Last chance to enter: Laurel & Hardy Blogathon, here on Sat., Oct. 4!

This is it, folks — only one more week until our Laurel & Hardy Blogathon! If you have (a) a blog and (b) unabashed affection for Laurel and Hardy, I’d love to have you participate! Because what else are you gonna do on a Saturday, anyway?

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MovieMovieBlogBlog is proud to announce the 1st Annual Laurel & Hardy Blogathon!

When: Sat., Oct. 4, 2014.

Where: Right here, at moviemovieblogblog.wordpress.com. (If you have never participated in a blogathon before, click here for an excellent explanation of the procedure, from a fellow movie blogger.)

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How: To sign up, leave me a comment on this blog, or IM me at my Facebook page. (I don’t check my email frequently, so it is best that you contact me through one of these venues.) I will be keeping a roster of all the participants and will frequently update it at this blog.  I have banners at the bottom of this post that you can put on your sites.  During the blogathon itself, when your post is ready to go, simply leave me a comment with your link, or send a message. Please be sure to email me the title and URL of the blog where you will be posting your entry!

Also, I ask that you have your entry posted at least by 12:01 a.m. on Oct. 4, if not sooner. I have previously participated in a blogathon where many of the advertised blogs were not posted by the date of the blogathon, which makes things confusing for anyone who wants to stop by and read people’s entries.

What to submit:

I am looking for posts that review/critique any movie that stars or co-stars Stan Laurel and/or Oliver Hardy. Let me make this clear. You can blog about:

* any of the Laurel & Hardy silent and sound short subjects and feature films

* any movie in which Laurel & Hardy made “guest appearances” (e.g., Hollywood Party)

* any short subject or feature film that stars or co-stars Stan Laurel or Oliver Hardy solo (without their partner)

* also, there are a few documentaries about the team — Cuckoo, Laurel & Hardy: A Tribute to the Boys, and Laurel & Hardy: Their Lives and Magic. I welcome any blog about any of these as well.

If you try to blog about this, we will track you down and pie you.

If you try to blog about this, we will track you down and pie you.

What not to submit:

* Please, no general reminiscences about how you “came across” Laurel & Hardy. I would like your blog to be related to a movie that fits one of the above categories.

* Please please, no reviews of:  any theatrical cartoons with L&H caricatures; any made-for-TV Laurel & Hardy cartoons; or that feature-film abomination, The New Adventures of Laurel & Hardy: For Love or Mummy.

Other rules:

* As I said, I will keep a running tally at this blog of which movies have been chosen for blogging. If you let me know what movie you want to blog, and I inform you that it’s already taken and you’ll need to choose a different movie, please don’t take it personally. The key words here are variety and fun.

* Please blog only text and/or photos. Do not include any links to online Laurel & Hardy movies, videos, or clips from YouTube or any other Internet media. I would like this blogathon to be seen by as many people as possible, and some sites will not link to blogs with L&H vids due to copyright issues.

* Keep your blog in the bounds of good taste. Stan and Babe are watching from above.

* Blogs can be positive or negative. If you want to express your love for your favorite L&H film, by all means, do so. Conversely, if you think a particular L&H film is overrated and you want to say why, go for it. All I ask is that you couch your comments in thought-out critical terms, as opposed to “Laurel and Hardy suck.”

Roster: Here is the roster of movies and bloggers as of Sept. 26:

THE LUCKY DOG – Silent-ology

FROM SOUP TO NUTS – Way Too Damn Lazy to Write a Blog

THE LAUREL-HARDY MURDER CASE – Once Upon a Screen

HELPMATES – MovieMovieBlogBlog (that’s me!) (unless someone else would like to use this movie as their entree to the Blogathon)

WAY OUT WEST – Thrilling Days of Yesteryear

Let’s make this blogathon as big of an online success as the live Oliver Hardy Festival!

Disclaimer: This blogathon is not in any way related to or endorsed by The Oliver Hardy Festival of Harlem, GA.

