Kennington Biosope at the Cinema Museum
10-12 March 2018
(Warning – spoilers throughout!)
Following last year’s somewhat slimline KenBio Silent Laughter Saturday (Reviewed here) it was nice to see a return to the full weekend experience which clearly held out the promise of at least twice the laughter of the previous year’s event.
And things got off to a great start with a screening of The Night Club (Dir. (Dir. Paul Iribe/Frank Urson, US, 1925) starring Raymond Griffith. In his entertaining introduction, noted film historian Kevin Brownlow (whose copy of the film we were watching) pointed out that the film’s title bore little relation to its subject matter, likely a result of a film of that title being contracted to distributors in advance but with the studio then changing its mind about the plot yet being stuck with the title. But queries over the appropriateness or otherwise of the title were of little matter given what a joy the film proved to be.
Raymond Griffith played man-about-town Bob White who, after being stood up at the alter, decides to forsake women. However, he then learns that he has been left a fortune by a wealthy relative but with the proviso that he marries the relative’s ward., Grace Henderson (Vera Reynolds). Initially reluctant to marry someone he does not know, White changes his mind when he realises she is someone he has already met and fallen for. But Grace mistakenly believes White is only marrying her for her money and refuses. To avoid them both loosing the inheritance and to prove his love for Grace, White decides to commit suicide. After several failed attempts he pays Latino ‘heavy’ Jose (Wallace Beery) to kill him. But when Grace relents
and agrees to a marriage Jose is unwilling to break their deal. Its then a madcap chase to avoid the clutches of the homicidal Jose, before finally marrying Grace.
Although there are plenty of Keaton-esque thrills in The Night Club (which Griffith manages perfectly well) it is in the more intimate moments where his real comedic charm, panache and skill shines through, the look on his face as he’s left standing at the alter, his attempts at suicide or his efforts to woo Carmen the dancer in order to provoke Jose’s jealous wrath are all comedy gems. Wallace Beery did a nice turn as the murderous Jose but even better in the role of the overly passionate Carmen was comedy stalwart Louise Fazenda. This was an excellent little film, perhaps not as good as Griffith’s civil war comedy Hands Up (Dir. Clarence G badger, US, 1926), but an excellent way to start a silent laughter weekend.
The film also benefited from the excellent piano accompaniment of Costas Fotopolous.
(NB The Night Club does not appear to be available on disc. There is a very poor quality version on YouTube.)
We then had Tony Fletcher introducing a short series of films under the banner ‘The British Are Coming’. Perhaps of most interest was Bookworms (Dir. Adrian Brunel, UK, 1920), an amusing story of a young man (Leslie Howard)’s efforts to woo a lady heavily chaperoned by her over protective aunt and uncle. He resorts to leaving a note in her library book arranging an assignation together, but confusion ensues when the note is seen not only by the aunt and uncle but also their house keeper who all assume it is directed at them. This was a very early film appearance by an extremely youthful looking Leslie Howard, produced by his own short-lived Minerva Films company and scripted by A A Milne of Winnie The Pooh fame. It delivered chuckles rather than belly laughs but if you were looking for ‘gentle British comedy’ you wouldn’t have been disappointed.
Next up was The Fugitive Futurist (Dir. Gaston Quiribet, GB, 1924) in which an inventor describes to a broke and dejected gambler a machine he has made which can see into the future. As he describes the future we see images of London transformed to show waves lapping around Trafalgar Square, trains passing over Tower Bridge and the Houses of Parliament serving as an airship terminal. But with the gambler showing more of an interest when the inventor says he can foresee future horse races, the ‘inventor’ is dragged off by two guards from an insane asylum from where he has escaped. An early cinematic toying with the notion of time travel, the film relied on some fascinating visual ‘dissolves’ to portray the future. An interesting oddity rather than an out and out comedy.
