LAUREL & HARDY’S LAUGHING 20’s (1965) – Nice compilation of L&H silent comedies

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Although Laurel & Hardy’s “talkie” short subjects finally got their due on a lavish American DVD set in 2011, their silent shorts aren’t as readily available in the U.S. (because they are owned by different hands). So if you have trouble obtaining L&H’s terrific silent shorts as a set, your best bet is to check out Laurel & Hardy’s Laughing 20’s, one of the many silent-comedy compilations lovingly put together by film historian Robert Youngson in the 1950’s and ’60s.

Youngson’s efforts, well-chronicled in the L&H biography Laurel & Hardy From the Forties Forward, were instrumental in rekindling interest in silent-film comedy in general and L&H in particular. Though Youngson’s narration tends to be a bit verbose, his affection for Laurel & Hardy’s peerless comedy is obvious and infectious. And this compilation, especially, presents most of its subjects virtually complete (except for subtitles) and, with modest but effective musical scoring, nearly as lovingly as the originals.

Among the L&H gems presented here are: Liberty (1929), one of my personal L&H faves, with Stan and Ollie doing a “Harold Lloyd” stunt number atop an unfinished skyscraper; From Soup to Nuts (1928), with Stan and Ollie wreaking havoc as waiters at a dinner party; and The Finishing Touch (1928), with the duo building (or, more exactly, not building) a house. The film’s closer features climaxes (and only the climaxes, unfortunately) from L&H gems such as The Battle of the Century (with its famous pie-throwing melee) and Two Tars (a hilarious traffic jam that inspired much in Jean-Luc Godard’s Weekend).

(Also included are very funny excerpts from short subjects of L&H’s contemporaries  at the Hal Roach Studios, Charlie Chase and Max Davidson.)

To a film generation acquainted only with color, sound, and fury, the methodical pace of Laurel & Hardy’s silent work is almost like a foreign language to be learned. But the beauty inherent in a second language is on ample display here, especially as an anecdote to latter-day bodily-function comedies.

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COUPLING (2000-2004) – One of TV’s best sitcoms, British or otherwise

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The following is my contribution to The Small Screen Blogathon, being hosted by the blog Maddielovesherclassicfilms on Feb. 20, 2018. Click on the above banner, and read bloggers’ takes on their favorite TV series!

 

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British TV writer Steven Moffatt is best known these days for the TV series “Sherlock” and a “Dr. Who” revival. But long before those came around, he was responsible for a gem of a sitcom titled “Coupling.”

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“Coupling” is blatantly based on the evolution of the relationship between Moffat and his girlfriend and then wife, Sue Vertue (also the show’s producer). (As if to drive home the point, the show’s lead characters are named Steve and Sue.) Aside from its traditional three-camera, live-audience setup, the series uses a variety of Annie Hall-like techniques to examine love and relationships: split-screen, depicting a single event from three perspectives, and even performing half of an episode in Hebrew. As Moffat put it, his simple setting encouraged “an epic, ridiculous way of telling an ordinary story.”

Most American viewers are quick to compare the series to “Friends,” as it’s a sitcom about the intertwining of several close friends’ lives. I hate to sound sacrilegious, but I much prefer “Coupling” to “Friends.” I always got the feeling that the “Friends” writers were happy to drop characterizations if they could get a quick laugh (for example, daffy Phoebe suddenly coming up with a searing witticism). By contrast, Moffatt said his show’s laughs sprang from context and that he wrote “no jokes per se” — and I feel his show is much richer for it.

My only complaint about “Coupling” is its fourth season; hence, I will deal with that later as a separate entity. Here is a summary of all of the characters, save for one that was added in that fourth season.

Steve

Steve Taylor (Jack Davenport) is a well-meaning guy who is somewhat milquetoast. In the series’ first episode, Steve is shown having trouble breaking off with his clingy and rather ditzy girlfriend Jane Christie (Gina Bellman). He eventually hooks up with Susan Walker (Sarah Alexander), and while their love appears to be true, Steve often cowers under Susan’s short temper.

Susan

Susan is a successful but sometimes insecure career woman. The bulk of Steve and Susan’s exchanges revolve around their arguments and differences of opinion.

