(Supposedly) Lost Films: “In The Clutches Of A Gang” (1914)

It’s one of the most famous photos from silent comedy. Or from the silent era itself. Or, heck, from cinema itself. It’s the image that probably leaps to mind when you say “Keystone Kops.”

Keystone Kops | Description, Movies, & Facts | Britannica

This one!

It’s also key to what I think is the ultimate championship trivia question: “This famous still comes from which lost film?” The winning answer–major props if you know it–is “In the Clutches of a Gang!” *Cue lots of applause and money showering from the ceiling*

For being such a wildly famous image, it’s surprising that In the Clutches of a Gang (1914) isn’t better known–as a title, at any rate. After all, the film itself has been lost for many decades, yet another casualty of delicate nitrate paired with the relentless march of time. What a pity that such a tantalizing piece of slapstick history should have been so thoroughly, and regrettably, lost.

OR HAS IT?! Continue reading

Silent-ology Recommends: “CHASE! A Tribute To The Keystone Cops”

Hold the candlestick phone! Another new book on silent comedy is available to brighten our bookshelves? And it’s the first-ever book on the Keystone Cops?!

26 Best keystone cops images | Keystone cops, Cops, Silent film

“It is? Seriously?

Why yes indeed! I’m happy to help spread the word that the fine new book CHASE! A Tribute to the Keystone Cops is now available from BearManor Media. It represents a dream team effort by a number of historians and writers, all compiled by editors Lon and Debra Davis. Many of the names you probably know already: Sam Gill, Joe Adamson, Michael J. Hayde, Rob King, Mark Pruett, Chris Seguin, Paul E. Gierucki, John Bengtson, Randy Skretvedt, Rob Farr, Brent E. Walker, Mark Wanamaker, Stanley W. Todd, Lon Davis himself, and Lea Stans.

Wait–Lea Stans? Why yes, that is me, and I’m very proud to announce that this is the first time my writing is appearing in a good ol’ turn-the-pages book! Continue reading

Reviewing ALL Of Buster’s 1930s Educational Shorts! (Yes, Talkies)

This is my own entry for the Sixth Annual Buster Keaton Blogathon. Hope you enjoy!

Ah, Buster’s talkies–few topics cause greater discussion among Keaton fans. We all agree that his own silent films are veritable masterpieces, but the talkies he was starred in? Let’s just say that opinions vary.

Image result for buster keaton free and easy

Hmmm.

But while Buster’s MGM talkies are widely analyzed, his 1930s comedy shorts get less attention. Or, more likely, they’re written off as merely “inferior” to his solo work and that’s about it. While I can’t really disagree, I do think there’s some gems among the Educationals. And you really can’t put a price on getting several extra hours’ worth of Keaton performances–and in sound! Continue reading

Happy 121st Birthday, Louise!

I wanted to wish a very HAPPY BIRTHDAY to Louise Fazenda, one of our great unsung comediennes!

portrait-backlit - Copy

And it wouldn’t be a birthday without a fabulous Art Deco cake:

Image result for 1920s birthday cake

Shoot, the bakery left out the first “1”!

A veteran of Joker comedies who achieved fame as one of Mack Sennett’s Keystone regulars, Ms. Fazenda also had a long career as a character actress in the talkies. She was married to producer Hal B. Wallis for over thirty years. Although most sources say her birth year was 1895 (even contemporary magazines and newspapers), according to her birth certificate the year was actually 1896. I wrote a detailed article on her life here. (Featuring mah very own research! I’m hoping to pen a Louise biography, so if you have any information please contact me.) Continue reading

Obscure Films: “Hearts and Flowers” (1919)

This is the final post for Forgotten Comedians Month. This past August was successful indeed–the heartiest of thanks to everyone who’s been following along these last few weeks! I’m sure Charlie Murray, Gale Henry, Musty Suffer, Charley Bowers, Louise Fazenda, and all the other forgotten folk appreciate it. (Oh, and Pimple. We mustn’t forget Pimple.) September’s looking mighty interesting, since in a matter of days a certain important film will be turning 100…

Are you in the mood for a short comedy?  Would you like to watch something that’s off the beaten track? Do you have a hankering to see pompous orchestra leaders, ladies in men’s clothing, bathing beauties playing ball, and flower girls rolling down hills? If so, Hearts and Flowers (1919) may be the short for you!

Hearts Flowers stars posed film fun '19

Film Fun, 1919.

Continue reading

Louise Fazenda, Comic Venus

I am pleased to present this (relatively brief!) look at the life and career of the underappreciated Louise Fazenda, one of our earliest and most popular female clowns. I am currently researching Louise in as much depth as I can for a possible book project, so if you or anyone you know has any info on her life and career, don’t hesitate to contact me!

