the bunch. These leading men were each, in his own way, a master of ceremony whose job it was simply to keep the plot moving. In the typical chase scene, these actors were more inanimate objects than active heroes. It was the job of the grotesque heavies to be funny while these actors kept ahead of them like the wooden rabbits in a dog race. Gags happen around them but they, themselves, are not responsible. A water tower bursts as handsome, dark-eyed Nick Stuart rushes past and a number of extras end up getting drenched, but Stuart merely keeps on moving to wherever it is he has to go.

The writers made sure to create stories that revolved around lots of pretty young ladies. The plot of Wine, Women and Sauerkraut (1927) involves chorus girls having to flee hotel detectives because they are unable to pay their bill. The chorus girls, interrupted in the middle of rehearsing a dance number, run down the street wearing white leotards and big black feathers. The chase climaxes with the chorus girls escaping on a handcar and nearly colliding with a speeding locomotive.

It was a big part of the series' appeal that the pretty young ladies were often presented in titillating situations. In Wine, Women and Sauerkraut, a chorus girl's costume gets torn off as she scrambles through a hole in a fence. She spends the remainder of the film struggling to remain covered up. She is able to wrap herself up in a towel but a dog locks his teeth on the towel and yanks it off. She hides in a barrel but barrel breaks apart. These scenes provide then-risqué glimpses of the chorus girl in her under garments. Look, they didn't have the Internet or Playboy magazine in those days. They didn't even have the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. A man has few options other than to sit watching an Imperial Comedy and get excited seeing a girl in a towel get into a tangle with a dog.

In Twenty Legs Under the Sea (1927), Richard Walling looks to get publicity for a resort by bringing together international bathing beauties to compete in a swimming race. A number of problems arise while the resort is preparing for the race. A dowager chases after a dog that has gotten away with her jewel-studded garter. Walling finds himself threatened by bomb-wielding foreign terrorists who want him to fix the race so that the contestant from their country wins. At one point, Walling falls under the suspicion of two hotel detectives, who decide to shadow him to see if he has the missing garter. Walling notices the detectives take a step forward when he takes a step forward and make a turn when he makes a turn. The wary young man performs an impromptu jig and the detectives, committed to following every move that he makes, duplicate the jig with perfect accuracy. These three men standing in a row and dancing in unison look like an early version of Riverdance. This well-staged scene is the funniest scene in the film. The film climaxes with the big race. The comely Miss America wins, the dowager gets back her garter, and the terrorists blow themselves up.

The only notable actor in The Motor Boat Demon (1927) is the seductive Anita Garvin, but this film is so fast-paced that the actors are a blur most of the time. The real stars of the film are a fleet of speedboats competing in a high-powered race. Speedboats cut past each other. Speedboats collide. One speedboat crashes through the support beams of a boathouse, which causes the boathouse to drop into the water. This is not CGI or toy models - it is stunt men risking their lives in real speedboats. It is a fun and exciting climax and a bigger climax than you would expect to find in a short comedy.

A Lady Lion (1928), which takes place at a picturesque winter resort, is about a young woman (Caryl Lincoln) looking to find herself a manly lover. Diminutive Billy Bletcher and hefty Fred Spencer are on hand to do the sillier stuff, like falling out of a tree, falling into the snow, falling off a ladder. Truth is, their attempts to get laughs in the first reel are pretty much limited to falling down. The one exception is Spencer getting his head stuck in a ladder rung. Spencer is not the most subtle comedian, relying on a great deal of mugging. But, despite his deficiencies, he is funny contending with the ladder, which seems to have a mind of its own.

The action gets wilder in the second half of the film. The wagon of a traveling circus breaks down and the owner puts his animals in a cabin so that they can keep warm while he gets the wagon fixed. Bletcher, Spencer and Lincoln come to the cabin, unaware of the animals, and soon find themselves at odds with a lion and a leopard.

The sprawling snow-covered hills that serve as the location do in fact enhance the action. This comedy certainly compares favorably with Swiss Movements (1927), a Christie comedy featuring Jimmie Adams being chased up a phony Swiss Alps by a guy dressed in a bear suit. The location that the Christie crew used did not look at all like the Swiss Alps. It was a craggy, barren hill hidden away somewhere in San Fernando Valley. Did the director, Robert Kerr, ever actually see a picture of the Swiss Alps? I could do a better job recreating the Swiss Alps by going into my backyard and sprinkling around a box of laundry detergent.