Jeff

Jeff Murdock (Richard Coyle) is a co-worker and ex-date of Susan’s and is Steve’s best friend. Jeff is well-meaning like Steve but is even flightier than him, eager to find a woman but mostly unable to carry on coherent conversations with potential dates.

Sally

Sally Harper (Kate Isitt), like her best friend Susan, runs a successful business but is even more insecure than her friend (Are you sensing a pattern here?). She sometimes comes off as mean-spirited but is really only (only?) mostly paranoid.

Patrick

Patrick Maitland (Ben Miles) has a one-track mind when it comes to women, and that track revolves around getting laid. He is an ex-boyfriend to Susan, who refers to him as “donkey” and “tripod” when referencing his below-the-belt appendage. It is this that first perks Sally’s interest in Patrick. Patrick and Sally end up being the show’s romantic counterpart to Steve and Susan.

Jane

Jane, as started earlier, has been dumped by Steve, though it takes her several episodes to admit this to herself. As the series evolves, we come to realize why Steve couldn’t take her anymore; she comes on strong and very flighty. She does traffic reports for a local radio station, and her main claim to popularity is her sexually explicit reporting.

As in the best sitcoms, “Coupling’s” laughs (as noted by Moffatt) come from the characters’ quirks and interactions. I would recommend nearly any episode of the first three seasons as great introductory viewing for the show. However, IMHO, the show reached its peak in the eighth episode of Season 2, “Naked.” 

Julia

In this episode (a showcase for the wonderful Richard Boyle), Jeff goes to a storage closet at his office and happens to bump into his new supervisor, Julia (a winning performance by the late Lou Gish, shown above). Later, Jeff and Julia, separately, recount to the series’ men and women their closet encounter, and in each case, they embellish their recounting with hyperbolic fantasy to cover up the fact that they were very attracted to each other. To top it off, Jeff is about to turn 30 and is lamenting the fact that he cannot manage to have an ongoing relationship with a woman.

The rest of the episode shows Jeff and Julia playing cat-and-mouse, coming right up to the edge of admitting their attraction but shying away at the last moment. I don’t consider it a SPOILER ALERT to state that Jeff and Julia finally get together, because the way that it happens results in one of the most beautifully realized sitcom-episode finales I’ve ever seen. (The episode is embedded below; by all means, please watch and enjoy.)

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Sad to say, I feel that this delightful sitcom jumped the rails in Season 4. That season’s very first episode came off as ominous for three reasons:

  1. With no explanation, some interesting plot threads that were left dangling at the end of Season 3 were inexplicably abandoned by Moffatt.
  2. Richard Coyle feared becoming typecast as hapless Jeff, so he left the series at the end of Season 3, refusing requests to do a “goodbye episode.” This resulted in what I consider the series’ biggest mistake.
  3. OliverJust as “The Brady Bunch” started losing viewers when they introduced Cousin Oliver, so “Coupling” went stale when they introduced the character of Oliver Morris (Richard Mylan). While the other characters were rich enough to mine for three seasons’ worth of stories, Oliver’s main characteristic is how accident-prone and clueless he is. Unlike with Jeff, it’s not caused by insecurity or nervousness around women — he’s just stupid. This is not a character for the ages.

Probably the most watchable episodes are the season’s final two episodes, which nicely resolve some plot threads among the characters; otherwise, I consider this season a wash-out.

Other than that, I think “Coupling” is one of the all-time funniest and best-written sitcoms ever. I like to think that, if the show had returned for a fifth season, it would have brought back Richard Coyle and gone all “Dallas” on us, sheepishly admitting that the fourth season was merely a bad dream.

10 embarrassing Academy Award moments

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The following is my contribution to the 31 Days of Oscar blogathon, being co-hosted by the blogs Paula’s Cinema ClubOutspoken & Freckled, and Once Upon a Screen on Feb. 23-25, 2018. Click on the above banner, and read a variety of bloggers’ takes on the history of the Academy Awards!

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At last year’s Academy Awards ceremony, Bonnie and Clyde co-stars and Best Picture Oscar presenters Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway made Oscar history — of the worst kind.

