Friday, February 23, 2018

On DVD soon: Marcel "Tweedy" Perez, volume 2

"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.

Pinched (1921)

Wild (1921)

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, 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.

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