1925

Boys Will Be Joys (1925, Robert F. McGowan)

Boys Will Be Joys is a strange Our Gang outing, simply because the story doesn’t belong to the Gang. Instead, sixty year-old industrialist Paul Weigel has grown bored being a successful grown-up and just wants to goof off.

Luckily, he happens to be developing a plot of land the Gang has built an incredible amateur amusement park on and they come by his office demanding he stop developing.

There’s a shocking lack of tension to Joys. It’s fairly certain from a few minutes in–after Weigel bats a couple balls with some teenagers in a ballgame–the Gang isn’t going to meet with much resistance from the “adult.” Weigel even orders his subordinates to run the machinery so the boys can enjoy the rides.

McGowan’s got some decent shots and the amusement park set-up is rather impressive.

I think there’s only one gag in the entire picture.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Robert F. McGowan; written by Hal Roach; titles by H.M. Walker; director of photography, Art Lloyd; edited by Richard C. Currier; produced by F. Richard Jones; released by Pathé Exchange.

Starring Allen ‘Farina’ Hoskins (Farina), Andy Samuel (Andy), Jackie Condon (Jackie), Jannie Hoskins (Jannie), Jay R. Smith (Jay), Johnny Downs (Johnny), Joe Cobb (Joe), Mickey Daniels (Mickey), Mary Kornman (Mary) and Paul Weigel (Henry Mills).


Super-Hooper-Dyne Lizzies (1925, Del Lord)

Super-Hooper-Dyne Lizzies explores the dangers of electric cars. Basically, they can be taken over by radio waves and made to do crazy things. If it weren’t for the gasoline dealer (John J. Richardson) being the villain, one could almost see it as twenties gas company propaganda.

The short is a special effects extravaganza and director Lord does pretty well with it. There are all sorts of car effects, some okay wirework and a few other things. Sadly, the rampant racism overshadows any of the short’s positive qualities.

At one point, co-writers Frank Capra and Jefferson Moffitt posit blacks are actually not living creatures. Where’s Robert Riskin when you need him….

There’s also some anti-Semitism, but it might be from title card writers Felix Adler and Al Giebler.

The first half is mildly amusing with the special effects. But the second half makes it Lizzies unpleasant overall.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Del Lord; screenplay by Frank Capra and Jefferson Moffitt; titles by Felix Adler and Al Giebler; directors of photography, George Spear and George Unholz; edited by William Hornbeck; produced by Mack Sennett; released by Pathé Exchange.

Starring Billy Bevan (Hiram Case), Andy Clyde (Burbank Watts), Lillian Knight (Minnie Watts) and John J. Richardson (T. Potter Doam).


Pie-Eyed (1925, Scott Pembroke and Joe Rock)

There’s got to be something good about Pie-Eyed. I just can’t think of it. I suppose directors Pembroke and Rock do show some competence; they save the stupidest gag for last. Stan Laurel falls seven stories without injury. If there’s never any danger to him, why be interested?

But that complement is a sarcastic one. The timing is probably more coincidence.

I suppose Laurel isn’t terrible. It’s not his fault (presumably) the short has no story. Pie-Eyed opens, appropriately, with him being a drunken buffoon at a night club. Of course, he’s not drinking at night, the short later reveals, but during the day.

He gets flirty with the club owner’s wife, gets thrown out, has further misadventures. Even without an original plot point, Pie-Eyed might have been tolerable with some original gags. There aren’t any; every gag is familiar from much better comedies.

It’s exceptionally lame.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Scott Pembroke and Joe Rock; titles by Tay Garnett; director of photography, Edgar Lyons; produced by Rock; released by Selznick Distributing Corporation.

Starring Stan Laurel (Drunk), Glen Cavender (Nightclub manager) and Thelma Hill (Girl in club).


His Marriage Wow (1925, Harry Edwards)

I wonder how His Marriage Wow would play without Vernon Dent. His character is an inexplicably omnipresent professor who counsels leading man Harry Langdon as to his future wife’s murderous intentions.