We then got a short promotional film from the Stoll Company, Starlings of the Screen (Dir. Will Kellino, GB, 1925), about the search for a new female star to appear in one of Stoll’s next productions. There were some interesting shots of Stoll’s Cricklewood studios and a line up of short-listed starlets followed by various screen-tests, some funny, some excruciating. The eventual winner was Sybil Rhoda who went on to star in Stoll’s 1926 feature Sahara Love (Dir. Sinclaire Hill, GB/Spa) . Two more films followed for her, including the early Hitchcock thriller Downhill (1927) before marriage led to her early retirement from acting although she lived on until 2005, reaching the grand old age of 102.
This was followed by Crossing The Great Sagrada (Dir.Adrian Brunel, GB, 1924), a glorious spoof ethnographic travel film, made apparently with a budget of under £80 and largely cobbled together from stock footage from around the world. Like something of a cross between the Goons and Monty Python it was wildly inventive and very funny….if you like that sort of thing! Particularly good were the numerous inter-titles, both for the story they relayed but also for the mock film titles they were supposedly drawn from.
Lastly in this series we had Beauty and the Beast (Dir. Guy Newall, GB,1922) starring the then popular but now completely forgotten husband & wife team of Guy Newell and Ivy Duke. The film has some interesting moments, particularly in breaching the fourth wall in discussions about the audience, but on the whole it was wildly self indulgent with even those scenes with comic potential (such as Newell’s unravelling of Ivy’s vest while she is wearing it) spun out for far too long so that well before the end my eyelids were beginning to droop…and this was barely a 20 minute film!
So, all in all, pretty much a mixed bag, but Meg Morley worked wonders on the piano, nicely complementing the ever changing pace and tone of the various films.
(NB A Fugitive Futurist can be watched on YouTube, Crossing The Great Sagrada is on the BFI Player and Starlings of the Screen comes as an extra on the BFI’s Shooting Stars disc. There is no sign of Bookworm or Beauty and the Beast in any format.
We then got an entertaining introduction to the ‘World of Charley Chase’ from Matthew Ross, author of the silent comedy blog The Lost Laugh. Highlighting the gradual reappraisal of Chase’s standing amongst the silent comedy greats, Matthew used a number of clips to highlight his superb skills. First of these was All Wet (Dir. Leo McCarey, US, 1924) in which Charley tries to extricate his car from a water-filled hole in the road. The funniest scenes involved yet another ‘fat boy’ of silent film, ‘Tonnage’ Martin Wolfkeil, supposedly the mechanic, idly watching as Charley fixed the car himself while under water. Although not seen in this clip the film is also notable for early un-credited appearances by both Olive Borden and Janet Gaynor. Next up was What Price Goofy (Dir. Leo McCarey, US, 1925) with Charley married to the world’s most jealous and suspecting wife. When a visiting professor comes to stay Charley doesn’t realise until its too late that its a woman, its then a frantic dual to keep wife from discovering other woman. The film is notable for its exquisite comic timing as, for example, both Charley and the lady professor share a bathroom without ever becoming aware of each others presence. There is also a great performance in the film from Buddy the dog, referred to here as Rin-Chin-Chin.
We then had The Way Of All Pants (Dir. Leo McCarey/F Richard Jones, US, 1927). When the wife of the boss gets Charley to collect and then try on a pair of trousers she is buying as a present for her husband, what could possibly go wrong! This is another excellent comedy, thanks once more to superb comic timing. Buddy the dog also puts in another cracking performance, never better than when hiding under the dining table with Charley. But funniest of all of these clips was the one from Fluttering Hearts (Dir. James Parrott, US, 1927) in which Charley attempts to retrieve a compromising letter from blackmailer Oliver Hardy with the aid of a mannequin from a clothes store. Charley dancing with the mannequin while it makes eyes at Hardy is just priceless. And the rest of the film is pretty funny as well. The session concluded with a complete showing of one of Charley’s most acclaimed films, Mighty Like A Moose (Dir. Leo McCarey, US, 1926), in which a dentally challenged Charley and his over nasally endowed wife both go for cosmetic surgery without telling the other. Not recognising one another after the treatment they both guiltily embark on extra-marital affairs….with each other! This is another film dependent upon perfect timing for its laughs and it works superbly. Charley’s ‘fight’ with himself is just a classic, especially when his wife realises its all just a con. Gale Henry, supposedly the role-model for Popeye’s Olive Oyl, has a great time as Charley’s over-eager dance partner and there is another appearance by Buddy the dog.
