1920

Neighbors (1920, Edward F. Cline and Buster Keaton)

I’m not sure what the best thing is about Neighbors. There’s the comic pacing, there’s the comic acrobatics, there’s the story, there’s the acting. Co-directors Keaton and Cline quickly introduce this fantastic setup–Romeo and Juliet across a fence in an alley and then immediately get into two very complicated Keaton-fueled acrobatic mastery. It segues into a mistaken identity chase sequence, then resolves in a melodramatic plot development giving seven cast members (sadly, the bride and groom’s mothers are uncredited) each something to do, before wrapping up in another acrobatic chase sequence.

It’s the perfect slapstick comedy, but it’s also a great romantic comedy, a great comedy of errors. All in seventeen or so minutes. Keaton and Cline perfectly time every shot, every scene.

Neighbors is a perfect seventeen minutes of film. Keaton and Cline do a fantastic, masterful and totally understated job with the film. It’s magnificent.

3/3Highly Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Edward F. Cline and Buster Keaton; screenplay by Cline and Keaton, based on a story by Keaton; director of photography, Elgin Lessley; produced by Joseph M. Schenck; released by Metro Pictures Corporation.

Starring Buster Keaton (The Boy), Virginia Fox (The Girl), Joe Roberts (Her Father), Joe Keaton (His Father), Edward F. Cline (The Cop) and Jack Duffy (The Judge).


The Scarecrow (1920, Edward F. Cline and Buster Keaton)

The Scarecrow opens with a lengthy practical effects sequence. Buster Keaton and Joe Roberts are roommates and they have an elaborately designed “concise” home. It’s like IKEA’s dream, only with manually pulled ropes instead of some kind of remote control.

(There’s also a gag Chaplin had, a year later, in The Kid).

Turns out the roommates are in love with the same girl (Sybil Seeley, who’s appealing with nothing to do). Somehow, this love triangle results in Keaton getting chased by Seeley’s possibly rabid dog while both he and Roberts run afoul of her father (played by Joe Keaton).

The automated home alone would be enough of a gag for an entire short, the dog chase would be enough for an entire short, but then directors Keaton and Cline turn it all into a runaway romance and chase picture. The Scarecrow’s a breathtaking achievement of technique, practically and narratively.

3/3Highly Recommended

CREDITS

Written and directed by Edward F. Cline and Buster Keaton; director of photography, Elgin Lesley; released by Metro Pictures Corporation.

Starring Buster Keaton (Farmhand), Joe Roberts (Farmhand), Sybil Seely (Farmer’s Daughter) and Joe Keaton (Farmer).


Convict 13 (1920, Edward F. Cline and Buster Keaton)

Convict 13 has some undeniably funny stuff in it, but directors Keaton and Cline rely almost entirely on physical comedy. By physical, I mean actors doing choreographed comedy. Sometimes it’s Keaton, both for the smaller sequences and the larger, or Joe Roberts as a gigantic, revolting prisoner.

Both senses of revolting.

Oh, right. Real quick–Convict is about Keaton, a klutz (which is one of the problems with the short), mistakenly going to jail. He’s not the jail type; his girlfriend, played by Sybil Seely, tries to help him out. That description is maybe the first two-thirds, with the remainder being a whole different, jail and mistaken identity setup.

That emphasis on the choreographed comedy shows skill from Keaton and Cline as directors, but it’s kind of boring. There’s nothing exciting about Convict 13; it’s fine, but also a missed opportunity. The absurdist plotting can’t stand on its own.

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Written and directed by Edward F. Cline and Buster Keaton; director of photography, Elgin Lessley; produced by Joseph M. Schenck; released by Metro Pictures Corporation.

Starring Buster Keaton (Golfer), Sybil Seely (Socialite), Edward F. Cline (Hangman) and Joe Roberts (The Crazed Prisoner).