Of course, Marriage is never scary and never tries to be scary, so the whole groom in danger aspect is just a waste of time. And the short opens with even more time wasting as Langdon can’t find the right chapel for his wedding.

Having a directionally challenges and dimwitted protagonist does Marriage no favors. But at least Langdon’s good, unlike Dent, who just gets worse and worse.

Sadly, Natalie Kingston’s bride has nothing to do. The filmmakers seem to think Langdon and Dent are a better pair, but never even try to explain why Dent would be around.

Edwards’s direction is mediocre but occasionally inventive.

Marriage isn’t exactly disappointing, but Dent’s terrible performance does overshadow any redeeming qualities.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Harry Edwards; written by Arthur Ripley; titles by Al Giebler; directors of photography, Lee Davis and William Williams; edited by William Hornbeck; produced by Mack Sennett; released by Pathé Exchange.

Starring Harry Langdon (The Groom), Natalie Kingston (The Bride), William McCall (Her Father) and Vernon Dent (A Pessimist).


Alice Cans the Cannibals (1925, Walt Disney)

The animation is a strange mix of great and mediocre in Alice Cans the Cannibals. The principals, whether it’s Julius (the titular Alice’s sidekick), the variety of animals they encounter or the cannibals presumably out to eat Alice (though why they’re chasing Julius, a cat, is never explained), all move with grace and attention. They move against a generic, barren backdrop however. Presumably it was difficult to mix Alice–a live action actor (Virginia Davis)–with the cartoon environment.

Cannibals is rather charming, especially since Alice’s friendship with Julius the cat is portrayed so well. Disney really gets a great performance out of Davis, but only when she’s opposite her “co-stars.” In her one close-up, the reality of the medium breaks.

Also of note is the importance of reading. Many gags require the audience can read, making silent cartoons a little headier than their talky descendants.

Alice‘s swell.

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Walt Disney; animated by Rollin Hamilton, Thurston Harper and Ub Iwerks; director of photography, Mike Marcus; released by Margaret J. Winkler.

Starring Virginia Davis (Alice).


The Iron Mule (1925, Roscoe ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle and Grover Jones)

What The Iron Mule lacks in plotting, it makes up for in exuberance. Unfortunately, the exuberance isn’t omnipresent. It’s like directors Arbuckle and Jones felt the need for gags, which don’t work, but had modern fun with the physical comedy.

Almost all of the physical comedy is in long shot. It doesn’t seem like a good idea at first, like the audience is going to miss some detail, but then Arbuckle and Jones hold the shot and even more comedy plays out.

Those sequences–there are a couple great ones and a few more good ones–make up for Mule‘s lack of direction. It’s the story of a train ride, with the main joke being the titular Iron Mule. It’s a pitiful little train (borrowed for Our Hospitality), losing a race with a cow.

Ostensible leading man Al St. John makes no impression.

It’s charming, without being much good.

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Roscoe ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle and Grover Jones; written by Jones; released by Educational Film Exchanges.

Starring Al St. John (The Engineer).


The Freshman (1925, Fred C. Newmeyer and Sam Taylor)

The Freshman has one of the most peculiar approaches to storytelling I’ve seen. It has very little establishing exposition–a few lines on a title card about maybe four of those exposition title cards throughout–and its scenes are gag-centered and the film is these gags strung together. Maybe the approach isn’t so peculiar (arguably, it’s the same approach used in say… The Waterboy), but The Freshman is successful and other films with such strings are not.

Most of the success is due to Harold Lloyd. He plays an incoming freshman desperate to be popular, but he’s full of geeky ideas of college he’s picked up from a movie. The Freshman is so lean, it doesn’t even bother giving Lloyd fellow geeks to hang around (he’s the star after all), just the antagonists, who vary in terms of hostility. There’s only one real bully in the film, actually, but it’s not too concentrated on Lloyd making friends with specific folks, just in general. Also in The Freshman is the touching love story between Lloyd and a town girl, played by Jobyna Ralston. There’s little tension to the love story–by the hour-mark, the two are a couple–and it gives Lloyd his confidant, as well a greater goal.

