Monday, July 29, 2013

The Mirror Prank

The Schwartz Brothers performed the famous mirror routine during an international tour in 1912 and, in their wake, film adaptations of the routine were produced by at least three companies - Solax, Cines and Pathé. The Solax film, which I discuss in The Funny Parts, was a Alice Guy Blaché film called His Double (1912).

His Double (1912)

The Pathé film was a Max Linder comedy called Max on the Road to Matrimony (1913). Last year, I watched the Linder film as part of a work print of a new documentary by Elio Quiroga. I do not wish to comment on anything in the documentary until it has its official release. That leaves it for me to discuss the third and final film of the bunch. The Cines film, Kri Kri domestico (1913), turned up on YouTube a few months ago.

Kri Kri domestico presents an intriguing variation of the mirror routine. Our comic hero, Kri Kri (Raymond Krau), has no good reason to pretend to be another man's mirror image. He is not trying to thwart a romantic rival, or escape a lunatic, or steal state secrets, or hide the fact that he broke his employer's dressing mirror. Kri Kri, an envious servant, simply wants to play a prank on the master of the house (Gildo Bocci). Comedies that were centered on a prank, whether playful or malicious, were common in the early years of film.

Kri Kri domestico's mirror routine stands out mostly for its clever payoff.  Just the fact that the film offers a payoff is remarkable since most versions of the routine have no clear resolution.  All that happens is that the hoax is exposed and the scene ends.  But Kri Kri domestico provides an interesting twist.  The rich man, who relies on his dressing mirror to tell him if he looks well, is engrossed with his "reflection" while he attires himself for a formal reception.  He has no need to examine the physical items that he is handling as he perfectly trusts what he sees transpire within the frame of the mirror.  He believes that he is dressing in formal wear, including a top hat and black dress jacket, because this is what he sees happening before him.  But Kri Kri is in fact putting on the man's fine clothing while the man is left to put on Kri Kri's clothing - a white sports jacket and an ill-fitting bowler. It is the prince and the pauper changing places, expect the prince is unaware of the switch.  The man is later humiliated when he shows up to the reception in his shabby garb.

Kri Kri domestico (1913)

Mismatched hats create a discrepancy between Groucho and faux reflection Harpo in the classic Duck Soup version of the mirror routine. The hats are different in style and color. The color contrast could not be more distinct - one hat is white while the other is black.

The same light and dark contrast was applied earlier to the jackets in Kri Kri domestico. It brings to mind a negative exposure image.

The black and white jackets and the mismatched hats may have been elements of the original stage version of the routine. Now, with Duck Soup, these elements merged into one. Kri Kri domestico ends the same way that Max Linder ends his second adaptation of the routine.
Max Linder in Seven Years Bad Luck (1921)

Let me now offer a few more recent versions of the mirror routine.

Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs (1966)

The Nutt House (1992)(dubbed in Russian)

Sister, Sister ("The Meeting," 1994)

The Vicar of Dibley ("Celebrity Vicar," 1998)

 The Olsen Twins on Saturday Night Live (2004)

This is the only version I know that involves a busty clone.

Repli-Kate (2002)

Garfield: A Tail of Two Kitties (2006)

I recently wrote about a routine in which Buster Keaton appears to be meticulously cleaning a window but it turns out the window frame is missing a glass pane and Keaton is cleaning nothing but air.  Keaton later applied the same premise to a mirror routine in Sherlock, Jr. (1924).

Other versions of the mirror routine can be found in these earlier posts.

Additional note

Alice Guy Blaché's His Double featured the first known version of the mirror routine to be recorded on film. A precedent for other classic comic business can be found in a variety of Blaché films. I cannot watch the filmmaker's The Drunken Mattress (1906), which features a woman struggling to carry a mattress up a flight up steps, without thinking of Laurel & Hardy struggling to carry a crate up a flight of steps in The Music Box (1932).

What's Black and Blue and Yellow All Over?

No one would expect the tired, bloated cast of Grown Ups 2 to risk bruises, sprains and broken bones to produce spectacular physical comedy.

But we are fortunate to have the computer-animated characters of Despicable Me 2 keep alive the lively and bumpy tradition of silent film comedy.

When I saw Despicable Me 2 in a theater, I heard the audience laugh loudly after our comic hero pointed a garden hose at an annoying woman and blasted her in the face with a forceful stream of water. The hose gag has a long tradition in film history. It was, in fact, the very first film gag. Its auspicious screen debut can be found in The Sprinkler Sprinkled (1895).