The title cards for A-1 Video's print of A Bankrupt Honeymoon (1926) are in Dutch, which makes it hard to follow the story at times. Evidently, though, Harold Goodwin plays a rich man who has run into financial trouble the day before he is supposed to get married. He doesn't even have enough money to pay a cabdriver who has given him a ride home. The cabdriver, played by Oliver Hardy, listens attentively as Goodwin makes a proposal. The title card reads, "Je kunt hier blijven slapen. . . morgan zal ik U wel betalen." It roughly translates into "You can stay here to sleep. . . Morgan will pay you in the morning." I know, it sounded worse to me, too. If someone told me to "slapen" his "blijven," I would have probably knocked the guy's lights out. But, as I learned from an online translator, "slapen" simply means "to sleep." Anyway, it's already morning by the next scene. The butler comes into the master bedroom to wake Goodwin. He is shocked when he pulls down the covers and Hardy, still in his cabbie uniform, pops up in Goodwin's bed. Not much "slapen" goes on for the remainder of this fast-paced comedy, which climaxes with Hardy getting banged on the head while driving a double-decker bus and lying unconscious across the steering wheel as the bus runs out of control. Don't ask me what Hardy was doing driving the bus, I ran across more title cards than I was willing to translate. Wait, does being knocked unconscious count as slapen?

The Imperial Comedies evolved out of an earlier series, the Sunshine Comedies. Fox spent a great deal of money to produce their silent comedies and the results were generally spectacular. It is a shame that so few of these comedies are still around.

The Sunshine series is discussed at length in my Hamilton biography. Hamilton starred in a number of Sunshine comedies, including the series very successful debut release Roaring Lions and Wedding Bells (1917). There would have never been A Lady Lion if not for Roaring Lions and Wedding Bells, which involved lions getting loose at a wedding.

Another of Hamilton's Sunshine "lion" comedies, Hungry Lions in a Hospital (1919), was shown recently at the 2009 Niles Mid-Winter Comedy Festival. Chris Snowden, who attended the festival, reviewed the film on his blog. Snowden put this particular comedy in the category of "slapstick farces that begin with silliness, escalate quickly to manic zaniness, and finally charge headlong into a frenzied insanity in which nothing makes much sense, everything’s bizarre, and it all comes at you so fast that you can only gape at the torrent of surreal action and rapid editing as it nearly makes your head explode." It sounds like a good time to me.

Axioms and Stomach Bumps from Billy Gilbert

In 1936, producer Al Christie teamed Billy Gilbert and Vince Barnett to create his own version of Laurel & Hardy. A-1 Video has assembled three of these comedies, Super Stupid, Just Another Murder and The Brain Busters, as part of a DVD collection titled Billy Gilbert Comedies.

Gilbert can be found in this series freely borrowing Hardy's mannerisms. He is at his most Hardyesque in The Brain Busters, where he demonstrates Hardy's courtliness, hand gestures and overly precise diction. He also likes to dispense axioms, which Hardy was prone to do. Gilbert's performance, though derivative, is clever and funny. I found myself laughing often at Gilbert and I may have liked these comedies overall if Christie had put someone better in the Laurel role than Barnett. It would have been interesting to see Harry Langdon in this role. Laurel & Hardy were at their best when they had a good adversary. Gilbert and Barnett, in the same way, benefit from having stalwarts Bud Jamison and James Morton as their adversaries.

This was not the first time that a producer tried to turn Gilbert into a Hardy clone. Hal Roach, who had brought Laurel and Hardy together, thought he might have do well to create a second team. In 1932, he introduced Gilbert and Ben Blue as cab drivers in The Taxi Boys series. A very funny article about this failed series appears on The Third Banana blog.

Other producers tried to find a partner for Gilbert. He was featured with Billy Bletcher in the Schmaltz Brothers series. He suffered a Laurel & Hardy-type misadventure with Cliff Nazarro in Shot in the Escape (1943). When Abbott & Costello were at the height of their success, Monogram Pictures got the idea of teaming Gilbert and Frank Fay for a series of feature comedies. The team debuted in Spotlight Revue (1943) as down-on-their-luck vaudeville performers. Fay was the conceited, conniving and dapper one while Gilbert was the fat, nervous and lovable one. The team was clearly meant to appeal to fans of Abbott & Costello. Fay left the series after this one film and he was promptly replaced by Shemp Howard, who starred opposite Gilbert in Three of a Kind (1944), Crazy Knights (1944) and Trouble Chasers (1945).

The remaining comedy shorts on the Billy Gilbert Comedies DVD are also entertaining.

Who's Looney Now?, an RKO comedy short from 1936, features Jack Norton as a husband at his wits' end. Norton has a nagging wife, a bratty little boy, a mean-spirited mother-in-law, and a parasitic brother-in-law. This sour depiction of family life was standard for RKO's comedy shorts of the period. A neighbor tells Norton that, rather than get upset with his family, he should react to them by laughing. "Laugh," he says, " and the world laughs with you." Norton's family finds it strange that Norton is laughing at everything and they decide to call a psychiatrist to cart him off to the funny farm. Gilbert is the befuddled psychiatrist who gets their call. The family insists that Gilbert get to their home as soon as possible. Gilbert puts on his jacket while talking on the phone and this causes the telephone line to get caught in his jacket sleeve. It is a testament to Gilbert's talent that, using a prop as simple as a phone, he is able to generate an amusing routine. Gilbert is finally able to untangle himself from the phone cord and make his way to Norton's house, but he gets confused and tries to strap a straitjacket on Norton's brother-in-law.