Custard pies, a chase, a fall, mud, a fire hose, soup, a leak in the plumbing, innumerable lost garments, broken dishes, a slide on a cake of soap, mud in the hair, pie in the eyes, soup down the back, a fall into a lake, policemen, a cleaning up, a bucket of suds and a mop, a slavey with a round-eyed, utterly blank expression, a Mack Sennett comedy–Louise Fazenda.

–Allen Corliss, Photoplay

Long before Lucille Ball and Carol Burnett would earn their places in pop culture history, there were a number of comediennes who paved the way for them. The most famous of these was Mabel Normand, the irrepressible, winsome Keystone star. But not too far behind her was another irrepressible performer: Louise Fazenda.

Image result for louise fazenda portrait

Many people today are at least familiar with the name of Mabel Normand, but how many are aware of Louise Fazenda? She was one of the most popular comediennes of the silent screen and one of the most familiar character actresses of the early talkie era, but she often gets no more than a passing mention even in film histories. And yet, she was one of the most well-known female clowns, and–as a bonus–was one of Hollywoodland’s most beloved and charitable individuals. Continue reading

Obscure Films: “Shot In The Excitement” (1914)

There are some silent comedy shorts that are so of-their-time silly that you aren’t sure if a newbie could handle them. They’d probably think to themselves, “This is what silent comedy was like? Lots of grimacing and flailing around? Humor was, like, so primitive back then. And look at those special effects–why did they even bother before CGI?”

Um, CGI could never improve on Al St. John, for one thing.

What this newbie doesn’t know is that there’s more to these “primitive” comedies than meets the eye. Well, a little more, anyways. If you chuck aside your “21st century cynicism” glasses for about 15 minutes, you can have a delightful time experiencing the supreme Awesomeness of a short like Shot in the Excitement (1914). Allow me to give you a tour. Continue reading

“Splashes of Fun and Beauty”–Sennett’s Famous Bathing Beauties

If you’re ever having an earnest discussion about silent comedy (and who wouldn’t), there are a few topics that will often bring out a smile: fake mustaches, cream pies, satirical twirling of said fake mustaches, the Ton of Fun. And there’s one topic that always seems to make people smile: Mack Sennett’s Bathing Beauties.

Bathing beauties

Once considered mildly risquébut now considered surprisingly innocent, the playful, perky, mischievous girls popped up in Sennett’s comedies time and time again. Admittedly the plots would sometimes screech to a halt just for them, but at least half of the theater audiences were too appreciative to mind. Continue reading

Thoughts On “The Knockout” (1914)

If you’re already a big silent comedy fan, you might recognize The Knockout as being the one Keystone Walter Kerr used in his beloved book The Silent Clowns to illustrate how supposedly “unfunny” early Sennett films were. (And if you’re just starting to learn about silent comedy, I’m excited to be introducing you to The Knockout!) After describing the plot in some detail (“cowardice and belligerence alternate with indifferent logic through the balance of the twenty-minute film”), Kerr concludes with these observations: “It is probable that, except for an innovative detail here and there, the substance of this’plot’ doesn’t strike you as particularly funny. My point is that it isn’t, not through today’s eyes.”

So let it be written.

Walter Kerr, I love your book. The Silent Clowns is one of the most beautifully-written and thoughtful works of film criticism I’ve ever seen. You have inspired me, moved me, and made me think…but I think you’re wrong about The Knockout.  Continue reading

Polly, Minta and Louise–Three Unsung Keystone Ladies

I’m excited to have a little bit of Keystone month coincide with the Anti-Damsel Blogathon, hosted by The Last Drive In and Movies Silently. This ‘thon is devoted to take-charge women of films, both in front of and behind the screen. And really, who could be more take-charge than the Keystone ladies? Thanks for reading, and I hope you take time to read more of the great posts this weekend!

Everyone has heard the name of the great Mabel Normand–the spunky, athletic gal with Gibson Girl looks and just a touch of wistful grace. Back in the early 1910s “Madcap Mabel” was arguably the Keystone Film Company’s breakout star. Even today, her name is synonymous with the comedy studio.

But Mabel wasn’t the only funny lady at Keystone. There were many gals who worked at the Fun Factory, and there were three in particular whose talents shined almost as bright as Mabel’s. They were fearless, smart, and funny performers–Keystone simply wouldn’t have been complete without them. Let’s shine some spotlights on the considerable talents of Polly Moran, Minta Durfee and Louise Fazenda. Continue reading