Friday, 13 November 2009


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.

Harold Lloyd’s short film 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.

Charlie Chaplin’s first feature (although that’s pushing the limits of what qualifies a film as a feature – it’s 50 minutes long), 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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  1. Outrageous. Neighbours did not carry any declaration that "No cats or kittens were harmed in the making of this film." It must have been traumatic for them being covered in a sheet and then frightened by an actor in search of a hooligan.

  2. Nor did it carry the warning "mild racial stereotypes are deployed in this film in an unfortunate and slightly uncomfortable fashion".

  3. Harold Lloyd! I used to work for his granddaughter Suzanne Lloyd Hayes (; she's worked hard to keep his importance to the film community alive. Listening to her stories made it clear that he was a decent man, a great physical comedian and I wish he got he due (i.e. was still as well known as) Chaplin and Keaton. For what it's worth, Jackie Chan told Ms. Hayes that Harold Lloyd's brand of comedy of was of his inspirations.

  4. Anon, I am ever so slightly jealous. Well aware of Suzanne Lloyd's contribution as her name pops up before every film! Hopefully The Incredible Suit is doing its small part to keep the flame burning.

  5. Lost Chaplin film sold on eBay for $5.68 - Source:
    A Russian film academic article reported in 2006 that "the film has not survived."
    It starts with live shots of Chaplin and then turns into a dreamscape with a Zeppelin bombing attack. And then we see Chaplin taking the mickey out of the Zeppelin, at the time a powerful instrument of terror.
    Michael Pogorzelski, director of the archive at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Los Angeles, told The Guardian: "It is an extremely interesting find" believed to be put together from outtakes of earlier films and shots of Zeppelins and other material.
    The fragile 35 mm nitrate film should be transferred to film quickly to preserve it, said Pogorzelski.
    According to the buyers themselves:
    "We found a film. A lost film. But not just any old lost film," they reported on Oct. 9. "We think we might have made THE cinematic find of the last 100 years. It's something we feel compelled to get to the bottom of. And quick."

  6. Look so old but I really like it thanks for sharing.