Crazy Like A Fox, a 1944 Columbia short subject, again pairs Gilbert with Norton. Gilbert and Norton get stuck together in a phone booth. It takes Gilbert bumping Norton with his stomach to push Norton out of the booth. The stomach bump is accompanied by the sound of bass drum, which is the same sound effect Columbia used when Curly bumped someone with his stomach in a Three Stooges comedy. The comedy was directed by Jules White, who was not known for subtlety. Gilbert no sooner gets out the phone booth then he runs across a hotel lobby and has his pants fall down around his ankles. That's probably the most subtle moment in this raucous film.

Gilbert looks much like Curly as he's running through rooms and hallways to evade an East Indian potentate determined to run him through with a saber. He repeatedly makes panicked cries like Curly, except he doesn't uses Curly's trademark "Woo-woo!" but the "Whooooah!" howl that had been used years earlier by Bob Woolsey.

Gilbert played a variety of roles in hundreds of films and he always managed to be funny. He could be Oliver Hardy for Al Christie. He could be Curly Howard for Jules White. When I think of Gilbert, I either remember him playing a big game hunter in Block-Heads (1938) or I remember him playing Joe Pettibone in His Girl Friday (1940). Those performances were entirely different but they were both hilarious. Gilbert was a special comedy talent indeed.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Hello, Dooley

Some fans of silent comedy love every comedian who worked in the field. They find find something charming in every comedian who performed a pratfall, ran away from a burly villain, or got into a zany car chase. It does not matter if the comedian was obscure or famous. It does not matter if the comedian was a star or a minor player. Their affections can even extend to the bathing beauties, the trained dogs, the cute children, whoever participated in the fun and tomfoolery that ended up on screen. I can understand that. Silent comedy is a wonderful lost art form. Whatever work has survived deserves to be treasured by fans. Some days, I feel that way, too. Other days, I think of Billy Dooley.

While researching my book on Lloyd Hamilton, I came across extensive promotional material on Dooley, whose comedies were distributed by the same company that distributed Hamilton's comedies. I took to disliking Dooley the very first time I saw his face filling up a one-page promotional sheet. I do not know why he managed to rub me the wrong way like he did. I saw other ads and other photos of Dooley. Dooley looked as if he was trying hard to be Harry Langdon, except he lacked the charming and intriguing qualities of Langdon. He looked like his whole purpose in posing for these pictures was to look as dumb as a person could possibly look. And as if the expression failed to clue me in to how dumb he was, he was wearing his trademark sailor shirt on backwards. His pants, which were too tight and too short, probably wouldn't help him to pass a dress inspection either. I think that a person could be intolerably stupid. On Amazon, a customer reviewing a Gomer Pyle DVD said that, if Gomer Pyle lived in the real world, he would get his ass kicked every day. I feel the same way about Dooley.

Producer Al Christie hired Dooley and his partner Frances Lee after seeing them perform in a vaudeville show. Christie, for some unknown reason, did not use Dooley and Lee together on screen. Lee worked as Bobby Vernon's leading lady for three years. Then, Christie gave Lee her own series, "Confessions of a Chorus Girl," which had no purpose other than to show just how cute and charming the starlet could look in bathing suits and lingerie. In the meantime, Dooley starred in a series about dimwitted sailor Billy Epsom. The name was supposed to be a play on words - Epsom was a salt and a sailor was called a salt. It's okay if you didn't laugh. It's not a great pun like "I couldn't quite remember how to throw a boomerang, but eventually it came back to me." Okay, fine, maybe puns are not funny in general. I don't watch silent comedies because I'm into wordplay.

Dooley can be compared to both Larry Semon and Harry Langdon. It was obvious that he wore the same white-face make-up that both Semon and Langdon wore. But, even more, he managed to combine Semon's clownishness with Langdon's childishness. As for distinguishing qualities, Dooley was, for what it's worth, taller and thinner than most comedians. And oh, yeah, there was the backwards sailor shirt.

Every day, I would pull out a new batch of pressbooks and there again would be Dooley's face. The photos were different but Dooley's expression never changed. He always had the same dazed, wide-eyed look. He always had the same dopey grin. It made my hatred grow more expansive and more lively.

I recently saw my first Dooley comedy, Sailor Beware. There isn't much of plot to this one-joke comedy. Salty sap Dooley, newly arrived from New Guinea, has brought back a Guinea pig as a pet for his girlfriend. It so happens that, on the same day, the newspaper has issued a warning that a Guinea pig carrying "deadly germs" has gotten loose from a laboratory. Dooley pulls the Guinea pig out of a box on a trolley car, which causes other passengers to panic and leap out of the doors and windows. This same situation is repeated again and again, with people panicking as soon as they set eyes on the Guinea pig. Dooley doesn't do much during these scenes. To get a laugh, he either looks at the camera and stretches out his dopey grin or he makes his gangly legs go all rubbery and runs away.