For decades, the comic greats found this simple gag to be highly useful.

Stan Laurel in Hustling For Health (1919)

Laurel and Hardy in Towed in a Hole (1932)

Despicable Me 2 is filled with vastly imaginative content. Take, for instance, this muscle-bound masked villain riding a shark into a volcano.

But, believe it or not, the audience did not react as enthusiastically to this business as they reacted to the old hose gag.

Later, a little yellow minion switches on a high-pressure fire hose and is sent with the hose flying through the air.

This is an old routine that was performed by a number of comedians, including Buster Keaton, Jerry Lewis, Laurel & Hardy and Lupino Lane.

Lupino Lane in His Private Life (1928)

Laurel & Hardy in Duck Soup (1927)

The unconscious woman routine also turns up in the film.

The most memorable versions of this routine were performed by Buster Keaton and Harry Langdon (See The Funny Parts), but Chaplin struggled to lift and carry an unconscious woman years before either Keaton or Langdon in A Night in the Show (1915).

The multiple clones routine and the evil ice cream truck routine are also featured in the film.


Additional note

To be fair, Grown Ups 2 did include one slapstick scene.  Here it is:

This clip actually uses more CGI than anything in Despicable Me 2.

Lupino Lane similarly went speeding through traffic inside a runaway tire in Howdy, Duke (1926).  I apologize for the poor quality of this clip.

The Dangers of Tropes

The efforts of Hollywood writers to condense the various aspects of a marriage into a compelling three-act structure has, for decades, brought forth a frustratingly distorted and misleading characterization of marriage. This wouldn't be so bad if it wasn't that many people look to the movies to understand the world around them. My warning to these people: Movies lie.

The subject of marriage in film is explored extensively in Jeannie Basinger's I Do and I Don't: A History of Marriage in the Movies.  Before I purchased this book, I made a point to check out the reviews on Amazon. One reviewer found the book infuriating. Another thought it was "grim reading." Neither blamed the author because it was clearly the subject matter that had stirred up their bad feelings. Marriage is a sensitive subject, but Hollywood's ham-handed treatment of marriage has been anything but sensitive.

Before Midnight, which is a truthful and insightful study of marriage, is a rare exception to the hopelessly inept marriage films that have come out of Hollywood in the last hundred years. It is, far and away, the best film ever made about this combustible union of husband and wife. The relevant issues are laid out clearly, genuinely and, most of all, painfully. Tomas Hachard, a critic for the Los Angeles Review of Books, summarized the film's message as follows: "A movie that tells us, while piercing holes through a fairy tale, that if love is to be more than just commitment, we must still commit to love." For certain, neither love nor commitment is as important to marriage as a husband and wife's commitment to love. Most people believe that we have no control over love. They remain steadfast in their view that a person cannot, in any way, help who they love. They are apt to shrug nonchalantly when they speak of an acquaintance who has fallen in love or fallen out of love. But they are plainly wrong. When we wed, we vow to sustain our love for our partner. The love between a husband and wife is a solemn duty. The marital vow is best known for the phrase "to love, honor and obey." People have even greater trouble with the vow's "obey" part as they equate obedience with slavishness. But this pledge to obey simply means that a person agrees to set aside ego and self-interest and submit to this other person. If both parties in a marriage practice humility and deference, neither party can truly become subjugated to the other.

Ego has certainly driven a wedge between the couple in Before Midnight. In our modern world, men and women are self-important creatures. Marriage may be too mundane and restrictive for these sort of people. Too many people make the mistake of carrying on as if they are the star of their own personal Hollywood production, which is not a practical way to go through life. Life is real while movies, as I said before, are lies. At one time, the working title for my gag history book was Lies that Buster Keaton Told Me.

For decades, Hollywood pounded it into our heads that news reporters were sleazy (The Front Page, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, Citizen Kane, Ace in the Hole) and then they pounded it into our heads that that news reporters were noble (All the President's Men, The China Syndrome, The Parallax View, Killing Fields).

At one time, consumers of films and television were told that the jock was a hero. Wally Cleaver was a jock. His parents were proud of him. His little brother looked up to him. His friends held him in high esteem. He was, in every way, a good guy. He showed up for every practice and he worked hard to succeed. He cooperated with teammates and did what his coach told him to do. In contrast, the coach had little use for the clownishly inept and unruly Eddie Haskell, whose role on the team was restricted to handing out towels.

