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Slapstick Encyclopedia
Page 1Page 2Page 3Page 4Page 5Page 6Page 7Page 8Page 9    by Gary Johnson -- page 2 of 9

Ben Turpin stars in the 1909 comedy "Mr. Flip."
(©1998 KINO ON VIDEO. All rights reserved.)

Volume 1
In the Beginning: Film Comedy Pioneers

Volume One of the "Slapstick Encyclopedia" concentrates on the very first American silent comedians, many of whom had only recently drifted from the vaudeville stage to the movie studio lots. The comedies on this volume date all the way back to 1909, when Ben Turpin starred in "Mr. Flip" as a love hungry man-on-the-make. Looking much like Groucho Marx, with his painted-on mustache and a wandering eye, Turpin tries to kiss and hug every woman he meets. But the women consistently get the best of him, especially in the scene where a telephone operator turns a little crank that shocks Turpin as he uses a pay telephone.

Other early comedies include "Alkali Ike's Auto" (1911) with Augustus Carney and "A Cure for Pokeritis" (1912) with John Bunny. One of the best scenes in "Alkali Ike's Auto" comes in the first few minutes, when Ike and Mustang Pete vie for the affections of a woman. While she's washing dishes, they fight over who'll do the drying. She ends up holding out each plate while Alkali Ike dries one side and Mustang Pete dries the other.

Unlike many of the shameless muggers on this video, John Bunny strove for a more refined brand of acting. We wanted "to feel the part." He said, "If you can manage to be the character you're impersonating, feel it so thoroughly that you transform yourself for the moment, your actions will tell more than you realize." Bunny was a bulldog of a man, with jowls, a wide nose, and a shape like a walrus. In "A Cure for Pokeritis" he wants to sneak off to a poker game, but his wife catches on to his plans and puts a Bible class onto his trail.

Long before he met Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy was already making comedies. In "One Too Many" (1916), he stars as a devil-may-care cad who must quickly find a wife and a child. His friend roams the streets and parks offering to rent babies, and he finds a surprisingly large number of mothers willing to hand over their young 'uns for just a few cents. "The Wrong Mr. Fox" (1917) stars Victor Moore in a classic tale of mistaken identities. Moore plays a streetwise hustler who is mistaken for a priest. He even steps behind the pulpit to deliver a Sunday sermon. When he senses he's losing the crowd, he changes into his leotards and shows the congregation a few bicycle tricks! "Fox Trot Finesse" (1915), starring Mr. and Mrs. Sidney Drew, takes a more refined approach. It tells the story of a family where the wife has "fox trot itis." However, her husband tires of dancing and tells her he has "busted the pectoral fin" in his right ankle. But it's not long before she sees through the ruse. "A Natural Born Gambler" (1916) stars Bert Williams, one of the very few black comedians who starred in his own comedies. He plays a Southern gentleman of questionable virtue who tends to spend all his time hanging around the bar.

"Mabel's Dramatic Career" (1913) is one of the earliest Mack Sennett comedies. It even features Sennett himself in a starring role as a goofish son who has eyes for the maid. But the real star of this short is Mabel Normand. In one of the best scenes, she goes crazy after the mother of her boyfriend says they can't be married. Mabel grabs a stick and commences to thrash the mother! After she's fired from her job, she goes to the big city and finds work as an actress, which then gives us the comedy's big scene: Sennett follows Mabel to the big city and watches in bug-eyed amazement as his old girlfriend appears on the movie screen.

Of all the comedies on this tape, Max Linder's "Be My Wife" (1921) is the best. Charlie Chaplin considered Linder to be one of the greatest film comedians. He even borrowed many of his best routines from Linder. And you can see why: Linder understood how to use the camera to help create comedy. Most of the other comedians on this volume hadn't yet fully utilized the camera. It would typically be nailed in place while all the action whirled around it. But Linder used inventive camera placements, such as in the opening scene from "Be My Wife": the camera shows us the shadow on a window shade as a man appears to kiss a woman--and then pour water on her head! Or at least that's what the woman's mother thinks she sees. But then the camera brings us inside the house, and we see Linder was actually watering a plant. The vase just happened to cast a shadow that looked like a woman's profile. The short concludes with a scene where Linder fights himself. The onlookers can only see his feet because he's hidden behind a curtain, so Linder plays both sides of the duel by placing shoes on his hands. This scene would be imitated by many comedians; look no farther than Charley Chase's "Mighty Like a Moose" on Volume 3. (My only regret about Volume One is "Be My Wife" is a condensed version of a feature-length comedy.)


page 2 of 9


Intro Page

Vol.1: In the Beginning:
Film Comedy Pioneers

Vol.2: Keystone Tonight!
The Mack Sennett Comedies

Vol.3: Funny Girls

Vol.4: Keaton, Arbuckle and St. John

Vol.5: Chaplin & Co.
The Music Hall Tradition

Vol.6: Hal Roach: The Lot of Fun

Vol.7: The Race is On!

Vol.8: Tons of Fun:
Comedy's Anarchic Fringe


"Slapstick Encyclopedia" is an eight-cassette boxed set from KINO ON VIDEO. Each video has a running time of approximately two hours. Volume 1: "In the Beginning: Film Comedy Pioneers." Volume 2: "Keystone Tonight! The Mack Sennett Comedies." Volume 3: "Funny Girls." And Volume 4: "Keaton, Arbuckle and St. John." Volume 5: "Chaplin & Co.: The Music Hall Tradition." Volume 6: "Hal Roach: The Lot of Fun." Volume 7: "The Race is On!" Volume 8: "Tons of Fun: Comedy's Anarchic Fringe." Suggested retail price: $24.95 each. For more information, we suggest you check out the Kino Web site:


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