A title card introduces the "health squad" - an energetic group of men wearing rubber gloves, gas masks and white lab coats. They are armed with those old-fashioned garden sprayers with the long hand pump and the big can up front. Evidently, this mixture that they're spraying is some disinfectant meant neutralize airbourne germs, but the spray also has the effect of making people smile, stiffen, and topple over. I highly doubt that this is the part of the FDA-approved quarantine procedure in relation to contagious rodents. All in all, it's pretty dumb stuff. I have to think that the guys who wrote this were wearing their shirts on backwards, too.

Dooley gets his hands on a sprayer and squirts the chemical at people. At one point, he removes the masks from the health workers and sprays them directly into their faces. The rictus that the health workers develop make them look somewhat like Dooley. They have a big, goofy grin plastered across their faces and they have their eyes open wide in a dazed stare. It is as if Dooley is out to create his very own army of clones to take over the world.

I would be a liar if I said that I didn't laugh at all at Dooley. His attack with the sprayer got to be so silly that I couldn't help but laugh. But, please, don't tell anyone I told you that. As it stands, I would be willing to keep an open mind and watch some other Dooley comedies - maybe, Row, Sailor, Row, or A Briny Boob, or Off the Deck, or Gobs of Love.

After this series, Dooley played bit parts in feature films. These parts were so small that his name didn't usually appear in the credits. He played, at various times, a reporter, a janitor, a painter, a bartender, a drunk, a gas station attendant, and a taxicab driver. He was a pirate in Treasure Island (1934). He was "Nervous Man Trying to Cross Racetrack" in the Joe E. Brown comedy 6 Day Bike Rider (1934). He was "Postman delivering fishing rod" in You're Only Young Once (1937). He was "Banana Eater" in Married Before Breakfast (1937). He even got to play a sailor again in the Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers musical Follow the Fleet (1936). His most interesting role, though, was as a "Film crewman with spray gun" in A Star Is Born (1937). Dooley had surely proven in Sailor Beware that he was effective with a spray gun.

Dooley died from a heart attack in 1938. Goodnight and God bless, funnyman.

Being Keaton

On a recent episode of Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, Bill Paxton gave host Fallon an original edition of Rudi Blesh's biography of Buster Keaton. Paxton explained that he had long believed that Fallon looked like Keaton. The picture that appears below was put up on screen alongside Fallon.

I was happy to see the Blesh book. The book, sealed in plastic, looked brand new. It looked exactly like the copy I purchased thirty-five years ago. If my memory serves me well, this was the first book I ever read about silent comedy. It was, without a doubt, a poignant book. Keaton, as described by Blesh, was comedy's great martyr. The photo on the cover said it all - it made Keaton look as agonized as Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. It's no wonder that Keaton has never been able to shed the "sad clown" image.

The other Keaton biographies that followed pointed out inaccuracies in the book. In Blesh's defense, he could only be as accurate as his sources. Keaton, himself, told Blesh things that weren't true. It was a big disappointment to me to learn that Keaton had not, in fact, been carried off by a twister as a child. As it turns out, this story was the invention of a publicist.

Not long ago, another former SNL star, Chris Kattan, was hired to play Keaton in a feature film by Argus Entertainment, but the project was eventually abandoned because the producers failed to find adequate funding. If you want my opinion, they would be better off if they just made a movie where Chris Kattan got to play Jimmy Fallon.

The Wrath of a Biographer

I gave a shout out in my Hamilton biography to Ben Stiller, praising the comedian for upholding the principles of classic comedy. But I kind of regret being so nice to Stiller. I asked Stiller to write an introduction to my book and he never bothered to get back to me. Look, I don't want to hold a grudge. I understand that, at the time, Stiller was busy running around the tropical jungles of Hawaii to film Tropic Thunder. This was no little "kitchen sink" drama. This production was mounted at a cost to Dreamworks of $150 million. Stiller wrote it, directed it and acted in it. This had to have been difficult, stressful work. Stiller was filming on the island of Kauai for 13 weeks. Look at a picture of this place.

How can I expect someone trapped for 13 weeks in a hellhole like that to pick up a pen and write a few words for my book? Kauai has the very menacing nickname the "Garden Isle." I'm telling you, these movie stars have it tough. Did you know that they have feral chickens on Kauai?

It is selfish for me to think this guy had the time and energy to write an introduction for my little book. I hear that they don't even have pens on Kauai. If you are on this island and need to write something, you need to extract brown pigment from a cuttlefish.

I am sure that I will eventually get over my hurt feelings. But don't be surprised if they release a second edition of my book and all my references to Ben Stiller have been removed and I have a new passage in which I declare Will Ferrell to be classic comedy's keeper of the flame.

When Ham and Bud Met Bugs and Daffy

A film clip of Ham and Bud talking to a newsboy was shown during Chuck Jones: Memories of Childhood, a documentary which debuted this month on TCM. Jones revealed that, at an early age, he became fascinated with Ham and Bud. He was living at the time in an orange grove on Sunset Boulevard and the comedy duo would occasionally drop by his house to visit.

