There were many comedians who made shorts back in the silent era, but
only three of them are well known today: Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton,
and Harold Lloyd. They weren't the only talented comics though.
Harry Langdon had a unique style that worked very well, and others such
as Snub Pollard, Lupino Lane, and Larry Semon were all incredibly popular
in their day. One 'forgotten comic' who really stood above his peers
though was Charley Chase. Born Charles Parrott (and brother of director
James Parrott) Chase had a wonderful comic mind. Not only was he
a popular comedy star, but he was an accomplished director, writer, and
gag man. His shorts are inventive and funny, and unlike many silent
shorts, they have an internal logic to them that is the hallmark of superior
slapstick. Kino, in association with Lobster Films has released second
disc of restored Chase films: The Charley Chase Collection Volume 2.
As with the first volume of Charley Chase shorts, (read Stuart Galbraith
IV's review of that disc here)
this DVD is shorter than the other Slapstick Symposium series discs, which
is ashame. Containing only five of Chase's two reel shorts (as opposed
to the eight on Oliver Hardy's disc) what this volume lacks in quantity
it makes up by quality. These are very funny shorts, ones that will
amuse both young and old alike.
It is really a tragedy that Charley Chase is not more well known.
His shorts are certainly funny, featuring absurd comedy, almost surreal
at times, and a lot of fast paced action. He stared in some of the
most consistently funny shorts from the silent era, and he was certainly
talented enough to be well remembered. The main reason that he is
largely forgotten today is that he never made the jump to feature films.
He made one long subject that was released by Universal, the talking film
Modern Love (1929) but it did not do well and he returned to two reel films.
The films included on this volume are:
His Wooden Wedding (1925): Charley
Chase is at the church about to be married when the best man, a jilted
suitor, writes him an anonymous note stating that his wife has a wooden
leg. Breaking off the marriage when he notices his fiancee limping
due to a sprained ankle, Chase gets drunk. Meanwhile the best man
steals the engagement ring, which has a very valuable diamond, and hides
it in the lining of his hat, the only problem is that he's accidently selected
Charley's hat. When the drunk Chase comes down and decides to go
off to a Pacific island and become a beachcomber and takes his hat with
him, the best man has no choice but to follow him.
In His Wooden Wedding,
Charley Chase is informed that his financee has a wooden leg.
A very funny film, this short hangs together quite well. Everything
has a reason for happening, and the action seems natural and not shoe-horned
in. The scene where Charley has slipped the diamond down the back
of a woman's dress and is trying to get her to dance vigorously so that
the object will fall out was hilarious. A great comedy to start the
set off with.
Isn't Life Terrible (1925): Another
hilarious comedy, this one features Oliver Hardy as Charley's lazy brother-in-law
who gets sick every time that work is mentioned. Charley
wants to take his family on a vacation, but can't afford one. When
he finds out that a pen company is giving away an ocean voyage to the person
who can sell the most fountain pens in three months, Charley set out to
win the trip. When he does though, it isn't was he was hoping for.
Oliver Hardy's heart starts
giving him trouble when there's work to be done in Isn't Life Terrible.
Innocent Husbands (1925): Another
very entertaining film with an absurd plot that nevertheless hangs together
very well. Although Charley has always been faithful, his wife Mame
is constantly suspecting that he's fooling around. When a woman from
the party across the hall passes out in Charley's bed, he has a tough time
concealing the fact from his wife. There were several gags that worked
well, including the scene where Charley has to pick up a lady for a friend.
He's instructed to wait outside of her building and whistle three times
and she'll throw down the key. When he arrived he dutifully whistles,
only to be pelted by dozens of keys. Another creative and funny short.
Dog Shy (1926): One of Chase's
best shorts. This Leo McCarey directed farce is filled with comedy
from start to finish. Charley Chase is deathly afraid of dogs, and
as he's hiding from one in a phone booth he starts talking to a girl who
happens to be on the line. She is bemoaning the fact that her parents
are forcing her to marry a nobleman whom they've never met. Going
to her house, he's mistaken for the new butler. Unfortunately there
is a party that night with 20 women in attendance, and Charley doesn't
know which one is the girl he was talking to on the phone.
Charley Chase tries to give
'The Duke' a bath in Dog Shy
There were many great scenes in this film. When Charley the butler
is instructed to wash "The Duke" the family dog, he assumes they are referring
to the nobleman who is visiting. The fact that the lady of the house
has told Charley that "if he's hard to handle you must be firm. Use
force..." just adds to the comedy. The ending worked quite well too,
with several things coming all together to end this outrageously funny
short on a high note.
Bromo and Juliet (1926): Another
film directed by Leo McCarey (the man responsible for teaming Stan Laurel
with Oliver Hardy) this is a wonderful farce. Chase's girlfriend
will only marry him if he agrees to play Romeo opposite her in a charity
play she's putting on. Charley agrees, but the day of the play he
has to revive his future father-in-law who gets smashed on some home-made
Scotch, avoid a cabbie who wants his fare (played by Oliver Hardy), and
stay out of the grasp of a prohibition era cop. All while inebriated
himself. He shows up late to the theater but goes on and give a performance
the Bard never imagined. Another laugh filled short.
The audio track consisted of a piano score by Neil Brand which sounded
very good. The scores were scene specific and generally added to
the experience of watching the film. Being recently recorded, there
wasn't any audio defects. A very clean sounding track.
Like the previous three Slapstick Symposium releases, Lobster films
has restored the image on these shorts and has done a very good job.
The video quality was outstanding in general. There are some scratches
and the occasional speck or two, and a very few scenes are a little faded
and washed out, but these are only sections, and not the entire film.
Once again I am impressed with the job that Lobster has done.
The only cause for concern with this disc is that it was transferred from a PAL master. This means that the speed of the film is accelerated by 4%, which isn't a concern for silent films since there wasn't a standard running speed. A more troublesome matter is that this results in ghosting, where there seems to be a false image during some action scenes. This isn't really a major worry since the vast majority of people won't notice it. It is a subtle defect that is more readily observed if you freeze a frame. While the film is running, it is a minor or nonexistent issue for most people.
This disc features a couple of extras. The first is an eight minute
Charley Chase Biography, which is narrated by Serge Bromberg.
The narration is in English, but Bromberg has a very strong French accent.
You can understand everything that he says, but you have to concentrate
a bit more than usual. Unfortunately this section isn't subtitled.
The biography itself consists of clips from Chase's films with narration.
I found this to be very sterile, more of a listing of dates and events
than a real look at the actor. It covers the major events in Chase's
life but doesn't provide many details.
There is also a one reel comedy, Shine 'Em Up (1922), staring
Chase's brother actor/director James Parrott who is credited here as Paul
Parrott. James looks a lot like his brother. This is an amusing
short where James plays a shoe shine man who tries to drum up some business.
It is a tragedy that Charley Chase is now only known by a handful of
silent film aficionados, yet Adam Sandler is a household name. He
was a great comic talent, as all of the films on this disc testify.
His energetic comedies held together very well, with an internal logic
that is a little odd but really added to the humor of the films.
Every film in this collection is very funny and enjoyable. The picture
quality, like the other Slapstick Symposium discs, is excellent.