On a recent day off from whatever the hell it is I do for a living, I treated myself to a triple bill from the holy trinity of silent comedians – Harold Lloyd, Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin. Not that this applied to me, but if you’ve had the kind of day where it would have been improved by an elephant defecating on your dining room table just after you’ve served up dinner then you could do a lot worse than sit down with these guys for a couple of hours.
Number, Please? is, it has to be said, not one of his best, but it does feature some of his typically inventive gags, especially a scene in which all he has to do is make a phone call, but is prevented in doing so by a cigar, a midget, a stupid woman, a bad memory, a lack of cash, a screaming baby and a Jewish stereotype. The film also features two excellent performances by dogs, which I realise is neither here nor there but canine thespianism is a much-overlooked aspect of cinema these days so I’m just doing my bit to big it up.
The Kid, is a rare thing in silent cinema – a comedy with emotional depth, featuring as it does an abandoned child, a heartbroken mother, a fiercely protective father-figure and the social services sticking their oar in. Rest assured, however, there are plenty of people getting kicked up the arse and Charlie gets baby wee on his hands, so there’s something for everyone. Chaplin took a year to make The Kid, starting just after his own son died when he was just a few days old, and shot about 44 hours of footage, but it paid off. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and you’ll praise the dream sequence at the end for featuring another great dog, this time one that actually flies.
Buster Keaton, as regular viewers of The Incredible Suit will know, is worshipped as something of a god round these parts. His 1920 short Neighbors is a seventeen minute gagalanche* of gobsmackular stunts and astonishing use of props. Here’s the whole thing, but the first three minutes give you a fair idea of what to expect, and if it doesn’t make you want to watch the rest then there’s a small bit of you that isn’t working properly. Get it seen to.
Sadly no award-winning mutts there; in Keaton’s defence his previous short The Scarecrow had a great dog in it but it’s not as good. Conclusion? A brilliant dog does not a great film make. Although Digby, The Biggest Dog In The World is awesome.
* An avalanche of gags. Did you really need that explaining?
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