Jones couldn't have been more than five years old at the time, but Ham and Bud left enough of an impression on him that he talked about them repeatedly in his later years. He talked particularly about Bud, who he described as a "midget." He wrote in his autobiography, Chuck Reducks, that Bud let him try on one of his costumes. It was a western outfit that came with wooly cowboy chaps, multiple gun belts and a sombrero. Jones said, "[Bud] was my size in every department but the hat." The hat, according to Jones, "hung on my head like a garbage-can lid."

I cannot say if Jones' memory of Ham and Bud ever influenced his work. Was he thinking of Ham and Bud when he was animating Tom and Jerry cartoons?

Did Bud enter his mind when he created the diminutive Sniffles?

Friday, March 20, 2009

It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Script

Stories have circulated that Stanley Kramer's original cut of It's A Mad, Mad, Mad Mad World was more than five hours long. When I first heard this, I tried to imagined what other mishaps could have possibly befallen the bedraggled cast during the course of the missing footage. Eventually, my curiosity led me to obtain a copy of the film's shooting script. I have to report that the film is fairly faithful to the script. The order of the scenes are rearranged at times. Lines are altered here and there. But it is largely the same.

The story begins with bank robber "Smiler" Grogan (Jimmy Durante) speeding down a winding desert highway and driving his car off a cliff. Drivers stop their cars to go to Grogan's aide. Grogan, with his last breath, tells the drivers he has buried a fortune in stolen cash under a "big W" in a state park in Santa Rosita. This launches the drivers on a mad chase to claim the loot.

The script offers definite insights into the making of this classic film.

Foremost, it should be expected that a cast of highly successful, highly competitive comedians will not always stay on the page. In the opening scene, the drivers discuss ways to split up the money should they find it. This leads into a discussion about taxes that does not appear in the script. It would be my guess that this dialogue was improvised on the set. Sid Caesar and Milton Berle are tenative in their part of the exchange but Jonathan Winters, the alltime master of improvisation, knows exactly how to keep this dialogue on track.

Caesar (to Winters): "And you, by yourself, you get $56,000. Alone. And that's tax-free money."

Winters: "Whadya mean, tax-free?"

Caesar: "Well, I mean, if we go down to this park and we uncover the money, and we. . . um. . . I'm sure he's not going to declare anything. I know, I know, he's not going to declare anything. And I'm, you know, not gonna declare anything. . ."

Winters: "What are you talking about 'declare' it?"

Caesar: "Well, I mean, it's like nontaxable income. It's like a gift."

Winters: "But sure, if we find the money, we still have to report the taxes. Otherwise, it's like stealing from the government."

Caesar (turning to Berle): "Oh, brother, could you explain it to him?"

Berle: "Who, me? Well, you see, if we find the money, there may not be any taxes on it. Because we did find the money. What he was trying to say is. . ."

Winters: "Listen, everybody has to pay taxes - even businessmen, that rob and cheat and steal from people every day, even they have to pay taxes."

Caesar: "I give up."

A police team, which had been following Grogan, suspects that Grogan told the drivers about the money. They decide that, if they keep the drivers under surveillance, they might lead them to the money. The script includes many scenes of police surveillance teams talking on their radios to report the whereabouts of our comedy ensemble to headquarters. The scriptwriters must have thought that these sideline broadcasts would add to the suspense of the story and would keep the audience from getting confused about what was going on. They were wrong. These scenes are repetitious, uninteresting and unnecessary. I haven't taken the time to compare these scenes shot-for-shot with what appears in the film, but I can tell you that a number of these scenes were left out. For example, the writers describe a patrol car being parked a couple of hundred yards away as Winters' character, Lennie Pike, goes on a rampage in a filling station. Two patrolmen inside the car make useless comments ("Did you see that?" and "Holy jumping!") while observing Pike demolish the garage. This dimwitted Greek chorus was, in the end, nothing more than an annoying distraction.

Some scenes with the Detective Culpepper (Spencer Tracy) didn't make it into the final film. This includes a scene where Culpepper talks on the phone with ex-con Jimmy (Buster Keaton). Further footage was trimmed from scenes featuring Culpepper on the phone with his wife Ginger and daughter Billie Sue. The point of these scenes was to show that Culpepper is having family problems and he is being nagged to death by his wife and daughter. This motivates him to eventually steal the money for himself. But it didn't take much time to make this point. Selma Diamond, who provided the voice of Ginger, made sure to make the voice as annoying as possible. In the film, a little of this voice goes a long way and hearing any more of it would have really been too much for viewers to bear.

Sid Caesar appears in the film as dentist Melville Crump. It was Mickey Rooney who was originally cast in this role, but it was later decided that Rooney should play opposite Buddy Hackett as Crump rival Ding Bell. The Crump role was then assigned to Ernie Kovacs, who was killed in a car crash before shooting began. Caesar had a few opportunties to put his personal stamp on the role. At a small, dusty airfield, Rooney and Hackett get upset that Caesar was able to charter a plane before them. They start taunting Caesar, telling him how they hate dentists. Rooney tells him, "I hate you so much that I’m not able to tell you how much I hate you in front of your wife." In the script, Rooney and Hackett's characters rush back to their car to get back on the road and find another way to get to Santa Rosita. In the film, Caesar becomes so enraged by the insults that he pulls off his coat and charges like a bull after the duo, who race to their car to get away from him. "Why you. . .," shouts Caesar. " Come on over here! Come on over here!" Caesar was a big, broad-shouldered comedian who could be extremely funny getting angry and throwing his weight around. This is one moment in the film that shows Caesar at his most natural.

