Friday, September 23, 2011

Dance Your Pants Off

A popular comedy routine in silent films involved a man tearing his pants as he strutted around a crowded dance floor. The earliest known version of the routine was performed by Max Linder in a 1908 film simply titled Torn Trousers.

Later versions incorporated one contrivance or another that led to the man losing his pants entirely. The evolution of the routine culminated in the famous party scene of Harold Lloyd's The Freshman (1925).


Dropping trou is no longer exclusive to men. A recent update of the routine featured on the BBC series Miranda placed a woman (Miranda Hart) into this embarrassing situation ("Date," 2009). Hart's character figures that she can readjust her pants without being noticed by keeping to the rhythm of the music.

A Kovacs Variation

Ernie Kovacs staged a variation of the water-spurting-out-of-bullet holes gag. A cowboy gunslinger expects to unwind after a shootout by lighting up a cigar, but he no sooner takes a puff on the cigar then streams of smoke rise alarmingly from bullet holes in his body. I was able to find a clip online, but the quality is not the best.

Honesty is Still the Best Politics

Sons of the Desert (1933) involves Laurel and Hardy skipping out on a trip to the mountains with their wives to sneak off to a lodge convention.  Their scheme goes as planned until the wives witness the duo featured prominently in newsreel footage of the convention.  This was a stock comic premise used frequently in silent films, but no other comedians had ever used the premise to greater advantage than Laurel and Hardy.

The team may have had the last word on the routine if it wasn't that television scribes had to sometimes revive old material to meet the relentless demands of television production.  The Sons of the Desert premise found its way into television by way of a 1959 episode of Leave It to Beaver called "Beaver Plays Hooky."  Fate is just as cruel to  Beaver and friend Larry, who are exposed as truants while being featured in a live television broadcast.

The boys concoct a story about a flood at their school.  The story is more believable than Stan and Ollie's "ship-hiking" alibi, but it isn't good enough to fool Beaver's mother.  Beaver realizes that he has no choice but to tell the truth.  His mother is willing to forgive him as long as he apologizes to his teacher.  Larry, acting in the same capacity as the portly Hardy, is less willing to be honest and this incites his father to throw Larry across his knee and spank him.