Friday, February 23, 2018
"Perez stands out among his vastly talented peers by combining the expressiveness and charm of Max Linder with the goofiness and aggressiveness of André Deed." - Anthony Balducci
While comedian Marcel Perez, The International Mirth Maker, died in 1929, rather astonishingly, he's back - not physically but on films seen on DVD, here in 2018. The second volume of The Marcel Perez Collection officially goes on sale on Tuesday, February 27.
Among the earliest screen comedians (along with Ferdinando "Tontolini" Guillaume, Max Linder and André Deed), Perez starred in 221 films, first in Europe as "Robinet", then in America. It would be an understatement to say he was a hard-working physical comic.
Marcel Perez was an actor, director and former circus clown whose considerable acrobatic physical humor mojo, inventive mind and original approach added up to a unique and very funny mixture of diverse approaches to comedy. There's a sleight of hand recalling the graceful deftness of Max Linder while also a more cartoony sleight of hand that brings to mind both the earliest European screen clowns and a key contemporary, the popular American silent movie comedian who quite literally was the son of a professional magician, Larry Semon, known as Ridolini to those who saw his films on European television.
Silent movie aficionados were stunned that there were enough existing films starring Marcel Perez to comprise a FIRST collection - and, lo and behold, rather amazingly, given the ultra-rarity of his screen work, eight more Marcel Perez films, unseen since their original release in the teens and 1920's, managed to turn up. We at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog were happy to be among those who supported the Kickstarter that led to the first collection of Robinet and Tweedy comedies getting released on DVD in 2015 and equally pleased to participate when, last June, a successful Kickstarter fundraiser backed the second DVD release of Perez comedies.
Known as Marcel Perez, Michel Fabre, Fernandea Perez, Manuel Fernández Pérez, and Marcel Fabre, he headlined comedies under a slew of different character names (Robinet, Bungles, Tweedy, Tweedledum, Twede-Dan) and also directed features, including The Extraordinary Adventures of Saturnino Farandola.
Thanks to Steve Massa's book Marcel Perez: The International Mirth-Maker, plus invaluable research by author Sam Gill, Rob Stone of the Library Of Congress, as well as the late, great silent film historians and scholars Cole Johnson and Bob Birchard, there's at least a solid, well-defined outline of Perez' background and career in motion pictures. This is no small feat, given Perez' penchant for changing screen names and moving around internationally between production studios and distributors.
Perez' stunts were balletic, his tumbling impressive and his sight gags imaginative. Co-stars and leading ladies Nilde Baracchi and Dorothy Earle are very good as well. It's highly likely both Linder and Chaplin were checking his films out. Ben Model of Undercrank Productions, the producer of the two DVD collections, wrote at length about Perez in his Silent Film Music post on February 12, Buster Keaton’s Leap to ‘One Week’, and Marcel Perez’s Jump from “Split-reelers” to 2-reelers and on February 19, Charlie Chaplin, Marcel Perez, and a Pair of Drowning Ladies.
In the Undercrank Productions press release, Model elaborates: “What continues to impress me in seeing more of Marcel Perez and his films is how inventive the humor, storytelling and filmmaking is considering they’re from 1916-1922. He’s doing stunt work and surreal gags before Keaton or Larry Semon did, and one of the shorts – A Scrambled Honeymoon (1916) – opens with a gag sequence that is nearly directly copied in a Chaplin short made the following year. It’s been a thrill working with the Library of Congress and MoMA on the disc, as well as being supported by fan crowdfunding, to be able to restore Perez’ reputation and renown. Hopefully it won’t take another three years for more of his films to turn up, and I’ll bet there’s more of them out there.”
The DVD presents new digital scans of archival 35mm materials preserved by the Library of Congress and the Museum of Modern Art film department.Volume 1 of the Marcel Perez Collection received an award in the "Special Mention" category on July 3, 2015 at the Il Cinema Ritrovato Festival in Bologna.