One Week (1920, Edward F. Cline and Buster Keaton)

One Week is pretty much perfect. Directors Cline and Keaton structure the short beautifully. It takes place over a week, the passage of days torn off calendar pages, as newlyweds Keaton and Sybil Seely set up their home. Literally, set up; they’re constructing their own pre-fab and things go wrong.

The tone of the comedy at this point is more traditional slapstick than what Week becomes. It’s also where the film establishes Keaton and Seely’s relationship. They’re a lovely couple, with Seely getting some rather good moments. Even towards the end, when it becomes a disaster picture–but a light-hearted one–and Keaton is more front and center, Seely still gets attention. Keaton and Cline put as much into the story as they do the filmmaking.

Well, maybe not as much; they literally spin a house around, but an excellent amount.

Gorgeous Elgin Lessley photography. Week’s a masterpiece.

3/3Highly Recommended

CREDITS

Written and directed by Edward F. Cline and Buster Keaton; director of photography, Elgin Lesley; edited by Keaton; produced by Joseph M. Schenck; released by Metro Pictures Corporation.

Starring Buster Keaton (The Groom) and Sybil Seely (The Bride).


Get Out and Get Under (1920, Hal Roach)

Like a lot of silent shorts, Get Out and Get Under has three distinct phases. The first phase involves Harold Lloyd as a suitor for Mildred Davis. He’s got to race to stop her wedding. This phase sets a certain expectation for Get Out‘s pace; the rest of the short doesn’t live up to it.

Instead, the second phase is this incredibly laid back comedy of inconvenience. It’s not errors, just little things adding up. There are some good laughs in this section (the best laughs in the short), but it also establishes Lloyd’s character as a callous dimwit. Lloyd’s still likable because he’s Lloyd but there’s nothing to the character.

The third section is a lengthy chase involving Lloyd and some motorcycle cops. Again, it’s boring. The most compelling moment is when the cops think their shooting him for speeding.

Get Out isn’t bad, it’s just wholly uninspired filmmaking.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Hal Roach; titles by H.M. Walker; director of photography, Walter Lundin; released by Pathé Exchange.

Starring Harold Lloyd (The Boy), Mildred Davis (The Girl) and Fred McPherson (The Rival).


Number, Please? (1920, Fred C. Newmeyer and Hal Roach)

Number, Please? is split into three very different parts. First, Harold Lloyd is trying to win back his ex-girlfriend (Mildred Davis), who’s just an awful human being, from her current beau, played by Roy Brooks. The men have to find her missing dog. This section isn’t much fun as there are constant reminders Davis isn’t exactly a prize.

Second is a lengthy sequence where Lloyd tries to make a telephone call. While it’s interesting as evidence of how phones worked in 1920, the sequence relies entirely on people being mean or lazy. The jokes are genial, but uninspired.

The third section, however, is wonderful slapstick. Lloyd is running around the Venice Beach amusement park trying to get rid of a hot purse. It’s great use of locations, but also fantastic physical gags.

Lloyd’s great throughout and directors Roach and Newmeyer have some startling good moments.

Overall, Number is successful.

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Fred C. Newmeyer and Hal Roach; titles by H.M. Walker; director of photography, Walter Lundin; produced by Roach; released by Pathé Exchange.

Starring Harold Lloyd (The Boy), Mildred Davis (The Girl) and Roy Brooks (The Rival).


High and Dizzy (1920, Hal Roach)

Sometimes low concept is the best concept. High and Dizzy concerns a drunken Harold Lloyd and his adventures about town with his sidekick, played by Roy Brooks. Lloyd and Brooks get into all sorts of trouble, some predictable, some not, and it just makes for a pleasant comedy.

It helps, of course, Lloyd can be acrobatic–whether he’s scaling a building or just hopping over a desk–because it maintains the action quotient.

Dizzy‘s not just about a drunken Lloyd, however. It’s about a failing new doctor drunken Lloyd who’s in love with a patient. The short’s structure is, though contrived, rather nice. At the beginning, a sober Lloyd falls for Mildred Davis. He falls so hard, he doesn’t even get her diagnosis, which comes back as a plot point later.