Beatty opened the envelope containing what he thought was the Best Picture Oscar winner, looked at it, thought something seemed wrong, and passed it over to Dunaway to see if she agreed. Instead, Dunaway immediately blurted out that the Best Picture Oscar winner was La La Land. Unfortunately, the duo had been given the card for Best Actress Oscar (Emma Stone), which was why Beatty had been suspicious. The La La Land crew was already on stage accepting the Oscar by the time that the Oscar show’s producer got up to announce that the real winner was Moonlight. Er, sorry about that, guys! (Click here to read The Hollywood Reporter’s complete account of the debacle.)

Unfortunately, this is only the most recent error that has plagued the live Oscar broadcast. If I was to list them all, this blog would run as long as…well, an Oscar telecast.

So I established two rules to limit myself on this blog. The first is that I limited my list to what I consider the top 10 most notorious Oscar bloopers. Secondly, I decided that potshots at individual hosts and bad production numbers are too easy, so I allowed myself only one of each.

Following are 10 of Oscar’s most notorious goofs. Enjoy!

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Will Rogers and the wrong Frank, 1934

Will Rogers, vaudeville comedian-cowboy and one of the most popular entertainers of his era, hosted the 1934 Oscar ceremony and was responsible for what The Academy Awards: The Unofficial History calls “one of the most famously humiliating scenes in Academy Awards history.” Announcing the winner for Best Director, Rogers ad-libbed, “Well, well, well, what do you know? I’ve watched this young man for a long time. Saw him come up from the bottom, and I mean the bottom. It couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy. Come up and get it, Frank!”

Frank Capra, nominated for Lady for a Day, stood up and made his way to the stage, but the spotlight settled on the real winner, Frank Lloyd (shown above with Rogers), who had directed Cavalcade. Capra described getting back to his seat as “the longest crawl in history.” 

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Hattie McDaniel and back-slapping Hollywood, 1940

The 12th Academy Awards presentation was held at The Ambassador Hotel’s Cocoanut Grove nightclub (later to serve as the backdrop for another moment in Oscar infamy — see below). Hattie McDaniel was nominated as Best Supporting Actress for her role as Mammy in 1939’s box-office smash Gone with the Wind, which she eventually won (the first African-American actress to do so).

All of this is sullied by the fact that when McDaniel arrived at the ceremony, she was escorted, not to the Gone With the Wind table — where producer David O. Selznick sat with Olivia de Havilland and his two Oscar-nominated leads, Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable — but to a small table set against a far wall, where she took a seat with her escort, F.P. Yober, and her white agent, William Meiklejohn. With the hotel’s strict no-blacks policy, Selznick had to call in a special favor just to have McDaniel allowed into the building at all. (It was not officially integrated until 1959.)

Fortunately, McDaniel, the daughter of two former slaves, gave a gracious speech about her win: “I shall always hold it as a beacon for anything I may be able to do in the future. I sincerely hope that I shall always be a credit to my race and the motion picture industry.”

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Jerry Lewis and the under-running Oscar ceremony, 1959

Jerry Lewis, a three-time Oscar host, landed that job for the first time in 1956 and returned in 1959 as the final member of a rotation of six hosts (the others being Mort Sahl, Tony Randall, Bob Hope, David Niven and Laurence Olivier). But that third and — perhaps not coincidentally — final time, Lewis encountered a situation that no Oscar host before or since has faced: a ceremony at which the final award was presented 20 minutes ahead of schedule and the show actually ran short.

With all of the evening’s winners and presenters gathered together onstage, Lewis, a celebrated improviser, did his best to kill time, encouraging Lionel Newman’s orchestra to perform several reprises of “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” during which many onstage paired off and began dancing with one another — among them, Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman, Robert Wagner and Natalie Wood, and Bob Hope and Zsa Zsa Gabor.

At one point, Lewis’ former comedy partner, Dean Martin, strolled past the podium and helped himself to an extra Oscar, prompting Lewis to crack, “And they said that Dean and I wouldn’t be on the same stage again!” Lewis roasted a competing show’s poor ratings, grabbed a baton and began conducting the orchestra, and even attempted to play the trumpet before, after about five minutes, NBC put Lewis out of his misery by cutting to a short film.

