Large Association of Movie Blogs
Large Association of Movie Blogs

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Classic Comedy Fans: Buy This Book!

This new release is a must-addition to the Comedy Buff Bookshelf: Lame Brains And Lunatics: The Good, The Bad And The Forgotten Of Silent Comedy by Steve Massa. The classic movie website Nitrateville has posted an interview about the book, an indispensable history of the lesser-known yet rewarding far corners of silver screen humor.

Mr. Massa, as classic film buffs are well aware, programmed the Silent Clowns and Cruel & Unusual Comedy film series at The Museum Of Modern Art in collaboration with historian/accompanist/archivist Ben Model and is the curator of the Billy Rose Theatre Collection at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center. Both Steve and Ben have forgotten more about silent film humor and history than most of us will ever know.

In an exceptionally well-researched tome, silent screen headliners Marie Dressler, Max Linder, Al St. John, Alice Howell, Fay Tincher, Marcel Perez, Gale Henry, Max Davidson, stage star turned Vitagraph Pictures comedienne Josie Sadler, Educational Pictures "thrills, spills and chills" specialist Lige Conley, ubiquitous Roach Studio background player George Rowe (A.K.A. the cross-eyed comic not named Ben Turpin) and many more at long last get their due.

The chapters on comedy teams are quite illuminating. A decade before the debut of Laurel & Hardy as a team, Eddie Lyons and Lee Moran made dozens of sophisticated farces with just a hint of slapstick and cartoonish humor for Nestor and Universal.

Also getting their due are some of the most aggressively bizarre and notoriously iconoclastic silent era comedians, including the Mean Misanthrope Of Mean Misanthropes and principal L-KO studio star, Billie Ritchie, A.K.A. "The Man From Nowhere".

The architect of the series: The Dark Lord of nihilistic silent screen humor and former Sennett Studio director, as well as an unrelenting foe of minimal personal safety precautions for film actors, the infamous Henry "Suicide" Lehrman (whose brand name, Lehrman Knock-Out Comedies, also accurately described injuries suffered on the set by too many cast members and extras).

Billie Ritchie has been wrongly (yet repeatedly) identified as a Chaplin imitator for many decades, even though the two only had the derby/shabby suit/cane outfit and Fred Karno Troupe training in common.

While the getup, hairdo and mustache that Ritchie and Charlie Chaplin use are indeed identical, the characterizations and signature mannerisms could not be more different. Ritchie, an ever-confrontational mean bastard, struts, juts, flips off everyone and jumps around like a crazy man in such films as Just A Scandal - and could not be farther stylistically from Chaplin's rowdy yet increasingly balletic approach to 1915-1916 style slapstick.

While on the one hand, the Billie Ritchie m.o. is "lowdown-est slimiest starring character in the history of comedy films", on the other hand, there's something weirdly and savagely funny in the The Man From Nowhere's shameless, brazen and unending pursuit of booze, married dames and ill-gotten gains.

Bear in mind, the year 1915 unleashed a veritable barrage of "sick humor" (not to be seen again until the unapologetic "bad taste" of National Lampoon magazine 55 years later), led in the fullest anal sense by Billie Ritchie's vile nastiness, Kalem's disgusting anti-team of Ham & Bud, the early Rolin Co. knockabout 1-reelers starring an unrecognizable Harold Lloyd as raucous Lonesome Luke and Essanay's appalling yet fascinating "greasepaint meets surrealism" Mishaps Of Musty Suffer series, starring Harry Watson, Jr.

So even the most nose-thumbing, derriere-kicking, brick-heaving early Chaplin at Keystone and Essanay is a far cry from the insanity of these series.

Massa compares the vile and bilious Lehrman comedies anti-protagonist to a controversial comedian/actor from many decades later, the chaos-loving Andy Kaufman, in their shared sense of provoking audience hatred while enjoying spreading unmitigated mayhem (although, frankly, Mr. Kaufman in his most gleefully anarchic "performance art" form seems like quite the sweetheart by comparison to Billie Ritchie's scoundrel characterization - and besides, Andy's Latka/Foreign Man character strikes this correspondent as his personal riff on the post-1929 Harry Langdon).

Now, curiously enough, one of the former Sennett Studio comedy creators who found his way to the historically important yet utterly misbegotten L-KO studio gets the spotlight for his remarkable work as a prolific director of everything from slapstick to genteel farce.

That director would be Charles Parrott, soon to return to performing as Charley Chase and star in some of the very best silent film comedies. The chapter on Parrott's highly varied directorial career in Lame Brains And Lunatics: The Good, The Bad And The Forgotten Of Silent Comedy is in itself worth the price of admission.

After directing a gazillion comedy shorts for every studio around from 1916-1924, Chase began his own starring series at Hal Roach, producing masterpiece after masterpiece - and, unlike most of his contemporaries, carrying that formidable comedy mojo well into the sound era: most notably in several tremendously funny, romantic and charming farces co-starring the most beautiful, talented comedienne whose name was not Carole Lombard, the underrated Thelma Todd. Author James L. Neibaur, who seems to finish a new, crisply written, informative and enjoyable film history book about every 5 minutes, has done it yet again in 2013 with his upcoming study of Charley Chase's sound films.

When it comes to movie comedy history, Ladies and Gentlemen, we are in the midst of a renaissance. This includes Steve's tome, Michael Hayde and Chuck Harter's book on the great Harry Langdon, Anthony Balducci's biography of brilliant silent and early sound era comedian Lloyd Hamilton, studies Trav S.D. has penned about classic movies and vaudeville, PLUS the first volume, Smileage Guaranteed, of what will be an extensive "no available rare footage left unscreened" comedy film history series by Richard M. Roberts and more. Also in the pipeline: Annichen Skaren's biography covering the life, times and films of Al St. John and Mr. Blogmeister's most Psychotronic meditations on multi-genre movie mayhem, That's Not Art!