But then a new trope was created. Now, according to Hollywood, the jock was a villain. The jock was, to everyone's dismay, a bully and a jerk. The unruly clown was the hero. I call this the wedgie era of cinema.

 To my knowledge, the earliest jerk jock was Flash Thompson, 
who tormented Peter Parker in the Spider-Man comic book.

Unfortunately, tropes alter the way people see the world. A trope may start out as a convenient tool for a lazy writer, but it soon becomes a form of propaganda. The nerds vs. the jocks became a political and ideological battle between intellectualism and athleticism. It became an argument in favor of the socialist idealists and in opposition of the fascist "men of action." In other words, it became nonsense that some people swallowed whole. I personally admire intellectuals and athletes. I favor the cooperation of different groups as opposed to conflict and competition. But films are about conflict and competition. It is for the same reason that marriage is portrayed in films as a battle of the sexes. I worry that this self-destructive battle has spilled over into real life.

Jesse Cataldo, critic with Slant, wrote of the Before Midnight couple, "Unmarried but united by children and a host of mundane responsibilities, the former trans-Atlantic soul mates are now a committed couple, no longer just a theoretical entity ready to be activated for another round of flirty debate. They have history and obligations, in addition to a growing sense of conjugal exhaustion, feelings made to seem even more prominent by the looming ruins of the film's Greek setting." That's what marriage is. It is history and obligations. . . and, oh yeah, diapers. It is not as juvenile, suspenseful, or enchanting as films usually make it out to be. It is not about drunken bachelor parties or lavish wedding receptions. It is not about the world recognizing or validating a couple's love for one another. That is the perspective of a person who imagines himself in a movie and is waiting to hear the audience applaud. The vital parts of our existence, such as our marriage and our job, are personal commitments that do not need to be announced to the world.

Let's talk about jobs. The notion of a career was inflated to absurd proportions by films. It was no longer enough for a man to work hard on a job so that he can earn a steady income to support his family. Careers came to the fore, causing the simple idea of a job to be obliterated. Careers give a person an identity, inspire their dreams and ambitions, and provide them with value. But isn't this really something that writers latched onto for the purpose of telling a good story? After all, writers have to find a way to clearly define a character. A character can be instantly defined in a film by his occupation. A character needs goals. Career ambitions translate into simple and distinct goals. A character needs to achieve a heroic victory in the end. Getting a contract with a new client or winning a promotion is a great curtain-closing victory. The difference between a job and career has been discussed extensively online. One writer claimed that, unlike a job, a career has a significant impact on society. Another writer said that a person puts time and energy into a job in return for money while a person puts his heart and soul into a career. That is self-important rubbish. A job is work with a paycheck. A career is work with a narrative. We walk through life as if we are characters in a movie. That, frankly, is stupid. Howard Beale said it in Network (1976): "You're beginning to believe the illusions we're spinning here, you're beginning to believe that the tube is reality and your own lives are unreal. You do. Why, whatever the tube tells you: you dress like the tube, you eat like the tube, you raise your children like the tube, you even think like the tube. This is mass madness, you maniacs. In God's name, you people are the real thing, WE are the illusion."

We are imaginary heroes in our own lives. We script our dialogue on Facebook. Party affiliations have become the white hat that we don in our daily showdowns in Internet forums. Draw, pardner! We have transformed ourselves into media figures.

My grandparents were too busy with their many obligations to go to a movie theatre. My grandfather owned a fruit stand. He was out of the house early in the morning to buy fruit at the farmers' market. At night, he watched the first half hour of the Ten O'Clock News before he went to bed. That was the extent of his television viewing. My grandmother watched The Mike Douglas Show while she cooked dinner. She once sat down with me to watch The Dean Martin Show. She affectionately referred to Martin as "that bum." She showed no other interest in television. My father, who worked multiple jobs, also never had much time for television. He once heard me down in the basement laughing my head off at an episode of F Troop. He came to see what I thought was so funny, but he didn't stick around for more than five minutes. I don't know what to make of people who watch a large amount of television and then spend hours talking about what they saw in online forums. That much television is bound to distort your perspective and generally rot your brain. I admit to having viewed more than my share of television, which explains the poor state of my own brain.

I love movies, don't get me wrong, but I know the difference between life and art, entertainment and propaganda, and enjoyment and overindulgence. A well-known saying is "History is written by the victors." A more accurate assessment of the situation is that history is written by the writers. God protect society from the lazy writers and their foolish tropes.