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The non-appearance of Marlon Brando, 1973

When Roger Moore and Liv Ullman read the name of 1972’s Best Actor Oscar winner — Marlon Brando for The Godfather — neither presenter parted their lips in a smile. Their gaze fell upon Sacheen Littlefeather, a dark-haired woman in Apache dress. Moore extended the award to Littlefeather, who waved it away with an open palm. She set down a letter on the podium, introduced herself, and said:

“I’m representing Marlon Brando this evening and he has asked me to tell you…that he very regretfully cannot accept this very generous award. And the reasons for this being are the treatment of American Indians today by the film industry –“

The crowd booed. Littlefeather looked down and said, “Excuse me.” Others in the audience began to clap, cheering her on. She continued only briefly, to “beg” that her appearance was not an intrusion and say that they would “meet with love and generosity” in the future.

Even as she was cheered by Native Americans for taking a civil rights stand, false stories soon spread claiming that she was not a real Native American, that she had rented her buckskin Oscar dress, and that she was just a wanna-be opportunistically trying to ride Brando’s coattails. “If [Brando] had something to say,” actor John Wayne groused dismissively, “he should have appeared that night and stated his views instead of taking some little unknown girl and dressing her up in an Indian outfit.” Littlefeather later said about the incident: “It goes back to the time of the Romans: If you didn’t like the message, you kill the messenger.”

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David Niven and the streaker, 1974

Just as David Niven was about to announce 1974’s Best Picture Oscar winner, Robert Opel — a conceptual artist, photographer, and gay-rights actvist — ran out naked from stage left, waving a two-fingered peace sign.

Niven, to his credit, kept his aplomb and quipped, “Well, ladies and gentlemen, that was almost bound to happen. But isn’t it fascinating to think that probably the only laugh that man will ever get in his life is by stripping off and showing his shortcomings?”

Elizabeth Taylor, who was supposed to join Niven on stage at the time that Opel appeared, later asked Niven how he came up with such a clever one-liner on the spot. Niven replied that before the show, he tried to think of all of the potentially disastrous things that could happen on stage. Streaking was a national craze at that time, so Niven thought of his quip and kept it stored in his mind that evening, where he later got to use it.

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A producer does not win over old-school hearts and minds, 1975

Producers Peter Davis and Bert Schneider won 1975’s Best Documentary Oscar for the Warner Bros. release Hearts and Minds, a searing look at the Vietnam War at a time when it was still raging. Davis’ acceptance speech was low-key, mostly thanking his family and his movie colleagues. Schneider’s speech? Not so much.

After stating, “It’s ironic that we’re here at a time just before Vietnam is about to be liberated,” Schneider then read aloud a telegram from North Vietnamese diplomat Dinh Ba Thi:

“Please transmit to all our friends in America our recognition of all that they have done on behalf of peace and for the application of the Paris Accords on Vietnam. These actions serve the legitimate interest of the American people and the Vietnamese people. Greetings of friendship to all the American people.”

After that, all hell broke loose backstage. Presenter Frank Sinatra confronted Schneider and threatened to deck him, with John Wayne (honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award earlier that night) joining in. Bob Hope pinned Howard W. Koch, the show’s producer, to a wall, screaming for him to disavow the statement. Then Shirley MacLaine and her brother Warren Beatty leapt into the fray. “Don’t you dare!” MacLaine shouted at the frazzled producer, caught in the midst of a Hollywood culture war.

As the stars squabbled, phone calls and telegrams began reaching CBS. One came from a retired Army Colonel, who bemoaned the “55,000 dead young Americans in defense of freedom and millions of Vietnamese fighting for freedom,” then concluded with “demand withdrawal of award.” Hope grabbed the telegram, scribbling a message for Frank Sinatra to read onstage.

When Sinatra emerged, he stiffly read Hope’s disclaimer. “The Academy is saying we are not responsible for any political utterances on this program and we are sorry that had to take place.” Which provoked more outrage from his liberal costars. Warren Beatty mockingly commented, “Thank you, Frank, you old Republican!” while MacLaine hissed that “You didn’t ask me!” about the statement. MacLaine later retook the stage, encouraging viewers to see Hearts and Minds (a particularly gracious gesture, since it defeated MacLaine’s own documentary, The Other Half of the Sky).

Eventually, Warner Bros. executives tried defusing the controversy with apologetic press conferences. While Francis Ford Coppola defended Schneider’s statement, Shirley Maclaine tossed off a Hope-like one-liner to reporters:  “Bob Hope is so mad at me, he’s going to bomb Encino.”