Providing a superb piano accompaniment to this cornucopia of laughter was the always excellent John Sweeney.
(NB All of these films are available on disc in various Charley Chase compilations or can be viewed in good quality prints on-line.)
We then moved on from one silent comedian who’s abilities are gradually regaining popular recognition to another, Monty Banks, who remains almost completely forgotten. Being screened today was A Perfect Gentleman (Dir. Clyde Bruckman, US, 1927) in which Banks plays a trusted bank employee who is about to marry the bank owner’s daughter, played by Ruth Dwyer. But on his way to the wedding Banks accidentally becomes intoxicated, with his drunken behaviour resulting in the wedding being called off and Banks thrown out. Meanwhile, Cooper (Ernest Wood) another bank employee, is engaged in stealing the bank’s money in order to fund a revolution in South America. Banks unknowingly carries the money for Cooper onto a South America bound steamship, where he discovers that the bank president and his daughter are also on board, as well as the South American revolutionaries intent on getting their money from Banks. The scene is then set for a frenetic finale as Banks sets out to get the money back to the bank president, apprehend the revolutionaries and get the girl.
I have to admit at the outset that I’m not a big Monty Banks fan, finding him lacking in that individual visual screen presence necessary for real star status. But I have to admit that I quite liked this film (although having Clyde Bruckman as director probably counts for a lot). The often frenetic action was well staged, there were some nice set pieces (particularly the aunt kicking scene) and the cast were excellent. In particular, Arthur Thalasso was very funny as the ship’s officer, repeatedly amazed at Banks’ apparent amorous activities, particularly when it involved his own wife.
On piano for this one was Costas Fotopolous once more, whose playing perfectly complemented the frantic pace of the film.
(NB A Perfect Gentleman doesn’t appear to be available on disc and only the second half is watchable on YouTube…..provided you can read Russian inter-titles!)
And then it was time to pose an unfair question to the KenBio’s resident panel of experts, with each being asked to pick their favourite moment (just one!!!) from a Keaton film. First up was renowned film writer, historian and programmer David Robinson who choose the closing scenes from Our Hospitality (Dir. Buster Keaton/John G Blystone, US, 1923) as Keaton, evading the pursuing Canfields, is swept away down river and then makes his legendary swing across the waterfall to save Norma Talmadge, with the future Mrs Keaton certainly earning her pay with this appearance. The scene is superbly staged and shot, seamlessly knitting together location and studio shooting. But then in a glorious finale, Keaton reverts to pure comedy when, as the Canfields lay down their guns the seemingly unarmed Keaton deposits a veritable arsenal of sidearms onto the table. Genius.
Then it was celebrated film historian and preservationist Kevin Brownlow’s turn and he selected the Tong gang wars sequence from The Cameraman (Dir. Buster Keaton/Edward Sedgwick, US, 1928) in which news cameraman Keaton is tipped off that trouble is likely during a parade in Chinatown. Trouble turns out to be something akin to World War Three during which Keaton does his best to film the action while avoiding the bullets, aided and abetted by an organ grinder’s monkey. Its a sequence which would more than do justice to any war film, the action is wonderfully staged, the editing skillfully amplifies the pace of the scene and yet there is a near constant injection of glorious comedy moments. Kevin was particularly keen to highlight a shot in which the camera smoothly rises above the action to follow Keaton as he runs up a ladder, seemingly a Keaton homage to a similar scene in Griffith’s Intolerance (1916).
Next up was editor and film researcher Polly Rose, currently working on a thesis about Keaton’s editing technique. Her choice was the initial dream sequence from Sherlock Jr (Dir. Buster Keaton, US, 1924) as Keaton walks from the projection booth into the film. In particular, she highlighted how this scene underwent a number of changes involving re-shoots and re-editing after various test screenings, which changed the original scene significantly and may have accounted for delays to the film’s opening. If only someone had those out-takes tucked away in their loft!