Avanti, Ridolini! (aka Larry Semon, Italian Style)

A television syndicator, La Miniatura Film, sold a package of Larry Semon comedies to Italian television in the 1950s. It is not unusual for a syndicator to make changes to entertainment product as part of their packaging. Usually, though, the changes are limited to the removal of footage or alterations in the closing and opening credits. La Miniatura made a point to add music, sound effects and dialogue to Semon's comedies to make them more palatable to young people unaccustomed to silent comedy. Semon's voice was provided by Tino Scotti, a comedian similar in many ways to Semon. Here is a clip of Scotti in the boxing comedy il tallone di Achille (1952).

It is appalling to imagine one of Buster Keaton's carefully crafted silent films with dubbed dialogue. It would be an outright desecration to hear Harold Lloyd muttering to himself as he climbed the skyscraper in Safety Last! (1923). But this added feature somehow works in the context of Semon's wild and woolly comedies.

Passing the Buck (1919)

Semon was credited in these films under his Italian nickname, Ridolini (derived from the Italian word "ridere," which means "to smile"). Scotti's assertive voice complements Semon's swagger. The comedian was certainly a swaggerer. He might be short, ugly and dimwitted, but he always displays an abundance of confidence. He will never shy away from the heftiest villain or the prettiest girl. The villains, heroines and just general bystanders express awe and admiration by calling out "Ridolini!" whenever he shows up. These dubbed cries make the character come across as a celebrity in his own crazy comedy world.

Horseshoes (1923)

Whether Semon's fans approve of the dubbed dialogue or not, they should be grateful to La Miniatura as the company preserved several Semon comedies that would not otherwise exist today.

Additional note

Italian comedian Febo Conti regularly portrayed Ridolini on his sketch comedy show.

Theatre Etiquette

As many theatergoers, I have suffered the indignity of having snacks rained down upon his head by the reprobates who hang out in the balcony. Stories of disorderly theater patrons can be traced from the 1500s to present day. Mira Felner wrote in a 2006 essay "The World of Theatre: Tradition and Innovation": "In his own time, Shakespeare’s plays were performed before a rowdy audience who booed, hissed, cheered, conversed, ate, drank, and even threw food at the performers, offering one explanation for the rat infestation in theatres of the period. Many believe that the open roof of the Elizabethan playhouse was a means to let the stench of food, drink, and unwashed bodies escape."

In 1833, a German nobleman shared his indignant observations of the English theater with the North American Review. He wrote, "The most striking thing to a foreigner in English theatres is the unheard-of coarseness and brutality of the audiences. . . English freedom here degenerates into the rudest license and it is not uncommon, in the midst of the most affecting parts of a tragedy, or the most charming cadenza of a singer, to hear some coarse expressions shouted from the gallery in a stentor voice. . . It is also no rarity for someone to throw the fragments of his goute, which do not always consist of orange-peels alone, without the smallest ceremony, on the heads of the people in the pit or. . . with singular dexterity into the boxes."

This rowdy behavior was ripe for comic treatment by 1903, at which time the Karno Company lampooned ill-mannered theater patrons in their "Mumming Birds" sketch. The sketch was later recreated on film by a number of comedians.

Let the food droppage begin.

Charlie Chaplin in A Night in the Show (1915)

 Larry Semon in Between the Acts (1919)

Buster Keaton in The Play House (1921)

Larry Semon in The Show (1922)


Sing, Clown, Sing!

It is not possible for a comedy routine to survive for hundreds of years without being highly adaptive and, trust me, a routine has passed the stringent test for adaptability if it has been performed effectively by comedians as unlike as Harold Lloyd and the Three Stooges. The Stooges' clowning was, without a doubt, different from the tidily constructed comedy presented by Lloyd. Looks, alone, could tell you that these were entirely different species of funnymen. Lloyd looks like a normal, upright fellow.

And this is how the Stooges look.

The Stooge characters, who lack enterprise and forethought, have very little in common with the clever, bespectacled go-getter made popular by Lloyd. It makes it especially complicated to take a routine performed by a single comedian and adapt it to an insanely oddball triumvirate of comedians. Yet, many time-tested routines were performed by both Lloyd and the Stooges. Of course, some of the comic business shared by these men was simple, standard stuff.