The cameo appearances of Jack Benny and the Three Stooges were added during production, but surprisingly Jerry Lewis' cameo role is outlined in the script. Shots 57, 58 and 59 describe Detective Culpepper accidentally knocking his hat out of a window and the hat falling into the middle of the street. A driver, identified in the script as "Mean Man," swerves his car out of his lane to run over the hat. The script reads, "The man. . . is straining forward, giggling excitedly, looking back in his rear-view mirror." The scene would not mean much if not for the surprise of seeing Lewis as the driver. It's hard to imagine why the writers bothered putting this scene in the script unless they expected Kramer to cast a major comedian in the role.

Rooney and Hackett meet Tyler Fizgerald (Jim Backus), a rich man who owns a private plane, and convince him to take them to Santa Rosita. Fitzgerald takes a break in the middle of the flight to mix himself a drink. He has Hackett hold onto the controls of the plane but the plane hits turbulence and Fitzerald bangs his head and is knocked unconscious. A scene that was shot but later lost features Rooney trying to wake up Fitzerald. At one point, he grabs a pitcher of water, thinking it will wake Fitzgerald to have water thrown in his face, but he misses Fitzgerald and the water douses Hackett instead.

When botanist Terry-Thomas offers to give a ride to Berle, Ethel Merman and Dorothy Provine, Merman has trouble squeezing into the backseat, which is loaded with plants. In the script, Merman's character sits on a catcus and screams. In the film, Merman holds up a catcus and asks, "Where should I stick this?" Berle rolls his eyes and remarks, "Oh, boy!"

In Shot 182, Winters is riding with Provine in a tow truck. He tells her that he only wanted the money so that he could buy a wheelchair for this nice old lady named Mrs. Harris. This shot was removed before the film reached the theatres but it was restored in 1991 when MGM/UA prepared a "special edition" version for VHS and laserdisc.

No actor is identified in the script except for Mike Mazurki, who the scriptwriters recommend for the role of the miner who flags down Phil Silvers' car. It doesn't seem that the other roles are tailored for the actors who would eventually play them, although Silvers' character is described by Winters' character as a "baldheaded guy with a sneery expression." That does sound like Silvers, except that Silvers brought a lot more to the film than a bald head and a sneery expression and he greatly expanded on what the writers put on paper.

Silvers gets a flat tire and has to stop at a filling station to have it repaired. In the script, Silvers' character is never described pulling into the gas station. He gets the flat in Shot 148. In Shot 156, he has already gotten the tire repaired and he is paying the attendants. In the film, Silvers is shown pulling into the gas station. He keeps honking his horn until the owners of the garage, Ray and Irwin, come out to greet him. Silvers, in typical fashion, delivers his lines in rapid-fire and repeatedly claps his hands to hurry the garage owners along. "Fellas," he says, "I’m glad you’re here. Look, I need your help. Here’s what happened. I had this blowout. I think there’s a spare in the back. It may be a little flat. Take a look at it will you kid? Is there an airport anyplace around here? Look, if the spare is flat don’t bother fixing it. Gimme a new tire, alright? You ain’t got a new tire? Then you’ll have to fix the spare. But don’t look at me. Move it, will you kid? You, you could be gassing up while he’s working. What is it a staring contest? Come on! Move! Move, will you kid? Come on!" It's a lot of dialogue, but Silvers rattles off these lines in under twenty seconds.

Another trim from the filling station scene featured Arnold Stang, as Ray, climbing into rafters of the garage to get away from Winters, who has arrived at the filling station and gone berserk seeing his hated, backstabbing rival Silvers.

Later, Silvers offers a little boy one dollar to show him a shortcut to the main road. The boy demands three dollars. In the script, Silvers' character replies, "All right, three dollars! But come on, I'm in a hurry. Come on, jump in the car!" Silvers makes this exchange funnier on screen. "Three dollars?!" says Silvers, appalled. "Why you. . . [suddently smiling] yeah, alright, three dollars." Silvers had started to get angry but then he realized that he had better be nice if he wanted to get out of here. He makes a smooth transition from angry to smarmy as only Silvers could. Then, he smacks his hands together. "But don't stand there - hurry, kid, I got to get out of here!"

The little boy first leads the comedian down a steep hill and then to the edge of a running stream. In the script, Silvers pleads, "Do we have to cross that? Do we?" In the film, Silvers is sarcastic and threatening. He says, "I can’t cross here. You said the main road. This is Niagra Falls. Alright, you’re a little boy. You wanna be a big boy? Which way to the main road?" Silvers has often been compared to another testy comic con artist, W. C. Fields. I could easily see Fields in this role becoming increasingly frustrated with the little boy.