Finally it was the turn of David Macleod, president of the Blinking Buzzards, the UK Keaton appreciation society. His choice was the tornado scene from Steamboat Bill Jr (Dir.Charles Reisner/Buster Keaton. US, 1928), as the town is swept away while Keaton strives to free his father from the fast sinking jail. The scene is of course yet another marvel of action, drama and slick editing and one in which Keaton literally puts his life on the line (again). But he’s not the only one to suffer, with leading lady Marion Byron amongst others having to work hard for her salary.
So all in all four clips which give just a taster of Keaton’s genius, although I was a little surprised that no one picked something from The General!
It was to John Sweeney that the unenviable task of accompanying these clips fell, having to repeatedly launch himself straight into the action with barely a moment to find his musical bearings, but he nevertheless coped admirably.
(NB All four of these classics are available on both disc and on-line.)
And then it was time for the last screening of the day, Exit Smiling (Dir. Sam Taylor, US, 1926) marking comedienne Beatrice Lillie’s only foray into silent film. Introducing the film, Michelle Facey provided an excellent in-depth background to Lillie’s life and career while David Robinson regaled us with delightful tales of his meeting with Lillie at a screening of the film towards the end of her life. The screening took on even more significance when we learnt that the 16mm print we were to watch (courtesy yet again of Kevin Brownlow) was originally Beatrice Lillie’s own copy of the film. In the picture, Lillie plays Violet, minor player and general dogsbody in a travelling theatrical troupe. But she dreams of greatness. Then along comes the handsome Jimmy Marsh (Jack Pickford), fleeing bogus theft charges and leaving behind his girlfriend Phyllis Tichnor (Louise Lorraine). Violet immediately falls for Jimmy and convinces the troupe manager to hire him. When the troupe plays in Jimmy’s home town he feigns illness to avoid being recognised and Violet dons his clothes and takes his role but it all goes badly wrong. When a chance comes to prove Jimmy’s innocence Violet finds herself acting for real a scene out of the troupe’s stage show to save the man she now loves. But Jimmy is unaware of her affections and, once cleared, he has eyes only for Phyllis. Violet returns to her lowly life with the theatre troupe.
When I first saw Exit Smiling a couple of years back I regarded it as a film somewhat heavier on pathos than comedy but seeing it again now I think it is a much more balanced film. True, the pathos is still there and I still find the ending more tragic than comedic but this time Beatrice Lillie’s talent for comedy really shone through. For much of the film, the comedy is very under-stated, often just a look or a gesture but Lillie’s timing is always impeccable. However, in the final scenes, as she rough-houses it with the villain, she also displays a knack for physical comedy, with at one point a flying rugby tackle that any scrum half would be proud of. Jack Pickford was good as Jimmy but supporting cast praise really went to the gloriously named Franklin Pangborn (image, extreme right) as the oh so effete troupe actor Cecil Lovelace, making his film debut and creating a character he was to portray for the next thirty years. So this self-reappraisal of the film’s merits nicely rounded off day one.
Accompanying the film beautifully on piano was Meg Morley, capturing all of the comedy, drama and poignancy with consummate skill.
(NB Exit Smiling is available on disc but only short clips appear to be are accessible on-line.)
