Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Hide in Plain Sight

Charlie Chaplin in The Idle Class (1921)

 W. C. Fields in You Can't Cheat an Honest Man (1939)

Mike Myers in Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me (1999)

Chaplin's version of this routine was elegantly choreographed.  Fields' version was uproariously performed.  By comparison, Myers' version may come across as crass and overdone, but it still manages in its own way to amusingly elaborate on this longstanding premise.

Friday, April 13, 2012

The Tilting House Routine

A house tilting, and its occupants being tossed from one side of the house to the other, was first attributed to ghostly mischief in The Haunted House (1908).

It later lost its supernatural trappings and became the result of either natural disaster or simple slapstick anarchy.

Larry Semon in Lightning Love (1923)

Cliff Bowes in Welcome Danger! (1925)

The best known version of the routine was crafted by Charlie Chaplin for The Gold Rush (1925). 

A more modern version of the routine was featured in Black Sheep (1996). 

The idea of a Gold Rush-style cabin suspended high above ground, with no tilting at all involved, can be found in Red Skelton's I Dood It (1943).

Additional Note (published September 12, 2014): In You're in the Army Now (1941), a pair of inept army privates (Phil Silvers and Jimmy Durante) improperly operate a tank, causing the massive vehicle to drag a general's house to the edge of a cliff.  The house teeters off the cliff in the exact way that Chaplin's cabin teetered off a cliff in The Gold Rush.  Hal Erickson, author of Military Comedy Films, reported that Chaplin was so upset by the similarity of the scenes that he threatened to sue Warner Brothers for plagiarism.

The Boomerang Hat Trick

Oddjob was not the one to come up with the boomerang hat. 

Larry Semon in Horseshoes (1923)

Al St. John in Hot or Cold (1928)

Harold Lloyd in The Milky Way (1936)

The Three Stooges in 3 Dumb Clucks (1937)

Looney Larry

A number of gags that appeared in Bugs Bunny cartoons can be traced to silent films.  Take this gag for instance.

Director Chuck Jones artfully appropriated the gag from the most cartoony of all silent film comedians - Larry Semon.  Look at the following clip, which was taken from a dubbed Italian-language print of Semon's The Sportsman (1921).


Carry that Weight

In Old Tin Sides (1927), Kewpie Ross undertook a routine originally performed by Harry Langdon in The Strong Man (1926). The routine, as introduced, involved Langdon struggling to carry an unconscious woman up a flight of stairs.

Unfortunately, the makers of Old Tin Sides did away with the tension and awkwardness that made the routine funny by replacing the unconscious woman with a sack of potatoes.  But this was not the only significant difference between the old and new scenes.  In The Strong Man, the camera was set up to capture Langdon's facial expressions.  But this could hardly have been a concern when it came to Ross, who was not a comedian known for his expressiveness.  Instead, the camera was set up at a distance and angle that prevented a clear and direct view of Ross' face.  After all, subtle reactions had nothing to do with the main objective of this scene, which was to get Ross' character to back out of a window and fall two stories. 

A number of comedians demonstrated how difficult it was to transport an unconscious woman home, but Jack Cooper proved in Taxi Dolls (1929) that handling an automaton in the likeness of a woman is just as tricky.

Vamps, Vacuum Cleaners and Nosey Balloons

I continue to come across stock gags and routines. Here is some familiar comic business.

Pancake Breaks Plate Gag
 Billy Bevan in By Heck (1921)

Vamp Routine
Snub Pollard in All Wet (1926) 

Balloon with a Face Routine
Charlie Murray and Ben Turpin in Home Talent (1921) 

Vacuum Cleaner Routine
No Vacancies (1923)

 Hair Stands Up Gag

This tried-and-true gag was found in the 1921 Sennett comedy Home Talent.  The situation is that Charlie Murray is tied up to a steam boiler about to explode.

Larry Semon tries his best to be chivalrous in The Rent Collector (1921). 

The exact same routine was performed by a number of comedians.   Here, however, is a clever variation of the routine performed by Billy Bevan in Ma and Pa (1922).

I found the source of another Three Stooges' routine.

The Three Stooges in A Bird In The Head (1946)

Billy Bevan in Ma and Pa (1922)