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Dogs of War (1923, Robert F. McGowan)

Dogs of War features some of Robert F. McGowan’s finest directorial work. Sure, he’s aping World War I movies–specifically trench warfare and no man’s land, which seem highly inappropriate subjects for comedy–but it’s incredibly well-directed. A lot of his setups are shockingly good.

The “war” aspect of Dogs only lasts about nine minutes before the short moves into its better setting–a movie studio. The Our Gang kids crash the studio when the girl (the real girl, Mary Kornman, not Allen ‘Farina’ Hoskins, who’s gender-bending this time) gets a bit part.

The movie studio antics are amusing without ever getting particularly funny. The gang–no one stands out, not even Farina–is endearing though and Dogs passes the time nicely.

The Harold Lloyd cameo doesn’t hurt.

After the incredibly uncomfortable and off-putting opening, Dogs turns out to be a rather pleasant outing for the gang.

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Robert F. McGowan; written by Hal Roach; titles by H.M. Walker; director of photography, Harry W. Gerstad; edited by Thomas J. Crizer; produced by Roach; released by Pathé Exchange.

Starring Joe Cobb (Joe), Jackie Condon (Jackie), Mickey Daniels (Mickey), Jack Davis (Jack), Allen ‘Farina’ Hoskins (Farina), Ernest Morrison (Sunshine Sammy), Mary Kornman (Mary), Dick Gilbert (Studio guard) and William Gillespie (Director).


Now or Never (1921, Fred C. Newmeyer and Hal Roach)

Now or Never takes a long time to get to the basic comedic plot–Harold Lloyd is stuck taking care of a little kid on a train ride. The kid, played by Anna Mae Bilson, is absolutely adorable and a perfect foil for Lloyd. She’s his costar, not romantic interest Mildred Davis, which is somewhat unfortunate.

The film takes a kitchen sink approach, with Lloyd not just speeding in a car, but also hopping a train before getting onboard Never‘s principal train. About fifteen minutes could easily come off the front, since it doesn’t feature Lloyd and Bilson together.

Roach and Newmeyer’s direction, even of the pointless parts, is excellent and Lloyd’s good, which makes Never painless (if still overlong). The finale, when Lloyd’s on top of the train–an inevitability for train movies–is fantastic. The stunt work is mesmerizing.

It’s cute and very likable, but fairly shallow overall.

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Fred C. Newmeyer and Hal Roach; written by Sam Taylor; titles by H.M. Walker; director of photography, Walter Lundin; edited by Thomas J. Crizer; produced by Roach; released by Pathé Exchange.

Starring Harold Lloyd (The Boy), Mildred Davis (The Girl) and Anna Mae Bilson (The Lonesome Little Child).


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).


Saturday Afternoon (1926, Harry Edwards)

Even though Saturday Afternoon is astoundingly bad on every expected level and a few unexpected ones, I guess I’m glad to know there were always terrible comedies. It’s not some recent invention, post-television. There was always tripe.

The story is pretty simple. Harry Langdon is a moron married to an evil witch of a wife, played by Alice Ward. There’s also this very interesting inference Ward has been around a little and picked Langdon because of his stupidity.

Oh, I forgot to mention, writers Arthur Ripley and Frank Capra slather on the misogyny (not just Ward) with a wide brush.

Except Langdon’s trying to step out on Ward and the audience is supposed to sympathize. But he’s so stupid, it’s impossible.

Technically, Langdon’s performance is bad. He doesn’t have any timing. His sidekick, Vernon Dent, is worse. Edwards’s direction goes beyond bad to incompetent.

Afternoon‘s an unbearable 1,800 seconds.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

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

Starring Harry Langdon (Harry Higgins), Alice Ward (Mrs. Harry Higgins), Vernon Dent (Steve Smith), Ruth Hiatt (Pearl), Peggy Montgomery (Ruby) and Leo Willis (The Rival).


Among Those Present (1921, Fred C. Newmeyer)

Newmeyer takes Harold Lloyd to a country house in Among Those Present and sets him loose in front of a bunch of snobs. Lloyd plays a variation of his regular character, but this time with additions. For much of the short, he’s posing as a British lord, which showcases Lloyd’s acting ability.

The short has already established him as the likable Lloyd standard, so seeing him be an English snob is a lot of fun. The persona melts, of course, when he meets Mildred Davis. But Lloyd’s coat check boy proves to be quite an acceptable suitor, regardless of society status.

Among Those Present has three distinct periods, with the second being Lloyd’s impersonating in society and the final one being him on a fox hunt. Things do not go well on the hunt.