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Charles Chaplin’s A WOMAN OF PARIS (1923): The “against” vote

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(WARNINGS: Major spoilers abound. Also, if you are a huge fan of Chaplin and/or this movie, prepare yourself for the gusher of negativity that follows.)

”I don’t mind coincidence [in a storyline] — life is coincidence — but I hate convenience.” – Charles Chaplin, to A Woman in Paris assistant director Eddie Sutherland

”Why do all comedians turn out to be sentimental bores?” – A cynical movie-goer to Woody Allen, in Stardust Memories

Watching A Woman in Paris, you just know you can read right into the minds of Chaplin’s fellow movie-makers and executives at United Artists in 1923: “We waited four years for you to get out of your other contract and give us a movie for UA. And this is it? A melodrama in which you don’t star, about a bunch of rich people in Paris who nobody can relate to?”

And make no mistake: For all of Chaplin’s ideals about subtle acting, this is an all-stops-out melodrama – a nicely-acted one, but still a melodrama. (If you still have any doubts, listen to the musical score Chaplin provided for the movie in 1976, and pay attention to the shrieking notes in the opening scenes with the fiancée and his mother.)

That’s not to say that the movie doesn’t have its moments. In fact, if you can make it to the ending, Lydia Knott (as the mother) provides a subtly satisfying performance. And unlike Woody Allen in a similar mood — when he followed his Oscar-winning comedy Annie Hall by providing United Artists with the laugh-free dirge Interiors 55 years after Chaplin’s mood-swing — A Woman in Paris has some subtle humor to it. But you have to sit through an awful lot of guff to get to the good stuff.

Chaplin intended the movie as a hopeful career-maker for his long-time supporting actress Edna Purviance. She plays Marie St. Clair, a young woman in love with momma’s-boy Jean (Carl Miller), who wants desperately to marry her. For reasons richly unexplained, Marie is despised by both Jean’s father and her own stepfather. (The ostensible plotline is that the two sets of parents oppose the marriage, Romeo and Juliet-style. Yet the credits make a point of identifying that opposing character as Marie’s stepfather. Is Chaplin hinting at some sordid relationship between stepfather and stepdaughter that couldn’t be blatantly spelled out in 1923?)

In any case, Marie is to purchase train tickets to Paris, after which Jean will meet her at the train station and they will elope to Paris to marry. But just as Jean is preparing to leave his home for good, his father dies of an apparent heart attack. Marie phones Jean, who vaguely tells her that something big has come up and he cannot meet her at the station. Conveniently, Jean is temporarily called away from the phone, and Marie is too furious to wait around and find out what has kept Jean from meeting with her. So it appears we have the 1923 version of what film critic Roger Ebert called “The Idiot Plot,” in which the story could be resolved in two minutes if it weren’t for some implausible glitch tossed into the script.

Next thing we know, Marie is a fancy “kept woman” in Paris. Okay, where did that one come from? Maybe that smug stepfather was onto something. Anyway, Marie is the mistress of a most unapologetic man-about-town, Pierre (Adolphe Menjou, in a performance that did make his career, and rightly so). Marie eventually but platonically reunites with Jean (more plot “convenience”), and most of the movie involves Marie’s moral battle between banal true love and wallowing in all the dough in which Pierre keeps her.

One of the movie’s most famous moments is also its most telling about Marie. At one point, Pierre needles Marie about how she loves the lifestyle to which he has accustomed her, and to prove his point, Pierre fondles the pearl necklace that Marie is wearing. In a fit, Marie tears the necklace off and throws it out the window. A few moments pass. Marie happens to look out the window and sees a street bum making off with the necklace. Marie gets so frantic about losing her symbol of wealth, she rushes out of her apartment and grabs the necklace back from the tramp, as Pierre witnesses the whole thing and rightly laughs his head off. It’s pretty hard to take Marie’s battling conscience very seriously after that.