To order these books - and thus, enroll in an advanced course of study in The College Of Classic Comedy Knowledge:

There are more worthy books on the topic of silent comedy that are no longer in print, but definitely still available via Kindle.

With respectful tips of the Jimmie Hatlo/Fred Astaire/Jack Buchanan top hat to Sam Gill and Leonard Maltin, we at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog are now going to take a break and watch some cool vintage silent comedies. Cheers!

Monday, May 20, 2013

Burt Bacharach Day

Since the spotlight's on music and Burt Bacharach today at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog, here's a feature-length concert by songstress Trintje Oosterhuis.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Psychotronic Paul's Favorite Album Cover

Since Robert Mitchum's career-long m.o. was giving the appearance that he couldn't care less, while privately rehearsing with Ninja-like intensity, it would not surprise Your Correspondent one bit if this album is good. The girl with Bob and the bottle is Jolene Brand, soon to make history of her own as a stock company player on the 1961 Ernie Kovacs Show, still the most creative and innovative sketch comedy program in television history.

Friday, May 10, 2013

The Lost Dragnet 1967 Episode

And don't shoot, Sergeant Friday, until you see the reds of their eyes!

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Remembering Two Stop-Motion Masters: Ray Harryhausen and Stormin' Norman McLaren

It's a good bet that all of us dyed-in-the-wool classic movie buffs have been affected by the passing of the incomparable Ray Harryhausen at 92 earlier this week.

The many Ray Harryhausen action-adventure-science fiction-fantasy epics - all populated by his remarkably otherworldly creatures - sparked that THIS IS SO COOL sense of wonder and astonishment, not just on the first viewing, but every time.

Leonard Maltin's superb tribute The Game-Changer: Ray Harryhausen said it most eloquently - better than even this equally Movie Crazy scribe can.

So today, Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog pays tribute to one imaginative stop-motion animation innovator with cool films by another, Norman McLaren.

There could never be enough tips of the Jimmie Hatlo and Fred Astaire top hats to the creative and ingenious Mr. Harryhausen and Mr. McLaren.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Happy 100th Birthday, Bob Clampett!

Pondering the recent passing of animation giant Ray Harryhausen, I forgot that today, May 8, 2013 is the centennial of Bob Clampett's birth.

Now, the project Bob may have been the most proud of was one he didn't get to complete: his plan for an animated feature based on Edgar Rice Burroughs' John Carter Of Mars. The excerpts seen here recall the Fleischer Superman series in style and approach. Perhaps animation experts Mark Kausler, Jerry Beck, Leonard Maltin and Mike Barrier know the specifics of why the project was shelved, and who Bob pitched it to.

We'll follow that "what might have been" clip with several choice morsels of animated mayhem, crazy classic cartoon delirium by Mr. B and the talented Termite Terrace boys!

(Sorry, not posting any Clampett WB cartoons from the infamous Censored 11 - the readership at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog is paltry enough as it is!)

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Toons Around The World: Blunders From Down Under

Mr. Blogmeister has been seeking - and for the most part not finding - examples of Down Under cartoon goodness to post on this blog. Best known of the animation producers Down Under was the Eric Porter Studio.

Porter's animation studio first debuted with Waste Not, Want Not, a 1939 educational cartoon promoting saving for a rainy day and starring the ravishing big spender Willie The Wombat. The Porter cartoons at times demonstrate that certain bent synthesis of primitive animation and startlingly off-the-wall ideas rampant (and much beloved) in the early talkie Aesop's Fables and Don & Waffles series by New York's Terrytoons and Van Beuren studios.

Curiously, Eric Porter's Color Classics share a series title (Color Classics) and main character name (Bimbo) with another New York cartoon studio of note, Fleischer's.

The anthropomorphized car in the following cartoon, Bimbo's Auto, may well have been inspired by a viewing by Porter and crew of Friz Freleng's 1937 Merrie Melodie cartoon, Streamlined Greta Green - or, for that matter, British Animated Productions' Bubble & Squeek series.

More lucrative for the studio: a series of ads for Aeroplane Pure Fruit Jellies, featuring the ever-plucky Bertie.

Since the technique in Bimbo's Auto is definitely less advanced than the following animated ad starring the iconic Bertie The Jet, the theatrical cartoon's frequently cited 1954 production date seems a tad suspect. Perhaps the Australian equivalents of The Motion Picture Herald and Harrison's Reports would yield the answers regarding when these cartoons were released theatrically. Even the excellent Animation In Australia piece from the Australian government website is primarily an overview.

Here's the most often seen Eric Porter Studio opus, Rabbit Stew. Said to have been produced in 1952, this looks like a cartoon made by an independent animation studio in America around 1937. We like it just the same!


Blackhawk Films struck prints of Rabbit Stew and Bimbo's Auto for the home 16mm and 8mm market. Unfortunately, the third Porter Color Classics cartoon, Bimbo's Clock, was never completed.

Porter himself frequently shifted over to directing live-action movies and television programs between his studio's projects thoughout his career, but in 1972 returned to animation with the epic fantasy feature Marco Polo Vs. The Red Dragon. The story goes that the ambitious film did very poorly at the box office and lost so much money that the studio was forced to shut down. Although your correspondent has never seen it, perhaps the film (A.K.A. Marco Polo, Jr.) is available on DVD in Australia and New Zealand.

Last but not least, for various clips in today's posting, Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog thanks the outstanding film preservationists at the National Archives Of Australia, the National Film And Sound Archive, and those who authored the Australian Film Institute website. Cheers, mates!