Are Crooks Dishonest? (1918) 


The Ghost Talks (1949)


A scared reaction is a scared reaction. But, other times, their joint routines were more elaborate. Take, for example, the gramophone routine. Early versions of the routine were featured in Polidor's Gramophone (1912) and Canned Harmony (1912). The plot of Canned Harmony is set into motion by the rebellious daughter of a music professor. The professor insists that the daughter marry a gifted musician, but the daughter has fallen in love with a man lacking in musical ability and is willing to deceive her father to gain his consent to marry. The father is enthusiastic to meet his daughter's suitor because he expects the man to demonstrate his mastery of the violin. The daughter, who has carefully planned the meeting, operates a hidden gramophone as her suitor pretends to play.

Canned Harmony (1912)


The father realizes only moments before the wedding that he has been duped, but he cheerfully allows the ceremony to continue. 

A similar scenario turned up forty-one years later on The Abbott & Costello Show ("The Music Lover," 1953). Of course, the scene has several of Abbott & Costello's burlesque touches. This time, the father (Raymond Hatton) is not as engaged by the music as he is by a smelly loaf of salami.  Also, the routine does not end on a happy note.


For Harold Lloyd's The Non-Stop Kid (1918), the plot of Canned Harmony was altered to make the suitor the driving force behind the hoax. In this reconfiguration, the daughter is reduced to a decidedly passive role. Mr. Wiggle (William Blaisdell) insists that his daughter (Bebe Daniels) marry noted music professor M. T. Noodle. Lloyd, who is attracted to the daughter, knocks the professor unconscious so that he can impersonate the man at the Wiggle family's tea social. When called to sing before the guests, Lloyd persuades a sympathetic butler (Snub Pollard) to play a gramophone in a hidden alcove while he pretends to sing. 


Lloyd's charade ends when the real Professor Noodle shows up to the party. The father chases Lloyd out of his home, but Lloyd manages to double back for Miss Wiggle. In the film's closing moments, the couple summon a taxi to elope.

The plot of Canned Harmony was given a more modern slant in the Stooges' Micro-Phonies (1945). A daughter (Christine McIntyre) rebels against her father, Mr. Bixby (Sam Flint), not to marry an eager suitor but to pursue a singing career. As usual, the Stooges accept a job although they lack the prerequisite skills to accomplish the job. This time, the boys have to do more than pretend they know the business end of a wrench. Curly, dressed in drag, poses as singing sensation Señorita Cucaracha to perform at a swank party hosted by Mrs. Bixby. The plan is for Curly to lip-sync to a record playing on a hidden gramophone, but Moe gets angry with Curly and impulsively breaks the record over his head. McIntyre steps forward to help the Stooges. She hides behind a curtain and sings while Curly mouths the words. The ruse is exposed, but Mr. Bixby is so enchanted by his daughter's singing that he sets aside the misgivings he has about his daughter's career ambitions.


A unique twist on this premise was provided in The Ladykillers (1955). The daughter has been replaced by a gang of thieves, the disapproving father has been replaced by a disapproving landlady, and the suitor has been replaced by bagloads of stolen banknotes.


Additional note

Raymond Hatton, who played Hillary Brooke's father in the Abbott & Costello scene, was a veteran character actor who had appeared in nearly 500 films. Hatton first achieved popularity when he was paired with Wallace Beery for a series of military comedies - Behind the Front (1926), We're in the Navy Now (1926) and Now We're in the Air (1927). Hatton played a slickster opposite Beery's sap. The team of Beery and Hatton was, as this basic description suggests, a precursor to Abbott and Costello. It was bad luck for Costello to have gotten himself caught between Abbott and Hatton, neither of whom would hesitate to dupe or generally abuse a person as gullible as he was.

Beery and Hatton made seven feature films between 1926 and 1928. 

Behind the Front (1926)

We're in the Navy Now (1926)


Now We're in the Air (1927)

 Fireman, Save my Child (1927)

Partners in Crime (1928)

 The Big Killing (1928)

Wife Savers (1928)

Hatton later starred with John Wayne and Ray Corrigan in the Republic Pictures series The Three Mesquiteers.

Wyoming Outlaw (1939)

I will close today's blog post with a clip from Abbott & Costello's Hit the Ice (1943).


Sunday, July 14, 2013

Battling Butlers

A forgotten silent film comedian now stands at the center of a highly publicized legal battle between Warner Brothers and the Weinstein Company.  The comedian's name is Davey Don.  Who is Davey Don, you ask?  We will get to that soon enough, but let me first provide a little background on this lawsuit. 

