Sunday, January 13, 2013

The Columbia Shorts Department, Part Four

Events dramatically impacted the Columbia Shorts Department as the 1930's ended. The Three Stooges became so popular that the boys began doing occasional guest shots in feature films. Charley Chase died of a heart attack in 1940, Buster Keaton left after completing the 1940-1941 season and Harry Langdon returned to Columbia for another series. Andy Clyde continued cranking out 2-reelers and consistently getting laughs.

Chase's tragic and premature death on June 20, 1940 meant that the Columbia Shorts Department and the movie business lost his unique, inventive and sophisticated approach to comedy. One suspects that Charley, as his brother James was, remained quite the well-kept secret in show business as a producer/director/writer of short subjects. Here's just one of the pieces Chase created for Columbia, the Swinging The Alphabet musical number from Violent Is The Word For Curly.

Watching both the films he directed for other comedians and his own starring series for both Hal Roach and Columbia, one wonders how Charley didn't end up collaborating with such top feature film luminaries as Preston Sturges and former Roach Studio cohorts Leo McCarey and George Stevens.

The Three Stooges made several of their very funniest films in 1938-1941, but trouble was afoot. Whether it was a result of getting bashed on the noggin repeatedly onscreen or his hard-partying, hard-drinking lifestyle offscreen, Curly Howard, arguably the funniest guy on the Columbia lot, began having serious health issues.

At first, Curly's difficulties are not readily apparent, but would be increasingly obvious onscreen as the decade progressed.

Nonetheless, the team, especially in collaboration with director Del Lord, continued their winning streak of hilarious films from the late 1930's into the early 1940's.

After completing a stint writing gags for the Laurel & Hardy features from 1938-1940, the brilliant comedian Harry Langdon returned to Columbia.

Langdon's 1940's series is definitely a cut below his first Columbia Shorts Department films in 1934-1935; Harry frequently gets buried in slap-poke-gauge slapstick humor, but gives the 2-reelers his all in any case.

Langdon would continue starring in short subjects for Columbia - with, unfortunately, diminishing returns as time went on.

At one point, Harry was teamed with El Brendel, the exceptionally goofy Swedish dialect comic who had headlined his own Columbia 2-reeler series after stints in features and short subjects with Fox and Vitaphone. Although Brendel's solo vehicles for Columbia could do the shorts department proud and put an enjoyably peculiar spin on the trademark slapstick, the results of the teaming with Langdon were curious at best. The knockabout comedy does not work for Brendel, either.

The slapstick-packed story of the Columbia Shorts Department continues in Part Five as the studio hires headliners to launch new series and the comedy factory's behind-the-camera staff changes substantially.

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