While The Marcel Perez Collection volume 2 primarily consists of his films produced in the U.S. in 1916-1923, the DVD begins with his first film, The Short-Sighted Cyclist (1907), in which he more than lives up to the title and both crashes and somersaults off that bike repeatedly for the entire running time.
The remainder of the titles are his American films, beginning with three Eagle Comedies produced in Jacksonville, FLA in 1916. The cast in this series comprises Marcel as Tweedledum, Nilde Barrachi as Tweedledee, supported by Billy Slade and prolific stage and screen actress Louise Carver, later a frequent player in Mack Sennett comedies. These would appear to be the broadest of Perez' American films, unless additional cartoony, slapstick-oriented ones - for example, the four missing Vim Comedies also produced in 1916 and featuring Oliver Hardy as a supporting player - subsequently turn up.
Lend Me Your Wife (1916) The stone broke Tweedy stands to inherit millions on the condition he is married. As the only suitor is Tweedy's grotesque landlady (played with relish by Louise Carver), he's desperate to find someone - anyone - to pose as his wife.
Some Hero (1916) In a sendup of "damsel in distress" serial plots shot in downtown Jacksonville, Tweedledum executes a series of truly way-out acrobatic rescues of Tweedledee from unshaven, sleazy no-goodniks.
A Scrambled Honeymoon (1916) Featuring Louise Carver as the kind of mother-in-law Ernie K. Doe sang about. . . hell bent to accompany Tweedledum and Tweedledee on their honeymoon.
There are two entries from his series produced by Jester Comedy Company, many shot at the former Cliffside Park Studio of Kalem in Cliffside, New Jersey. Perez stars as "Twede-Dan" and these films reflect a further evolution of his comic style and approach to storylines.
These were produced in 1918-1919. First up is Oh, What A Day (1918), in which Tweedy's daydream of taking his girl out for a bit of fun at the beach evolves into some very wacky chases on land and sea. Partly shot at Coney Island's Steeplechase Park, this is among the funniest and most inventive of the surviving Perez comedies.
None other than the most prolific William A. Seiter, who also worked with Laurel & Hardy (Sons Of The Desert) and Wheeler & Woolsey (Diplomaniacs), directed Oh! What a Day (1918) and other Jester Comedies.
This co-stars the one holdover from Perez' European films, Nilde "Robinette" Barrachi, a talented comedienne whose retirement from the silver screen not long after this remains another one of those Movieland Mysteries. After returning to Europe to play roles in Cuor di ferro e cuor d'oro and La morte che non uccide for Ambrosio Film, where she previously starred in numerous comedies as Robinette, it would appear that Ms. Barrachi did not make any more movies. A question for cinema detectives remains whether Nilde had another, post-Marcel Perez career in 1920's Italian cinema. . . or just bailed on showbiz and did something else for a living.
The second Jester Comedy on the DVD is Chickens in Turkey (1919), co-starring leading lady and future wife Dorothy Earle and Pierre Collosse, whose heavy roles in the Perez comedies are along the lines of those played by Babe Hardy at Vitagraph. The plot of a yacht featuring a bevy of babes - as well as Twede-Dan in drag - kidnapped by a sultan appears to be a nod to the popular Sennett Girls of the late teens.
The last three subjects on the collection are from Perez' last starring series, the Mirth Comedies, featuring "Tweedy", released by Reelcraft in 1921-1923.
Friday the 13th (1923) - fragment only
The Marcel Perez Collection volume 2 offers another opportunity to see the work of a graceful and talented silver screen comedian who blended the European and American approaches to what Roscoe Arbuckle termed "good ol' slapstick." For more info, read Mark Voger's review, Silent Comic Gets Last Laugh on NJ.com, as well as Fritzi Kramer's article, Unboxing the Silents: The Marcel Perez Collection Volume 2 on Movies Silently and check out the Undercrank Productions website.
Wednesday, February 14, 2018
February 14 turns out to be both Valentine's Day and the birthday of Benny Kubelsky, a.k.a. Jack Benny, a fellow who has made this blogger laugh all his life and continues to make him laugh!