Silvers later convinces Don Knotts that he is an American spy so that he can get Knotts to drive him to Santa Rosita. In the script, Silvers says that he is agent M-27. In the film, the dialogue is pretty much the same except that Silvers says that he is Agent X-27. In Neil Simon's The Sunshine Boys, old vaudeville comedian Willy Clark explains, "Words with a 'k' in it are funny. Alka-Seltzer is funny. Chicken is funny. Pickle is funny. All with a k. L's are not funny. M's are not funny." I assume that it was because old vaudeville comedian Silvers was aware that the letter "M" was not funny that he decided to call himself Agent X-27.

Silvers' character is aggressive in the script but Silvers makes him even more aggressive on screen. Silvers is running his spiel so furiously that he doesn't give Knotts a chance to speak. Knotts no sooner gets out a word then Silver shouts, "Will you shut up!"

Silvers convinces Knotts to go into a cafe to make an emergency phone call to the CIA. As soon as Knotts walks away, Silvers slides into the drivers' seat and takes off in the car. The scene ends at this point in the film. But, according to the script, Knotts' character was supposed to be observed through the plate glass window of the cafe interupting a large woman on a pay phone. The woman won't let him use the phone and he tries to grab it away from her. The woman reacts by attacking Knotts' character. It is conceivable that this scene was shot and included in Kramer's rough assembly but never made it into the theatrical print.

One of the most striking changes in the film has to do with Dick Shawn's character, Sylvestor Marcus. In the script, Merman's character calls her beach-bum son Sylvestor on the phone to get his help. She wants to get him to drive to Santa Rosita, which is near his home, and dig up the money before anyone else has a chance to get there. Sylvestor is described climbing out of bed and slipping on a Hawaiian shirt before he takes the call. He's a fairly normal character. But Shawn plays this character as a manic, bare-chested bohemian. When the phone rings, he and girlfriend Barrie Chase are doing some deranged twist as the Shirelles' "31 Flavors" is blasting from the stereo. Chase is in a furry black bikini and has this strangely blank expression on her face. Have drugs put her in a stupor? Is the Shirelles' singing so powerful that it has had a hypnotic effect? Shawn, who is getting excited by her gyrations, is howling at her and jumping up and down.

The Sylvestor character has been transferred to the screen with an Oedipal complex. He panics when his mother tells him that she had a fight with son-in-law Berle. "He assaulted me if you want to know," says Merman. "He grabbed me right beside the road - he and this Englishman I don't even know." Sylvestor cannot listen to another word. "Your baby’s coming to get you. I’m coming to get you, Mom." He hangs up. In the script, Merman's character says, "He wouldn't let me speak, the big idiot! How could he be so stupid?" In the film, Merman is stunned when Shawn hangs up the phone. She stares off into space. "So he’s coming here," she mumbles to herself. "And I’m not to worry about a thing, because everything is going to be alright." Then, she turns to her daughter, Emmeline. "Exactly like your father - a big, stupid, muscle-headed moron!"

Only the audio portion remains for Shot 249, which features Shawn stealing his girlfriend's Dodge convertible to drive after his mother. Chase shouts, "No! You can't take my car! My husband - what do you think my husband is going to say?" This scene reveals that Shawn is in fact howling over a married woman, which makes this beach bum a real bum. The scene also reveals that Chase, who has heretofore been mute and stone-faced, can actually talk and express emotion. That actually ruins her character for me. Chase is much more funny and surreal without dialogue or emotion.

Later, Shawn is speeding down the highway and sobbing uncontrollably. "I’m coming," he says, "That’s what I’m here for. That’s why you had me, Mama, to save you." These lines, my favorite in the entire film, do not appear anywhere in the script.

The money-hunters converge at the park in Santa Rosita. Shawn is working with Winters to dig up the money. At this point, Shawn and Winters have a funny exchange that is not part of the script. Shawn becomes frustrated because he feels that Winters is getting in his way. When he tells Winters to climb out of the hole and let him dig on his own, he uses slang that Winters doesn't understand. "Wait a minute, wait a minute," he says to Winters. "There’s not enough room, man, you’re bugging me. You’re bugging me." Winters is puzzled. "What are you talking about ‘bugging’?" he asks. Shawn says, "Cut out, cut out." Winters is more puzzled than he was before. "What’s this ‘cut out’ talk?" he asks. "Out, baby," answers Shawn. "Out, baby. Out!" "Don’t call me a baby!" says Winters.

It has been reported that a dance sequence featuring the Shirelles was filmed but never used. I cannot imagine where this scene would have fit into the film.

Most of the main characters end up breaking bones in a wildly extravagant climax. The final scene features these characters in traction in a large hospital room. Little dialogue was scripted for this scene. Culpepper, who has both arms in a sling, chuckles. Otto Meyer, the character played by Silvers, asks him what's so funny. Culpepper says, "I was just remembering - when all the reports on you ten were coming in - I kept saying to myself, they must be idiots. Idiots. And here I am. . ." Lennie Pike, Winters' character, finishes a banana and tosses the peel at his tray. The peel misses the tray and ends up on the floor. Pike says, "It'll take a lot more than that to get a laugh out of me. . ." Merman's character strides into room in a tirade. "Now see here, you idiots," she shouts, "it's all your fault!" She slips on banana peel and falls on the floor. This breaks the tension. Everyone laughs. The film ends. The dialogue in this scene was considerably expanded during production to build up the dramatic tension before Merman's pratfall. The business with the banana peel was inexplicably transferred to Hackett.