There really are a lot of lovely moments in the movie, cinematically and story-wise. But Chaplin is so eager to impress us with his characters’ upper-class lifestyle that it’s often a struggle to stick with the story. (When a character in a restaurant orders champagne truffles, Chaplin even goes so far as to provide an intertitle explaining the origin and use of champagne truffles – for the benefit, one can only guess, of all his Spam-eating fans.)

It’s rather ironic that Chaplin felt he had to go all the way to Paris to provide such a tone-y scenario, since this battle of class-vs.-crass feels very dated in the age of “Desperate Housewives.” Happily, Chaplin got this class struggle out of his system and returned to form (most would say well beyond form) with his next film, The Gold Rush.

Charlie Chaplin’s THE IDLE CLASS (1921) – Charlie as a two-percenter

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After suffering from “writer/director’s block” in his first two First National shorts, The Idle Class shows Chaplin back on track, still able to deliver first-class laughs in a short subject.

This would be Chaplin’s only dual role until his most famous one (in 1940’s The Great Dictator); this one was fairly benign by comparison. Chaplin plays both his familiar Tramp and an upper-class alcoholic whose wife (Edna Purviance) is driven to distraction by his drinking.

The movie’s first half introduces the theme and then gets a lot of mileage out of golfing gags, particularly those revolving around a milquetoast golfer (John Rand) who gets roundly and continuously beaten up by a much larger golfer (Mack Swain) mainly because he had the misfortune of running into Charlie on the golf course. (It’ll make more sense when you see the movie.)

The rest of the movie involves a costume ball and mistaken identity. Edna leaves her drunken husband a note stating she’ll forgive him if he comes to the ball that night. Unfortunately, he chooses to wear a knight outfit, and the hood clamps over his head and won’t come off. On the run from a cop (naturally), Charlie rushes into the ball, where Edna mistakes him for…well, guess it from there.

There are marvelously inventive gags throughout. Every film comedian of the time took a swing (pardon the pun) at some golf gags – Keaton, Laurel & Hardy – so of course Chaplin would get in there somewhere. And the costume ball offers one great laugh after another (My favorite: Charlie on the run, hiding underneath a woman’s petticoat and then peeking out from the middle of the dress).

Apparently, once Chaplin proved he could mix comedy and drama with The Kid, he didn’t have such a chip on his shoulder about performing the former. Here, he did it just fine.

Laurel & Hardy in SAILORS, BEWARE! (1927) – Not always together, but often funny

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As pre-team Laurel & Hardy Pathe comedies go, Sailors, Beware! is pretty enjoyable. L&H are hardly a team, but they do have some funny moments on screen, together and otherwise. That’s more than you can say for a number like Flying Elephants.

Hardy plays Mr. Cryder, an aggressive ship’s purser who blatantly flirts with every female passenger (including Lupe Velez, who is introduced to the story with a camera pan up her leggy profile). Laurel is Chester Chaste, a taxicab driver who inadvertently gets shanghaied onto Cryder’s ship and has to deal with his brusque captain. The ostensible main plot involves a midget disguised as a baby (Harry Earles) who uses a baby doll as a hiding place for the goods stolen by his wife (Anita Garvin). Happily, not much is made of this tired plot. Instead, the movie keeps cutting back to Laurel and/or Hardy. Laurel has a great scene where he thinks he’s entertaining the baby by throwing dice with him, only the “baby” makes bets with Laurel and then ends up continually rolling sevens with his loaded dice. Hardy is mistakenly hit with buckets of water and spends a wonderful minute on-screen doing Ollie-like reactions, including coming this close to a tie-twiddle.

The only painful part of the movie is its weak ending, wherein the midget beats up Ollie (yeah, sure). For a movie that’s not really Laurel & Hardy, Sailors, Beware! is enjoyable enough while we’re waiting for L&H to become a team.

Buster Keaton in THREE AGES (1923) – Three Busters for the price of one

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(WARNING: Spoilers abound!)

