Monday, April 14, 2008

My Favorite Star Of 1930's Comedy Shorts

With the wonderful Thelma Todd, his frequent co-star in 1929-1931.

In a hilarious scene from Sons Of The Desert (1933), with my all-time favorite comedy team, Stan Laurel & Oliver Hardy.

Charley Chase, a.k.a. Charles Parrott, was an inspired and unique writer/director/comedian whose comedy has weathered the test of time quite well. The silent-era comedies he co-directed and wrote with Leo McCarey are certainly among the funniest ever made.

Consider the following Charley Chase storylines:

  • Mighty Like A Moose - Charley and his wife, both bucktoothed and grotesquely ugly, get plastic surgery without telling each other, meet by chance and have an affair.
  • Limousine Love - Charley's car runs out of gas on the way to his wedding. While he's walking to and from the gas station, the married yet nubile Mrs. Glenders falls in a mud puddle, then ducks in Charley's car to change clothes. While her clothes - all of them - are outside the car, Charley blithely jumps in and drives off!
  • His Wooden Wedding - A sleazy rival for Charley's fiancee hands the affable but gullible Chase a handwritten note that says "beware - your wife to be has a wooden leg." One truly bizarre chain of events ensues.
  • Whispering Whoopee- Charley needs to seal a real estate deal with three out-of-towners, so he rents a hotel suite and hires three hookers. The out-of-towners turn out to be the three stodgiest stuffed shirts imaginable.

Chase also has a certain mixture of amused aplomb and sheer outrageousness that makes him more akin to the likes of Peter Sellers and John Cleese than to his contemporaries.

Many of his best films were made with actress and comedienne Thelma Todd. They were the equivalent of a comedy team in their many appearances together in 1929-1931.

I extend profound tips of the Jimmie Hatlo hat to documentary filmmaker Robert Youngson (whose work introduced me to countless comedy greats), film historians, archivists and collectors who have kept Charley Chase's memory alive all these decades after his passing.

Deserving special mention: Yair Solan, webmaster of the Charley Chase website and filmography; author/historian Leonard Maltin, for his key efforts in bringing attention to Chase's formidable comedic legacy.

Kudos, bravos and huzzahs go to Turner Classic Movies for broadcasting many superb Hal Roach Studio 2-reelers starring Chase and other great comedians.

TCM has made it possible for new generations to discover one of the great comedians and comedy creators.

Charley had a couple of theme songs in his Hal Roach films. Here's one he sang in a few of his films; it's appropriate not just to life in general, but to the offscreen lives of so many who made us laugh.

Smile when the raindrops fall, dear.
Smile til the clouds roll by.
Just remember that I love you
Though dark is the blue, blue sky.
Dark clouds will fade away, dear
Soon pass beyond recall.
So just smile at the skies
With those big smiling eyes

Just smile when the raindrops fall.

Smile When the Raindrops Fall © W.A. Quincke and Co. (1930)


Thad said...

Chase was great!! I always thought he'd have been more widely remembered for his groundbreaking comedy had he lived a little longer.

paul etcheverry said...

Thad, it's great to have you stop by! I check out your blog frequently.

I would have liked to see Chase at least live long enough to appear in some Preston Sturges movies, which would have fit his talents like a glove.

To mention just one Chase film:

In Now We'll Tell One, Charley accidentally finds and wears a "magic belt". The premise: wear this belt and you instantaneously take on the personality of whoever is wearing an identical belt in a lab where a "scientific" experiment is taking place.

Absurdist comedy follows.

At one point, Charley is in the office of his fiancee's father. Just as a petrified Charley is nervously asking for her hand in marriage, a ballet dancer dons the magic belt. . . and Charley starts performing his uninhibited yet ultra-dorky version of an "interpretive dance", only stopping to shout, "A FAWN!"

Bart Kasper said...

Charley Chase was a comedic genius - in my eyes, he practically invented the situation comedy!! His comedies for Hal Roach are very funny while his shorts for COLUMBIA are much different in tone and have much more slapstick.

There is an excellent biography out about Charley - SMILE WHEN THE RAINDROPS FALL - I highly recommend it!!

paul etcheverry said...

Chase pioneered the situation comedy in its highest form, more along the lines of shows like Dick Van Dyke Show and Fawlty Towers. Also remember seeing a Chase-like episode of Phil Silvers' You'll Never Get Rich many many years ago on late-night TV. Alas, I've long since forgotten the details, but the plot was jam-packed with Charley Chase-like twists and turns. The writer of this Sgt. Bilko episode: Neil Simon.

Viva classic comedy!