The short has many good laughs, but the plot structure and acting really set it apart.

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Fred C. Newmeyer; written by Hal Roach and Sam Taylor; director of photography, Walter Lundin; edited by Thomas J. Crizer; produced by Roach; released by Pathé Exchange.

Starring Harold Lloyd (O’Reilly, The Boy), Mildred Davis (Miss O’Brien, The Girl), James T. Kelley (Mr. O’Brien, the Father), Aggie Herring (Mrs. O’Brien, the Mother), Vera White (Society Pilot) and William Gillespie (Hard-Boiled Party).


La roue (1923, Abel Gance)

Gance is very ambitious with La roue, only not so much technically. Even the second half of the film, which opens up considerably (the first half takes place in a train yard, mostly on one set, while the second half moves the action to a idyllic mountaintop), Gance is far more concerned his protagonist’s internal struggles.

During the first half of the film, the protagonist—played by Séverin-Mars—has come to the realization he has improper feelings for his adoptive daughter (she doesn’t know she’s adopted, however). It rips the family apart, driving the daughter (played by Ivy Close) into a loveless marriage and leaves her brother (also unaware she’s adopted) in ruins. Gance plays pretty loose with the logic at times—he cut about three hours for the public release, so who knows—as the brother (Gabriel de Gravone) also has improper feelings, he just doesn’t know they’re technically “okay.” It’s all pretty creepy, actually, but very well done.

During the second half, Séverin-Mars’s problems become more physical, which leads to the the move to the mountaintop. There Gance really gets to show off. Before, he had some great editing, but in the second half, he also has some amazing shots. The film eventually has a bunch of out of place Christian allegory, but it eventually ebbs.

Fine acting from Séverin-Mars and de Gravone. Close’s good in an underdeveloped role. Georges Térof is great as Séverin-Mars’s sidekick.

It’s often quite brilliant, but a little hollow.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Abel Gance; directors of photography, Gaston Brun, Marc Bujard, Léonce-Henri Burel and Maurice Duverger; edited by Marguerite Beaugé and Gance; produced by Gance and Charles Pathé; released by Pathé.

Starring Séverin-Mars (Sisif), Ivy Close (Norma), Gabriel de Gravone (Elie), Pierre Magnier (Jacques de Hersan), Max Maxudian (Le minéralogiste Kalatikascopoulos), Georges Térof (Machefer) and Gil Clary (Dalilah).


Oranges and Lemons (1923, George Jeske)

Jeske isn’t much of a director, which I feel weird saying as Oranges and Lemons has a really masterfully done sequence. Jeske holds the shot as Stan Laurel keeps confusing Eddie Baker, who’s pursuing him. It’s brilliant stuff, as Laurel is a great physical comedian.

The directing problems come immediately following, when Laurel enters a warehouse and Jeske never does a proper establishing shot. It might be a budgetary constraint, but it really hurts the short. Except, of course, Laurel is there to make it work.

And Oranges does succeed. It doesn’t have a story–Laurel’s a lazy employee at a poorly run orchard. It follows his morning through a couple assignments (though lazy, he is industrious–Laurel doesn’t pass a single task without attempting it). He gets in trouble with his boss, chaos ensues.

The short succeeds specifically due to Laurel’s presence. It’s impossible to imagine Oranges without him.

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by George Jeske; director of photography, Frank Young; produced by Hal Roach; released by Pathé Exchange.

Starring Stan Laurel (Sunkist), Katherine Grant (Little Valencia) and Eddie Baker (Orange Blossom).


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).


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).


A Close Call (1929, Harry Bailey and John Foster)

A Close Call is a very strange little cartoon.

First, it’s an early talkie, so everyone’s very excited about synchronized sound. So much so, in fact, a church choir breaks out into “You’re In The Army Now.” It’s a very odd song choice.

But not as odd as the rest of Call.

The cartoon concerns two mice in love. The boy gets into some trouble when he pulls off his sweetie’s skirt to use it as an accordion. In nothing but her bloomers, she’s not happy with him and neither notice the big evil cat arrive and kidnap her.

Now, the cat’s not trying to eat her. Oh, no, not at all. He’s an amorous vicious psychopath. While making goo goo eyes at the girl mouse, he’s trying to torture the male one.

The drawing is often rough and the animation’s bad, but the strangeness makes the cartoon undeniably compelling.

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Harry Bailey and John Foster; produced by Paul Terry and Amadee J. Van Beuren; released by Pathé.


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