The script certainly does not have enough material for a five-hour film. The only way that Kramer could have turned out a version that long would be if he had stretched out the scenes with two hours of adlibs. I do not see that as being likely. Meanwhile, I suspect that those missing scenes that were filmed mostly deserved to end up on the cutting room floor.

Hollywood Reality

I am addicted to the reality television shows starring over-the-hill celebrities. Celebrity Rehab. Celebrity Apprentice. Any show could use the "celebrity" prefix in its title and I would immediately become a devoted viewer. Animal Planet could air Celebrity Dogwash and I would be there.

I wish they had a series like these back in the old days of Hollywood. I can see it now. It's 1938. RKO short subject director Hal Yates crams together a bunch of old actors and sports figures into a small home in San Fernando Valley. The series, called Celebrity Bungalow, features Billy Bevan, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Bobby Jones, Theda Bara, Charles Ray, Bebe Daniels, and Mickey Walker.

I am not as fond of the no-name, do-nothing people who are featured in other reality shows. These alleged "reality stars" remind me of the grotesque characters who romped around in Keystone comedies. Walter Kerr described the early slapstick comedians as "pre-moral." These reality stars are post-moral. Tom Calderone, the president of VH1, deserves the Mack Sennett Golden Pie Award for his extraordinarily egregious reality shows, which bring together unruly low-class people to get drunk, slap each other, punch each other, fall down, and become involved in insanely silly flings. Slapstick performers had an anything-for-a-laugh spirit that made them do lots of wild and crazy things. Reality stars are exhibitionists who are willing to do anything to get attention. They adopt outrageous personas to be bigger-than-life. They give themselves catchy nicknames. The other day, I saw a self-professed golddigger on a reality show. She was a living cartoon, as exaggerated and flashy as the golddiggers that populated slapstick comedies. These shows have pie fights, chases, and dudes dressing in drag. Reality Television, the New Slapstick.

Come to think of it, a slapstick comedian like Billy Bevan probably had too much dignity to do a reality show.

A Comedy Dynasty

Better Off Ted, a surreal new sitcom on ABC, is produced by Skip Beaudine, the grandson of comedy legend William Beaudine. William Beaudine, who worked in the film industry from 1909 to 1966, just happens to have been a director and golf buddy of Lloyd Hamilton.

Ah, yes, the human web. This person is tied to this person, who is tied to this person, who is tied to this person. Hamilton was in the movie Hollywood (1923) with Bess Flowers, who was in Here Comes the Groom (1951) with Patty McCormack, who was in Frost/Nixon (2008) with Kevin Bacon. I once showed up at Scarlett Johansson's house and tried to explain to her that I was a second cousin, but she went back into the house and called the police.

Hamilton, who used exploding ostrich eggs in a film, would most likely have enjoyed the debut episode of Better Off Ted, which featured an exploding pumpkin.

The Prime of Lloyd Hamilton

Last year, partial prints of Hungry Lions in a Hospital (1918) and His Musical Sneeze (1919), two Lloyd Hamilton comedies long thought to be lost, were discovered by preservationist organizations. Laughsmith Entertainment, best known for the DVD release The Forgotten Films of Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, had a surprise showing of Hungry Lions in a Hospital at Slapsticon 2008. The Film Archive of the Danish Film Institute generated buzz in silent film comedy forums when they announced the discovery of His Musical Sneeze. These comedies feature Hamilton at a transitional period in his career. It was during these years that the comedian was working hard to develop his classic "poor boy" character.

I must admit that, as excited as I was to learn about these discoveries, these were not the Hamilton comedies that I was most anxious to see turn up. Hamilton reached a very definite creative peak from 1921 to 1924 and, as it now stands, the films from this period are almost entirely lost. I would be thrilled to hear that someone had uncovered any one of these comedies. This includes, among others, Robinson Crusoe Ltd. (1921), The Advisor (1921), The Educator (1922), The Rainmaker (1922), Poor Boy (1922), The Optimist (1923) and Good Morning (1924).

I have a few images from The Educator.

Distracting Menu Signs

I have a terrible obsession with menu signs that appear in old movies and television shows. I cannot help but be amazed at how low the prices were back then. I will be so busy fixating on the fact that a complete Swiss Steak Dinner cost only 65 cents that I will miss key dialogue and lose track of what's going on in the story. Complete dinner? You mean, I get the swiss steak along with salad, vegetable, appetizer, beverage and dessert all for 65 cents. Wow, that's terrific! Wait, I forgot, what I was talking about again? See what I mean, it's a bad fixation. Psychologists should give this disorder a name.

Jason Segel as Buster Keaton