Day 2 kicked off with a rather slick video presentation by US silent comedy writer and authority Steve Massa under the heading of ‘Lame Brains & Lunatics’, which just happens also to be the title of his book celebrating many of the more forgotten and unusual stars of silent cinema. First up was Lover’s Luck (Dir. Roscoe Arbuckle, US, 1914) in which the girl (Minta Durfee) is in love with the boy (Arbuckle) but her father (Josef Swickard) wants her to marry a rival (Al St John). As the boy and his rival battle it out for the affections of the girl, her father also has to contend with an over amorous Justice of the Peace’s (Frank Hayes) interest in his own wife. Eventually the boy discovers a pistol and ‘persuades’ the JP to marry him and the girl while hiding in a closet. This was a relatively early entry from Arbuckle’s directorial career but he certainly gained experience quickly, this being but one of the 31 films he directed in 1914. The plot is a fairly slim, based upon an already much used premise of boy and girlin love but the parents want the girl to marry someone else. Its hardly sophisticated comedy, with an almost Tom & Jerry level of cartoon violence but is amusing nevertheless, helped along by the healthy quota of oddities in the cast, including St John, Hayes and in the background Alice Howell. Somewhat less odd and rather more charming was Minta Durfee, Arbuckle’s real wife at the time.
Next up was His Busy Day (Dir. Hal Roach, US, 1918) featuring Swiss circus performer and pantomime clown Toto (Armando Novello) who had a short and largely undistinguished film career. The film follows Toto as he gets into various scrapes in a park, a studio and a circus. Given his circus/pantomime background its no surprise that Toto utilises an exaggerated gymnastic style in front of the camera. However, based on his performance here, his appeal was very limited, a view he probably held himself, deciding very quickly that a film career wasn’t for him.
Sweet Daddy (Dir. Marcel Perez, US, 1921) is a Marcel Perez vehicle in his guise as Tweedy,( one of his many character names which included Robinet, Tweedledum and Twede-Dan). In it he plays a severely hen-pecked and much put upon husband, who exists only to wait on his wife and her (somewhat manly) lady friends. From his apartment window he falls in love with the girl in an advertising poster (Dorothy Earle, Perez’s wife in real life) and when he is sent out to buy groceries he chances to meet the girl and watch her stage show but that is just the start of his troubles. This is a fairly enjoyable romp with some surprisingly large scale scenes particularly in the music hall, but probably lacks some of the originality of the earlier Perez Robinet comedies.
We also got to see Al St John again, this time in Sky Bound (Dir. Stephen Roberts, US, 1926), taking to the air to save his girlfriend Zelma O’Neil and Lige Conley in Danger (Dir. Jack White, US, 1922)
John Sweeney had the task of accompanying this rather mixed bag which he did excellently.
Then, moving on from the more obscure and forgotten, we came to the legendary, in the form of the great Max Linder and a screening of Seven Years Bad Luck (Dir. Max Linder, US, 1921). Made during one of two ill-fated moves to Hollywood and a commercial disappointment at the time of its release its now considered a classic. After having returned home drunk following his bachelor party, Max is awoken the next morning when his servants break his dressing room mirror. While they wait for a new one to be delivered one of the servants imitates Max’s reflection in the mirror to conceal the fact that the mirror is broken. Just as Max gets wise to the trick the new mirror is delivered and Max ends up breaking it. The ever supersticious then fear the consequences of ‘seven years bad luck’. Invited around to the home of his fiancee, Betty ( Alta Allen) her maid reads Max’s palm and warns him that she sees danger in the form of a dog, so Max removes Betty’s dog and sticks it in a vase but when she sees what he has done to her dog Betty throws him out. When her mother patches things up Max returns but is then caught in a raucous dance with the maid and Betty throws him out once more.
Max then visits his friend (F B Crayne) and asks him to patch things up with Betty. But unbeknownst to Max his friend also has his eyes on Betty and tells her that Max is leaving to marry one of his old girlfriends.He also suggests that they get married as revenge on Max and Betty agrees. Meanwhile, Max decides to get away on a train journey but on the way to the station his money is stolen. Not to be deterred he sneaks on to the train and spends all his time dodging the conductor. At the first stop Max impersonates the station manager to fool the conductor and manages to reboard the train, leaving the conductor stranded. But the conductor wires ahead and the police are waiting at the next stop. Max runs into a zoo to escape and climbs into the lions cage but is eventually arrested. He is taken to court just as Betty and his friend arrive to get married and Max and Betty are reconciled.