Well, the dyed-in-the-wool comedy geeks at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog (right now listening to Marty Allen tell jokes and talk about Groucho Marx on Gilbert Gottfried's Amazing Colossal Podcast) could not let that birthday go!
Jack's radio shows are available online via archive.org and a splendid playlist on David Von Pein's Old-Time Radio Channel on YouTube.
Here are some super interviews with Jack, the first with Johnny Carson, known to go into Jack's mannerisms on The Tonight Show.
For more info, read the following overview of Benny's show business career that author Trav S.D. has penned on his Stars Of Vaudeville blog, as well as just one of many terrific posts about Jack Benny and radio from Don Yowp's blog, Tralfaz.
Friday, February 09, 2018
At this year's Noir City 16 film festival, this hard-boiled blogger relished the A-pictures, but also found himself highly entertained by the Bs. Some this writer had never seen or heard of, such as the newsroom noir High Tide, starring fast-talking Lee Tracy.
Alas, 15 years and 15,000 stiff drinks transpired between Tracy's memorable appearances as slick operators, gossip columnists, p.r. flim-flam men and obsessed journalists in a slew of pre-code masterpieces (Blessed Event, The Half-Naked Truth, The Night Mayor, Love Is A Racket, Washington Merry-Go-Round - to name just a few) and High Tide.
So Lee looked like hell and his patented "machine gun" style delivery was a tad less rapid fire, but he still embodied his signature newsman role from first frame to last in this fast-moving Monogram Pictures production. Eddie Muller, the Czar Of Noir and author of Dark City The Lost World Of Film Noir and Dark City Dames: The Wicked Women of Film Noir, elaborates in his intro to High Tide, featuring Tracy, Don Castle and Julie Bishop (who the denizens of Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog recognize from her appearance, under the name Jacqueline Wells, in a 1932 Laurel & Hardy 2-reeler, Any Old Port).
A striking opus at Noir City 16 that fully lived up to the phrase "trashy B" was Night Editor, co-starring William Gargan of the Martin Kane Private Eye TV series and the wonderfully over-the-top Janis Carter, who portrays a horny, thrill-seeking socialite with crazed enthusiasm.
The 2018 festival finished with Wicked Woman, a deliciously tawdry little programmer starring blonde bombshell Beverly Michaels.
Her co-star, Richard Egan, becomes more like "Dick" Egan as the lust triangle storyline progresses.
Beverly Michaels also played a femme fatale part with mustard, relish and pickles in the Hugo Haas directed noir Pickup.
As Michaels would hit bombshell roles out of the park in Pickup, Betrayed Women and Blonde Bait, while also nailing parts in television (Cheyenne, Alfred Hitchcock Presents), Haas would go on to produce a few more B-thrillers for Columbia starring former serial queen Cleo Moore.
It's clear that in the latter 1940's, B-noirs were cranked out so quickly, efficiently and in such quantity that not even the most avid classic movie buff could possibly see all of them - and the granddaddy of economically produced noirs would be Edgar G. Ulmer's Detour, truly a brilliant piece of work produced for PRC on such a microscopic budget that Roger Corman very likely viewed it for inspiration and asked "how did Edgar do it?"
Ann Savage's blistering performance as a gal you don't want to mess with still commands both the moviegoing audience and doomed co-star Tom Neal.
While not anywhere near as cheap as the Monogram and PRC films, Rudolf Maté's D.O.A. is a personal favorite that crams maximum style, creativity, unabashed exaggeration and filmmaking swagger into a programmer budget.
The appearance in D.O.A. of swing-bop-r&b saxophone genius Illinois Jacquet, rocking the house at The Fisherman nightclub, is an added plus.
Wrapping this post up: the trailer for a film with the unrelenting spirit, unintentional bizarreness and frenzied action of a hard-hitting B picture along the lines of Detour, but produced on an A-budget . . . Robert Aldrich's Kiss Me Deadly.