A Columbia Pictures executive commissioned a script to be written based on a 2008 article in the Washington Post titled "A Butler Well Served by This Election," which described Eugene Allen's experiences as a black man from segregated Virginia who served as the White House's head butler from 1952 to 1986.
 Eugene Allen

Harvey Weinstein purchased the script, titled "The Butler," from Columbia.  The Weinstein Company applied to the Motion Picture Association of America to get clearance for the "Butler" title.  Warner Bros. Pictures exercised their right to block the use of the title, which belonged to them in relation to their ownership of a 1916 film called The Butler.  The film was part of a series of "Otto" comedies produced by the Lubin Manufacturing Company in late 1915 and early 1916.  Warner Brothers was not necessarily concerned that the public would confuse Weinstein's film with the earlier film (especially as no print of the film is known to exist).  The company was more interested in reserving exclusivity of the title for possible use in the future.  A studio rep made the point that they never saw value in the title "The Bodyguard" until a project came along about a love affair between a pop singer and her bodyguard.  Warner Brothers' The Bodyguard (1992) went on to earn $411 million worldwide, making it one of the highest grossing films of all time.  Maybe, the film would have been just successful if it had been called The Pop Singer and the Bodyguard, but the Warner Brothers rep understandably believes that the title helped them to effectively market the film.  But this title war has brought up another issue.  Warner Brothers seems to believe it's time to address Harvey Weinstein's repeated refusal to follow the MPAA's rules.  The title belongs to Warner Brothers and they do not want to relinquish it.  It is as simple as that.  Many observers regard the lawsuit as a transparent ploy by Weinstein to drum up publicity for his film.  Using a lawsuit to get a film free publicity is something that Weinstein has done numerous times in the past.

The 1916 film has been belittled in the course of this battle.  Weinstein's supporters in the media think it's laughable for anyone to see any significance, legal or otherwise, in a film that is nearly one-hundred years old.  But I feel compelled to protect the legacy of Davey Don.  Frankly, not much is known about the man.  He was born in Utica, New York, in 1867.  Under the name David L. Don, he performed on Broadway from 1900 to 1912 in a variety of musical comedies. 

This is where Don performed in The Belle of Bohemia in 1900.

Don's most successful musical comedy was The Red Mill, which was written by Victor Herbert.  Don, in the role of Willem the innkeeper, introduced the popular song "You Can Never Tell About a Woman."  Here, the song is performed by the Comic Opera Guild as part of a 2012 revival of The Red Mill.

Otto was a comically dimwitted German immigrant portrayed by Don in the same broad style as Weber and Fields' Mike and Meyer.
Weber and Fields

Otto bungles his way from one low-wage job to the next.  The titles of the comedies reflected Otto's latest profession - Otto the Bellboy, Otto the Reporter, Otto the Artist, Otto the Gardener, Otto the Salesman, Otto the CobblerThe Butler should have, by right, been called Otto the Butler, which would have avoided the current controversy. 

Moving Picture World provided the following plot description for The Butler: "Mrs. Van Webber is giving a dinner and reception in honor of her daughter's return from college.  Things are going along smoothly, when a telegram arrives which calls all servants out on strike.  Leaving Mrs. Van Webber in a quandary as to who will prepare the dinner.  Gwendoline suggests that Otto, their hired man, be allowed to take charge of the dinner.  When the striking servants learn that Otto has taken their jobs, they station their gang around the house and whenever Otto appears they threaten him until he gets nervous and wants to throw up the job.  But Mrs. Van Webber gives him more money and Otto starts in anew.  The strikers now thoroughly aroused at Otto, chase him through the house and stone him."

It is obvious from this plot description that the earlier Butler was, in its own modest way, a socially conscious film that addressed class conflicts and labor rights.  The Van Webber mansion is one of several mansions that served as a backdrop to Otto's misadventures.  Stately manors had great meaning in the series, the main character of which was a poor immigrant desperate to climb the golden rungs of America's social ladder.  Otto, described by Moving Picture World as an "unfortunate wretch," is invariably undone by his ill-conceived schemes to improve his position.  Like Eugene Allen, Otto only wanted to escape racial discrimination and find a place for himself in a great mansion.  But, as it turns out, he fails again and again in his attempts at social-climbing.