If Three Ages looks like three two-reelers rolled into a feature film, that’s exactly what it is. Ostensibly, the movie is Buster Keaton’s spoof of D.W. Griffith’s 1916 epic Intolerance, in which Griffith examined man’s inhumanity to man in storylines set in three separate eras. But for this, his first “proper” feature (in The Saphead, he was basically a stand-in for the leading man), Keaton hedged his bets. Keaton basically filmed a trio of shorts with similar but separate stories set in The Stone Age, the Roman Empire era, and “modern times” (1923), figuring that if the movie bombed in feature length, he could indeed edit it into three short subjects.

Keaton liked to regard his movie studio as thoroughly independent, and to a certain extent it was. Yet, ironically, Three Ages was the first Keaton movie to show just how much the shots were called by Keaton’s producer and brother-in-law, Joseph Schenck. Keaton’s leading lady in all three stories, Margaret Leahy, had been dumped on Keaton by Schenck. As a prize for winning a beauty contest in London, Leahy had been given a role in a movie starring Keaton and Schenck’s sister-in-law, Norma Talmadge. Unfortunately, Leahy had absolutely no gift for doing the simplest movements on film, and she drove her director, Frank Lloyd, to distraction. When Lloyd threatened to leave if Leahy wasn’t removed, Keaton took her on as a favor to Schenck.

Years later, Keaton echoed Lloyd’s assessment of Leahy’s minimal talent, complaining that he had to preview Three Ages eight times before getting it right. Happily, none of this angst is present in the final film; Leahy really does look wonderful and is passable enough as Buster’s erstwhile love – the result, apparently, of some very judicious editing.

Surprisingly, the rest of Keaton’s efforts at box office “insurance” came from him, not Schenck. Besides the business of making three shorts as a feature, Keaton also relegated his usual heavy, “Big” Joe Roberts, to a supporting role. For the villain, Keaton chose Wallace Beery. Beery had recently scored in a co-starring role in Douglas Fairbanks’ version of Robin Hood, and would have continued success in the talkie era, playing a likable mug in movies such as The Champ and Min and Bill.

It was also with this movie that Keaton added his “gang” of gag men – Joseph Mitchell, Jean Havez, and Clyde Bruckman – to his staff. (An inside joke in the movie is that these men’s names are listed as football players on the roster shown in the “modern era’s” penultimate climax.)

Three Ages was a huge hit in its day and still plays as a better-than-average Keaton comedy; unfortunately, much of it isn’t really “Keatonesque” and is more funny/cute than funny/ha-ha. The movie tries to score many of its laughs simply from ancient-to-modern anachronisms, a route to laughs that has been worn thin by generations of cartoons such as “The Flintstones.” (One of the movie’s funnier anachronisms, because it still rings so true, is of the seer who goes outside to post his weather forecast of “fair and sunny,” only to have to abruptly change it to “snow” when he is hit by a cold front at the front door – proving that weather forecasters weren’t any more reliable 80 years ago than they are now.)

The movie’s main triumph is the way that Keaton takes comedy premises frequently used by other comedians – Chaplin did a caveman comedy, as would Laurel & Hardy a few years later – and makes them uniquely his. One priceless moment occurs when stone-age Buster tries to hit on a very assertive cavewoman (Blanche Payson, a few years before she terrorized Laurel & Hardy in Below Zero and Helpmates). Payson takes a club and knocks Keaton over a cliff with a lake at the bottom. As Keaton goes over, he nonchalantly blows Payson a dainty kiss before hitting the lake.

Conversely, all three of the movie’s plotlines seem a bit more Chaplinesque than the norm, showing how Buster consistently triumphs over a big bully in order to win the girl. But again, Keaton makes the material his own. (When Roman-era Buster is imprisoned with a lion, he vaguely recalls the “Androcles and the Lion” fable, but not quite clearly enough – to win over the lion, he gives him a manicure.) Still, the usually stoic Buster seems to begging for pity here a little more than usual.

Three Ages is enjoyable, but by Keaton’s own lofty standards it was only “all right.” Keaton would soon enough find elaborate ways to stretch his laughs to feature length, and to make cinema history in the process.