The Comique Shorts: Roscoe Arbuckle’s Masterpieces

This is post #1 of Comique Month! (I’m so excited, I’ve been wanting to write about this amazing studio for ages.) Enjoy, and check back often throughout the next thirty-one days as we dive into incomparable world of the Comique Film Corporation!

The Comique films! As cheerful as a sunny summer’s day and as energetic as jazzy music, Roscoe Arbuckle’s 1917-1919 series of two-reelers should be required viewing for anyone even remotely interested in silent comedy. They’re goofy, clever, cheerful, inventive, and contain some of the best choreographed slapstick sequences the Edwardian era ever devised. Chaplin’s late 1910s Mutuals may get the most applause, but the “Comiques” (as they’re often called) definitely deserve the most high fives.

Comique crew butcher boy

At least three for this publicity photo alone.

But despite some excellent restorations, Arbuckle’s Comiques are still somewhat overlooked. They’re usually credited as containing Buster Keaton’s earliest film appearances, and…that’s about it. If they’re discussed in any depth at all, it’s usually in order to analyze Buster’s performances, speculate on which gags might be his, and to compare them with his later, independent work. In other words, the Comiques are held up as examples of decent enough, admittedly energetic films that are of course far inferior to Buster’s own 1920s shorts. Continue reading

7 Silent Christmas Movies (From The Horse-And-Buggy Era)

Do you collect vintage Christmas decorations? Love singing vintage Christmas songs? Maybe even enjoy trying out vintage holiday recipes? Then how about taking the next step and trying out some very vintage Christmas films?

Exposure to forbidding vintage Santas is well worth the price.

I’m not talking about the familiar holiday staples like Miracle on 34th Street, It’s a Wonderful Life or the hallowed classic Santa Claus Conquers the Martians–I’m talking about the very earliest Christmas films ever made, pre-dating our more commercialized era. Heck, they pre-date the widespread use of electricity. The discovery of penicillin. Even the Coca-Cola Santa ClausThese are holiday movies over a century old, from the literal horse and buggy era, and they are charming peeks into a long-gone world. Let’s start with: Continue reading

In Defense Of “The Big Four” Of Silent Comedy

There’s an old quote you may have heard, attributed to Benjamin Franklin: “…In this world, nothing can said to be certain, except death and taxes.” I’d like to amend that: “…In this world, nothing can said to be certain, except death, taxes, and fans of silent comedy debating about the ranking of the Big Four.” (Or the “Big Three,” for the multitudes of you who haven’t made Harry Langdon an integral part of your lives yet.)

the-big-four

There’s a reason Harry’s wiping away a tear.

General film enthusiasts take the informal-yet-widespread ranking of Chaplin, Keaton and Lloyd as the all-time best silent comedians for granted (and more would include Harry if they would actually watch Harry, harumph), but for some time now the tide has been changing among silent comedy fans. It’s not uncommon to find arguments in favor of less emphasis on “The Big Four,” of adding or replacing a comedian or two, or even of ditching the ranking all together. Those in favor of the latter say there were lots of popular comedians back in the silent era, and furthermore, these unjustly overlooked folks could be just as funny as Lloyd or Keaton. Thus, the ranking is unfair and not even historically accurate. Right? Continue reading

Vamps! Your Great-Grandfather’s Femme Fatales

Today, let us extend a suitably theatrical nod toward the “vamp.” That wicked temptress of yesteryear, pale-skinned, alluringly dressed, leading respectable gentlemen to their doom. And don’t forget the copious amounts of kohl eyeliner, which made them appear like the Victorian-themed dream of a goth kid who fell asleep still clutching his dog-eared Edgar Allan Poe book.

Image result for vamps 1910s

Whence came the vamp? Short for “vampire,” the word meant a female seductress with an almost supernatural ability to drain male victims not of their blood, but of their…life force. Or something like that. Ask someone from the 1910s to name a vampire, and they were just as likely to say “Theda Bara” as “Count Dracula.” If not more so. Continue reading

Living Cartoons: 5 Silent “Grotesque” Comedians

We’re kicking off Forgotten Comedians month with a look at one of most memorable aspects of silent comedy–those wacky human oddities who made people laugh just by showing up onscreen.

They could’ve walked right out of the funny papers. They came in every conceivable shape and size: short and stubby, alarmingly tall, skinny as beanpoles or round as beach balls. They wore every kind of mismatched clothing: floppy shoes, enormous pants, tight coats, moth-eaten hats, and out of date dresses. If you touched their makeup, you’d probably leave a dent. Sometimes called “grotesque comedians” (an old-time term), these were people who specialized not just in acting funny, but in looking funny.

As Ben Turpin so richly demonstrates.

A few of the names might be familiar to you: Ford Sterling, Larry Semon, Al St. John. But come on, guys, they’re too easy. Let’s really dive into the nooks and crannies of ’10s and ’20s comedy. Who were some of the most outlandish and “out there” characters ever to inspire a cartoonist’s envy?  I invite you all to get acquainted with a few of the largely-forgotten names among the finest silent “grotesques”! Continue reading

Fan Magazine Fun: More 1920s Fans Draw Their Favorite Stars

A little while ago I posted a page from 1925 Motion Picture Magazine that displayed entries in a “draw your favorite stars!” contest for kids. Looks like a previous issue (from April) had a contest for adults, too!

Fans draw stars contest mot pic mag Apr '25

I’m loving all of these, especially the slinky Colleen Moore. Nita is surprisingly modern (perhaps that’s fitting?) and Zasu is almost anime-inspired. You could say that the Zasu sketch nabbed the $10 prize because it was just a tad ahead of its time.

Hope everyone’s been having a great summer! I’m gearing up for next month right now–a theme month maaaay be in the works (my hints are the subtlest). It’s going to be a fun one, folks!

Should We Judge Stars By Their Personal Lives?

Not too long ago I saw a discussion in a Facebook group about a silent era actor who, it was revealed, had strongly supported keeping his wealthy neighborhood “White People Only.” Naturally this was disheartening news, and more than one person declared that they would never look at him the same way again.

I could hardly blame them, but it got me thinking: What do we do if we love a star’s work onscreen, but discover that they were less-than-charming off screen? Is it reasonable to judge a star by their personal life?

Temperamental Mae Murray.

Continue reading

Bang! It’s The Fourth!

Happy Fourth of July weekend, fellow Americans! And I suppose I can wish a Happy Independence Day of sorts to the U.K. too, yes?…No? Too soon? But…but why? 

In the ’20s, as part of the “fun cheesy photos for the holidays” tradition, it was popular for actors (mainly actresses) to pose in gag photos with fireworks, some of which were comically gigantic. The June 30, 1928 Exhibitor’s Herald and Moving Picture World featured this spread, which included our Louise Fazenda:

Bang Its The 4th exh herald and mov pic world June 30 '28

As a chaser, here’s the always-adorable Baby Peggy (from the Exhibitor’s Herald, July 21, 1923):

Baby Peggy firework exh herald July 21 '23

And of course, no matter where you are, have a lovely weekend because everyone deserves to have a lovely weekend. More posts are on the way once we’ve all recovered from any and all festivities!