Roach, as usual, competently directs without being interesting.

The finale’s a little forced, but Dizzy‘s already succeeded.

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Hal Roach; written by Frank Terry; director of photography, Walter Lundin; released by Pathé Exchange.

Starring Harold Lloyd (The Boy), Roy Brooks (His Friend), Mildred Davis (The Girl) and Wallace Howe (Her Father).


Haunted Spooks (1920, Hal Roach and Alfred J. Goulding)

Haunted Spooks is a disjointed experience. It starts well enough, with unmarried Mildred Davis inheriting a mansion… so long as she’s married. Her lawyer promises to get her a husband, which the title cards have already revealed will be Harold Lloyd.

Then Haunted takes its time bringing the two together. Instead, Lloyd’s current love interest picks another man–after a lengthy sequence where he’s trying to beat still another suitor to ask her father’s blessing–and Lloyd decides to kill himself. Then there are multiple suicide attempts; they’re often funny, but Haunted‘s not exactly an upper.

Finally Davis and Lloyd get together and head to the mansion. Except her evil uncle has convinced the servants the mansion is haunted. They panic. Their panic panics Davis and Lloyd.

The haunting stuff flops and the opening’s only marginally better.

Lloyd’s excellent, but Haunted‘s most compelling feature is the beautifully illustrated title cards.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Hal Roach and Alfred J. Goulding; titles by H.M. Walker; director of photography, Walter Lundin; produced by Roach; released by Pathé Exchange.

Starring Harold Lloyd (The Boy), Mildred Davis (The Girl), Wallace Howe (The Uncle), William Gillespie (The Lawyer), Marie Mosquini (The Other Girl) and Blue Washington (The Butler).


An Eastern Westerner (1920, Hal Roach)

In An Eastern Westerner, Harold Lloyd plays a Manhattan playboy whose antics land him out West. Not the antics where he destroys a dance hall in the opening sequence, which nicely establishes the character, but the ones where his parents catch him.

Westerner‘s opening sequence, where Lloyd is willing to fight bigger men (or at least get back at them), does a lot of work. Later, when he’s in a saloon and surrounded by dangerous men, his behavior makes more sense.

The story–Lloyd doesn’t have any drama inherent to himself–involves a rich, tough louse (played by Noah Young), who’s after a girl, played by Mildred Davis. In the interest of narrative expediency, Lloyd falls for Davis the moment he meets her. Most of the rest of Westerner is fall-out from his affections.

Lloyd’s likability and antics are Westerner‘s whole show. He’s more than up to the task.

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Hal Roach; written by Frank Terry; titles by H.M. Walker; director of photography, Walter Lundin; released by Pathé Exchange.

Starring Harold Lloyd (The Boy), Mildred Davis (The Girl) and Noah Young (Tiger Lip Tompkins).


Dry and Thirsty (1920, Craig Hutchinson)

Dry and Thirsty is split into two distinct parts. The first part, set on a boardwalk and beach, mostly features protagonist Billy Bletcher. Bletcher, who also wrote the short, resembles Chaplin. The mustache isn’t identical, but it’s close, and the mannerisms suggest a very American Chaplin impression.

He’s not bad and his mad pursuit of liquor is mildly amusing. Thirsty‘s essential component is director Hutchinson. He doesn’t just film the beach area well, he also knows how to film the motion. Hutchinson is able to make Bletcher’s manic impression work. The first half is great-looking.

The second half takes place in a hotel, introducing Vera Reynolds (as Bletcher’s love interest) and John Dempsey (as her husband). It’s funnier, but not because of Bletcher. The hotel’s so busy, there’s a foot traffic director. The gag works better than it should.

It’s an appealing little comedy with some excellent direction.

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Craig Hutchinson; written by Billy Bletcher; produced by Al Christie; released by Pathé Exchange.

Starring Billy Bletcher (Horace Radish), Vera Reynolds (Mrs. Tryan) and John Dempsey (William Allways Tryan).


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