Marriage seems to be a quick way to achieve upward mobility.  In Otto the Gardner, Otto pretends to be a prince to woo the lovely Lady Dora, who lives in a palatial estate.  Of course, it isn't long before his masquerade is exposed.  In Otto the Traffic Cop, Otto assumes a job as a traffic cop on a busy street corner and finds himself desperately dodging speeding autos.  A woman faints after she is nearly struck by a car and Otto agrees to help her to her home, which happens to be a mansion.  The woman only works at the mansion as a maid, but Otto assumes she owns the magnificent home and asks her to marry him.  Of course, Otto comes to regret his impulsive proposal.  Worse than the fact that the maid has no money is the fact that she is a widow five times over and her five husbands died in sudden and violent ways.  In His Lordship, Otto is a waiter who is struggling desperately to break his addiction to alcohol.  While on duty, Oscar is instantly attracted to a rich young woman named Carrie and he is glad to accept the woman's invitation to follow her home.  Yes, her home is yet another mansion.  It is, inarguably, the series' theme.  Carrie, who has a wickedly playful nature, cannot resist the opportunity to play a prank on Otto after he gets drunk and passes out.  She has her butler dress her guest in silk pajamas and place him in a luxurious bed.  When he awakens, the woman's staff pretends that Otto is a lord and tells him that it is his wedding day.  The mock marriage ceremony that ensues ends with Otto lifting the bride's veil and seeing that he has married a black woman.  He is shocked because this is not at all what the status-seeking man had in mind.

Otto was invariably led to places where the rich played.  In Otto the Sleuth, Otto arrives at a mansion to investigate the theft of a beloved canary.  His aggressive interrogation techniques antagonizes a grim, hulking butler, who is quick to toss him out of the front door.  Otto, determined to collect the reward money, buys a bird like the one stolen so that he can pretend he solved the case.  But the real canary has already been found.  The butler, who is highly displeased with Otto's attempted fraud, again tosses him out of the mansion.  Otto's ejection from the mansion is yet another great defeat for our unfortunate wretch.

Throughout its long history, Warner Brothers has managed through a series of mergers and acquisitions to accumulate a diverse catalog of movies.  When the Lubin company went bankrupt in 1916, the company's film library was purchased by the Warner brothers (The company name had yet to be established).  The owner of the Lubin company, Siegmund Lubin, had previously loaned the brothers money to start up their studio and this may have been a way for them to repay his generosity.  Lubin, who was known to help young Jews in the film industry, was particularly supportive of the Warners, who like him had immigrated to the United States from a Jewish community in Poland (Lubin from Samter and the Warner brothers from Ostrołęka).  He was willing to finance their production company although he was a member of the Motion Picture Patents Company, which was engaged in legal efforts to terminate upstart film companies.  The fact that he acted in direct violation of his legal obligations to Motion Picture Patents Company caused him to be censured by the other members of the organization.

Lubin breaking the rules of an association brings us back to Weinstein.  Weinstein and his lawyer, David Boies, have tried to give the public the impression that Warner Brothers is somehow acting in a racist manner.  Boies called Warner's refusal to grant Weinstein the right to call its movie The Butler “a transparent attempt to hold a major civil rights film hostage to extort unrelated concessions from TWC.”  I am personally burned out on the word "racist."  The word "racist" is to a liberal what a squirrel is to a dog.  Every time this fleet-footed, big-eyed, bushy-tailed word makes an appearance, it grabs the urgent attention of every liberal from miles around.

This is guaranteed to give the film publicity and it doesn't matter to Weinstein or Boies if this cheap strategy stirs up a great deal of rancor.

It is odd for accusations of racism to come from Weinstein considering that this is the man who produced Django Unchained, the most racist movie of all time.  Even worse, Weinstein made a point to release the abominable Django Unchained on Christmas as if to thumb his nose at the good spirits and fellowship of the day.

Warner Brothers has made it clear that they wouldn't have a problem if Weinstein simply calls the film Lee Daniels' The Butler.  Lee Daniels, the film's director, should like that title.  Daniels and others involved in the film were willing to change historical facts to suit their purposes.  They were willing to change the name of the butler who is at the center of the story (The story became so heavily fictionalized that they had to change the butler's name from Eugene Allen to Cecil Gaines).  But none of them sees it as possible to change the title.  It's nonsense.  For all I care, they could call it The Butler Did It, Breakfast is Served or The Secret Diary of Cecil Gaines.

How about calling it Gerard Butler?