By the time he made Seven Years Bad Luck, Max Linder was already more than a 15 year veteran of the film business. In all that time his image barely changed, nearly always the elegantly dressed, sophisticate, man about town in silk hat, tails and dress shoes. Seven Years Bad Luck is no exception and probably marked the artistic pinnacle of his career. The film oozes style, right from the opening scene, a stunning overhead shot of the bachelor party table and contains some superb set pieces, the most notable of which is of course the celebrated ‘mirror’ sketch. Linder may not have been the first to film this sketch (indeed he himself had used it previously in his 1913 film Le Duel de Max) and he certainly wouldn’t be the last (with the Groucho and Harpo Marx using it to great effect in Duck Soup in 1933) but he was probably the one that did it with the most panache in a perfectly executed sequence lasting almost 10 minutes. While there are other, equally funny scenes in the film the only real criticism I have of this feature length film is that it sometimes has the feel of a series of shorts edited together. You could equally be watching ‘Max and the Mirror’, Max Visits his Fiancee’ or ‘Max and the Station Master’s Daughter. However, it is hard to be critical of a film packed with so much well executed comedic brilliance.
But of course, all was not well with Linder at this time. When Seven Years Bad Luck failed commercially he tried a change of image with a costume drama pastiche of The Three Musketeers, called The Three Must Get There’s (1922) but this fared no better. The trauma of his World War 1 service along with his declining popularity brought on increasingly severe bouts of depression and his 1923 suicide pact (or was it murder-suicide?) with his young wife would for a long time draw a cloud over his work and he was largely forgotten. It was really only the efforts of his daughter Maud (left), just an infant at the time of her parent’s death, who collected his films and eventually supervised their re-release along with a documentary on his life, that restored Linder’s reputation. In his introduction to the screening, film historian David Robinson regaled us with his fond memories of this apparently formidable woman who only died last year having successfully helped restore her father to his rightful place amongst the silent comedy greats.
Then as an added bonus we got to see a much earlier Linder film, Les Effects des Pilules (aka Love and Goodfellowship Pills), made in 1910 and long thought lost but re-discovered in 2017. The film has Max out of sorts with his wife. When she threatens to leave he consults a doctor and is prescribed some pills which put new ‘pep’ into his life (something like a combination of prozac and viagra!). Unfortunately his wife finds the pills and, thinking that they are sweets, eats a handful whereupon she rushes out into the street embracing every man she meets. Max follows, striking every man he catches in his wife’s embrace, whereupon each offers Max his card and challenges him to a dual. When Max eventually gets his wife home he has acquired a pocket full of cards.
This was an amusing little fragment with Max essentially playing the same character that he would doa decade later. Sadly it looks like the ending of the film remains lost, in which Max’s wife apparently gives each of the dualists one of the little pills and everyone is overtaken by thoughts of goodfellowship and peace, thereby saving Max.
The excellent live piano accompaniment for Max was provided by Cyrus Gabrysch
(NB Seven Years Bad Luck is available on disc and can be viewed on-line.)
Next up was a film which divided opinions before it was even screened. The KenBio’s David Wyatt thought it looked interesting enough to justify a screening but Kevin Brownlow was far less sure, quoting those who described it as “a nothing little film” and gleefully pointing out that the film’s director had shown absolutely no interest in watching the film when Kevin offered to screen his copy! So we had been warned. The film in question was We’re In The Navy Now (Dir. Edward Sutherland, US, 1926), in which Wallace Beery plays not-so-good and intellectually challenged boxer Whiffer Hanson with Raymond Hatton as his manager Shrimp Dolan. When Hanson is beaten in a contest against ‘Homicidal Harrigan’ , Shrimp tries to make off with Hanson’s fee and in the subsequent chase both are conscripted into the US Navy.
On board ship they annoy the rest of the crew, struggle with their hammocks, almost sink the ship and lock the captain in the ice box. They also abet the escape of a German spy Madelyn Phillips (Lorraine Eason) and get separated from their ship. Picked up by a French warship they enjoy a run ashore and some ‘local colour’ and encounter Madelyn again. Back on a US warship transporting explosives they discover a spy trying to blow the ship and stop him but the ship’s chief, Homicide Harrigan now also in uniform, takes the credit. But when a U-Boat is sighted they accidentally fire the ship’s guns and sink it, winning a medal in the process. Back home at the medal award ceremony they discover that Madelyn was in fact an American agent.
