Saturday, September 07, 2013

The Slow Burn Challenge

Comedian-actor-writer-director Edgar Kennedy, ubiquitous presence in classic films and unequalled Jedi Master Of The Slow Burn, is a favorite of this blog, so we're pleased to learn that Minneapolis film historian and curator Ron Hall has spearheaded The Edgar Kennedy Restoration Project.

The restoration project, A.K.A. The Slow Burn Challenge, aims to find, restore and release all 103 of Edgar's classic RKO comedy shorts in a new series called The Edgar Kennedy Show, duly noted on the Cafe Roxy and Matinee At The Bijou websites. The project also has a Facebook page.

Having made his screen debut in 1911, the same year as Nestor's popular team of Eddie Lyons and Lee Moran, Kennedy numbers among the very first American screen comedians, following Ben Turpin, Augustus "Alkali Ike" Carney and Roscoe Arbuckle.

His career with Mack Sennett's Fun Factory goes back almost as far as that of Fred Mace, Madcap Mabel Normand and Ford Sterling, the very first Keystone players.

Edgar, as does hard-working stock company actors St. John and Joe Bordeaux, seems to turn up in every single Keystone comedy in 1914. And, as Sennett veterans St. John, Hank Mann and Polly Moran did, Edgar also worked in Fox Sunshine comedies.

After busy stints with L-Ko, Fox and Universal, Kennedy found his comedy mojo in a big way, both as actor and director, at the Hal Roach Studios, starting at the end of 1927.

He worked with Laurel & Hardy, Our Gang, Charley Chase and Max Davidson in a good many of the greatest comedy films ever made.

Mr. Kennedy, of course, not only made a smooth transition from silents to talkies, but would offer his inimitable slow burning presence to films involving everyone from Wheeler & Woolsey and The Marx Brothers to Dick Powell.

It would be quite the understatement to say that Edgar made frequent guest appearances as character actor, comedian and all-purpose nemesis in feature films.

Some of Edgar's best roles in features were near the end of his career, in the films of comedy writer-director-playwright-wunderkind Preston Sturges. In The Sin Of Harold Diddlebock, Edgar's the bartender who serves milquetoast Diddlebock (played by offscreen non-milquetoast Harold Lloyd) his first highball. It's a drink that would make W.C. Fields, John Barrymore, Errol Flynn, Buster Keaton AND Lloyd Hamilton stop in their wobbly tracks.

Edgar has also one of the most important scenes in Sturges' masterpiece, the very under-rated Unfaithfully Yours, as a classical music maven: enters at 1:50.

The very busy Edgar, in addition to doing a gazillion guest shots in silent and sound features, also headlined the "Mr. Average Man" series, 103 comedy shorts produced by RKO Radio Pictures from 1931 to 1948. It's an expertly written and performed prototype for the TV sitcom, with Edgar inexorably and invariably driven to the "slow burn" by his loony family.

At first, the "Mr. Average Man" comedies were written and directed first by series creator Harry Sweet, then subsequently by George Stevens and a number of other directors, including Hal Yates in the 1940's.

Does Mr. Blogmeister have a personal favorite Edgar appearance, besides the "Handle Handel" bit from Unfaithfully Yours? Yes - and that would be this fantastic production number, "Let That Be A Lesson To You", from the comedian-packed WB musical Hollywood Hotel. Watch the whole clip and see Dick Powell and Ted Healy (in his last screen appearance) mimic "the slow burn" - enjoy!

Classic film buffs: take the Slow Burn Challenge!

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