But I am not here to talk about Harvey Weinstein or Lee Daniels.  I am here to remember a bygone comedian, Davey Don, and make the point that no one should assume Mr. Don's films were insignificant just because they were made a long time ago.

The 700 Dirty Words


Most minced oaths became well-established in our culture through common usage - tarnation, dang, shoot, gee, egad, lands sake, jeepers creepers, jehosaphat, flipping heck, cripes, doggone.  But many others have been made up by entertainers purely for comic effect.

W.C. Fields earned countless laughs with his euphemistic expression "Godfrey Daniels," which was a more colorful variation of "Goddamn" than the standard "gosh darn."  Godfrey Daniels is a close cousin to Sam Hill, Jiminy Christmas and Judas Priest. 

Fields alternated this expression with an occasional outcry of "Drat!"  The use of these euphemisms may have seemed wicked on the part of Fields, but adorable moptop Shirley Temple was no better with her frequent exclamations of "Oh, my goodness" and "Goodness gracious."

A Colonial era ghost played by Lou Costello in The Time of Their Lives (1946) used a number of quaint expressions, including "Odds-bodkins" and "zounds."

Yosemite Sam could curse up a storm without using one real curse word.

In Bonanza, Hoss Cartwright's swear of choice was "Dab" as in "Dab burn it," "Dab gum it" and "Dab blame it."

Anthony Burgess, author of A Clockwork Orange, opened up the idea of characters in a futuristic society using their own unique obscenities.  A favorite obscenity of Orange's protagonist, Alex, is yarbles, as in "Come and get one in the yarbles, if ya have yarbles, you eunuch jelly thou!"

In the 1978 Battlestar Galactica, the Cylon Lucifer (voiced by Jonathan Harris) often used the word "felgercarb" as a euphemism for "crap." 

Battlestar Galactica ("The Young Lords," 1978)

The updated Battlestar Galactica made extensive use of the word "fracking."

Farscape introduced a number of otherworldly swear words, the fan favorite being "frell."   Let's, however, check out two other of Farscape's dirty words.

Word: mivonks 
Farscape (“Back and Back and Back to the Future,” 1999)

Word: dren
Farscape (“Lava's a Many Splendored Thing,” 2002)

The makers of Red Dwarf included the space-age, all-purpose "smeg" to their series' vocabulary.

Sitcoms of the 1970s got attention for naughty catchphrases like "Shazbot!" (Mork and Mindy) and "Kiss my grits!" (Alice).

Prison life comes with plenty of salty language, but prison life had to be sanitized when it was depicted in the 1970s British sitcom Porridge.  Whenever the hardened convicts of Porridge became irritated by a fellow prisoner, they would tell them to "Naff off!"

It was clarified in A Christmas Story (1983) that little Ralphie's father was known throughout the Midwest for his ability to "weave a tapestry of profanity."  Most prominent among his profane words was "fratching."

Moroney, a foul-mouth crime boss, weaves his own incomparable tapestry of profanity in Johnny Dangerously (1984).

Fusking wangler sloblock?  That minced oath was provided by A Bit of Frye and Laurie (1990).

Charlie Brown most often expressed distress with his patented "Good grief!"  But, when he was really upset, he issued a declaration that was not so much a word as an inarticulate wail.
Frankly, this best expresses how I feel when I am deeply frustrated.

"Smoo" is evidently an offensive word to dinosaurs. 

Jim Henson's Dinosaurs ("Baby Talk," 1992)

Some interesting fake curse words came up in a Father Ted episode called "Old Grey Whistle Theft" (1996).

Minced oaths pop up occasionally on Cartoon Network's Adventure Time.  From what I can tell from these clips, it may be necessary to wash out Lumpy Space Princess' bratty mouth with soap. 

Adventure Time (“Trouble in Lumpy Space,” 2010)

Obscenities were substituted with dolphin noises in a SpongeBob SquarePants episode called "Sailor Mouth."

Just because a man is a killer doesn't mean that he doesn't need to be sensitive about the words that come out of his mouth.  Right after shooting a man in the head, this assassin sees it as proper decorum to substitute the holy "Jesus Christ" with the silly sound-alike "cheese and rice." 

Frisky Dingo (The Opposition," 2007)

People receive a great relief from swearing and, if you stop them from using certain swear words, they will only find others that they can use instead.  It hardly matters as the new ones are usually more funny than the old ones anyway.

That's it, I'm done with this topic. Fup off, you grassholes!