Sadly, Kevin Brownlow’s views on this film prevailed, it really was a bit of a dud, not helped by the fact that the print seemed incomplete. There was barely a laugh throughout the 60 or so minutes (an honorable exception being the scene where Hanson is punched out of the ring and wakes up the next morning still sitting on a spectator), This was a film where even a character called Captain Stiffie failed to raise a laugh. We’re in the Navy was in effect a sequel to the earlier and highly popular Behind The Front (Dir, Edward Sutherland, 1926) made with largely the same cast and crew and with Beery and Hanson unwittingly joining the Army. Clearly the Navy got the short end of the stick. On the release of We’re In The Navy, an advert in Albany Evening News, ((Albany, NY)) 1 December 1926) described it as “ Without Any Exaggeration ‘The Greatest Comedy of the Age’” Fake news indeed!
The unenviable task of playing along to the film fell to Cyrus Gabrysch who worked wonders in making a not very good film a whole lot better.
(NB We’re In The Navy Now has been available on disc from Grapevine but now appears out of print (can’t think why!) but if you are desperate you can watch it on YouTube! )
We then, somewhat guiltily took our leave albeit temporarily from the Cinema Museum for a rare screening of silent melodrama The Woman Under Oath (Dir. John M Stahl, US,1919) (Review to follow) at BFI Southbank, sadly missing out on a not so silent early Monty Banks talkie, So You Won’t Talk (Dir. William Beaudine, US, 1935) in which he doesn’t actually say a great deal. It was also a real disappointment to miss Neal Brand introducing and accompanying (along with a veritable orchestra of musicians, percussionists and general noise makers) Noisy Noises (Dir,Robert McGowan, US, 1929)starring the ‘Our Gang’ team, Summer Saps (Dir.Henry W George, US, 1929) with Lupino Lane, Fiddlesticks (Dir.Harry Edwards, US, 1927 with Harry Langdon and finally You’re Darn Tootin! (Dir. Edgar Kennedy, US, 1929) starring the incomparable Laurel and Hardy.
We were just back in time for the evening’s final session, not really a silent but well worth seeing nevertheless. This featured legendary comedian and writer Roy Hudd, in conversation with the KenBio’s Glenn Mitchell. As well as being a superb raconteur Roy Hudd has probably worked with everybody who is anybody in comedy and variety over the past 60 years so he has a lot of wonderful stories to tell but his knowledge of the world of comedy goes much further back and illustrating his stories were clips from a host of legendary variety stars including Billy Dainty, Groucho Marx and Lucille Ball, Jaques Tati, Richard Hearne (Mr Pastry) and a whole host more. Particular favourites included Lupino Lane in a fantastically timed tumbling scene from Joyland (1928) and a clever mixing of clips of 1930s Swiss clown Grock with those of Max Wall to illustrate the influence on one on the other..
And then, despite running a little late, there was just time for a screening of the recently restored and now almost complete version of the Laurel and Hardy classic Battle of the Century (Dir. Clyde Bruckman, US, 1927). Fresh from defeat in the boxing ring, the boys walk innocently along the sidewalk as Ollie contemplates how he can cash in on an insurance policy on Stan when suddenly a dispute over a carelessly discarded banana skin escalates to a pie being thrown, then another, and another until mayhem ensues.
Long considered partially lost, much of the early footage from this film was rediscovered in 2017. It was Laurel and Hardy’s first big hit as a comedy duo and the one that saw their individual and instantly recognisable characters fully emerge. It remains unclear just how many pies were used with estimates ranging between three and ten thousand but what is clear is just what a classic this.
What a great way to end the weekend and full marks to the Kennington Bioscope for another cracking collection of films, superbly knowledgeable experts introducing them and excellent live musical accompaniment.