The gags vary in terms of athleticism. There’s a football game and a football practice and I kept remembering M*A*S*H throughout those scenes, but otherwise Lloyd’s not doing much in the way of acrobatics. The comedy’s not particularly physical and it made me wonder why if the film even qualifies as “slapstick.” It’s a real achievement how affecting the film ends up being, given how hard-pressed I am to think of any characters besides Lloyd and Ralston’s who leave any impression. Besides the two of them, I think the football coach gets the most screen time, though he’s not really a character….

Lloyd’s films are finally readily available (I remember, when I worked at a video store in the late 1990s, they were not, nor was there any hope for them to be) and The Freshman is a good entry point to silent films for newcomers. The Freshman moves incredibly fast–since it is that gag string–and it’s constantly entertaining. It does demand close attention, as Lloyd’s a busy comedian, but in structure, it has more in common with modern comedies than other silent comedies do.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Fred C. Newmeyer and Sam Taylor; written by Taylor, John Grey, Tim Whelan and Ted Wilde; director of photography, Walter Lundin; edited by Allen McNeil; produced by Harold Lloyd; released by Pathé.

Starring Harold Lloyd (The Freshman), Jobyna Ralston (Peggy), Brooks Benedict (The College Cad), James Anderson (The College Hero), Hazel Kenner (The College Belle), Joseph Harrington (The College Tailor) and Pat Harmon (The Football Coach).


Wizard of Oz (1925, Larry Semon)

Imagine–if you can–The Wizard of Oz reconfigured as a slapstick comedy with some elements of political intrigue. According to IMDb, director and actor Larry Semon’s career took a serious hit from Wizard of Oz, since he just didn’t get the material. Near as I can tell, however, all the vitriol against the movie is based on its differences from the 1939 and the original novel, not so much against the film. It’s a standard slapstick comedy and some of the scenes are very well choreographed.

Even some of the other elements–but not the political intrigue–work out well enough. Dorothy’s farm life–in Kansas, Dorothy is still a character, in Oz she is not–has a few nice bits, even though it’s obviously filmed in California. California has a different look from Kansas, especially when shooting on location instead of in a studio. The tornado, one of the few familiar elements (the Yellow Brick Road, the witches, and any recognizable version of the Wizard are gone), has some great special effects. It’s one of those miniature effects where the viewer only knows it’s a miniature because he or she stops to think about how it couldn’t possibly be anything else.

The Wizard of Oz, apparently, is not a material to be taken lightly. Semon even had Baum’s son working on the film and he couldn’t even cut it any slack. The film uses a strange framing device, a man reading his daughter the novel (even she’s bored with the political mumbo-jumbo, in one of the film’s funnier self-awarenesses). The device isn’t so strange, since it’s still used today–and in some inexplicably beloved films–but its set looks German Impressionist, with rounded corners. It adds an ominous air to the scenes, but like the rest of the film, never pays off. Still, there’s nothing wrong with the film, just so long as you aren’t expecting Keaton slapstick. Or The Wizard of Oz.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Larry Semon; screenplay by Frank Joslyn Baum, Leon Lee and Semon, with titles by Lee, based on a novel by L. Frank Baum; directors of photography, Frank B. Good, Hans F. Koenenkamp and Leonard Smith; edited by Sam Zimbalist; released by Chadwick Pictures Corporation.

Starring Dorothy Dwan (Dorothy/Princess Dorothea), Mary Carr (Aunt Em), Virginia Pearson (Lady Vishuss), Bryant Washburn (Prince Kynd), Josef Swickard (Prime Minister Kruel), Charles Murray (The Wizard of Oz), Oliver Hardy (Farmhand/The Tin Woodsman/Knight of the Garter), Frank Alexander (Uncle Henry/Prince of Whales), Otto Lederer (Ambassador Wikked), Frederick Ko Vert (The Phantom of the Basket), Larry Semon (Toymaker/Farmhand/The Scarecrow) and Spencer Bell (Snowball/The Cowardly Lion).


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