Saigon fell within a matter of weeks, but with this controversy, TV viewers got a close-up look at Hollywood’s old guard versus its new guard.

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The non-appearance of Woody Allen, 1978

In 1978, the white-hot sci-fi fantasy Star Wars was figured by the general public to be a shoo-in for the Best Picture Oscar. To nearly everyone’s surprise, Woody Allen’s intimate comedy Annie Hall won that statuette, as well as Oscars for Best Screenplay (Allen and Marshall Brickman), Best Director (Allen), and Best Actress (Diane Keaton).

(The wins were all the more surprising, considering the movie’s potshots at the laid-back L.A. lifestyle and their self-congratulatory award shows. Allen in the movie: “They’re always giving out awards! Best Fascist Dictator, Adolf Hitler!”)

So where was Allen during the ceremony? Where he always was on Monday nights: Playing clarinet at Michael’s Pub in New York City. Unlike Marlon Brando, Allen had no political agenda to burnish. As he made clear in Annie Hall, he just didn’t like award shows.

Despite his movies having received 53 nominations and 12 wins, the only time Allen has ever appeared at the Oscar ceremony was in 2002, in a tribute to his beloved New York City after the 9/11 disaster.

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Rob Lowe and Snow White, 1989

Making his very first appearance as Oscar presentation host in 1990 (he would go on to host eight more times), Billy Crystal walked onto the stage amid rapturous applause. Crystal responded, “Is that for me, or are you just glad I’m not Snow White?”

Crystal was referring to the previous year’s Oscar opening number, which set a new standard for sheer kitsch. Produced by Allan Carr (GreaseGrease 2Can’t Stop the Music), and arranged and conducted by Marvin Hamlisch, it began with veteran Hollywood columnist Army Archerd nonchalantly introducing Snow White (played by 22-year-old newcomer Eileen Bowman). Snow went out among the audience, serenading the mostly-shocked celebrities and shaking their hands. Eventually she made her way back to the stage, which had been transformed into the old Cocoanut Grove nightclub, where host Merv Griffin insisted that its “every night is exciting” (for everyone except for Hattie McDaniel, of course — see above).

Griffin hailed some veteran performers who were appearing on the stage, among them Cyd Charisse and Vincent Price. But the topper came when Griffin introduced Snow to Rob Lowe, after which the duo performed a pastiche of the song “Proud Mary” (“Rollin’, rollin’, keep the cameras rolling!”). The production number rattled on for another five minutes, eventually killing Allan Carr’s career for good.

The Walt Disney Co., which then had no stake in ABC (the network that broadcast the ceremony), was furious over the unauthorized use of its copyrighted version of Snow White and filed a lawsuit against the Academy. And 17 Hollywood heavyweights — among them Paul Newman, Gregory Peck, Julie Andrews, and Billy Wilder — signed an open letter deriding the telecast as “an embarrassment to both the Academy and the entire motion picture industry.”

In retrospect, nobody was happier to look back and laugh at the campy number than Lowe and Bowman. Click here and here to read their respective accounts of the disaster.

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Billy Crystal and Hal Roach, 1992

Crystal: “At the [1992 ceremony], I introduced [veteran movie producer] Hal Roach from the stage. It was his 100th birthday. He wasn’t supposed to speak, only wave. But he started speaking, holding himself up by the seat in front of him. You could barely hear him. It went on and on. You could feel people getting restless. Lines were racing through my head and I thought, ‘How do you get out of this?’ [After Roach finished,] I hit on a line and just looked at the audience and said: ‘It’s only fitting, he got his start in silent films!’ It got a big cheer. For me, I could look at that one little moment and say, ‘I was okay then. I was a good comedian that night.’”

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John Travolta and Adele Dazeem, er, Idina Menzel, 2014 and 2015

In 2014, John Travolta introduced singer Idina Menzel’s performance of the Oscar-nominated song “Let It Go” (from the Disney cartoon Frozen). Only Travolta called her “Adele Dazeem” with a weird accent. (Click here to read Travolta’s mea culpa of the incident, in which he strangely tries to blame the whole thing on Goldie Hawn.)

The following year’s Oscar presentation tried to let Menzel have her revenge, as she came on-stage and introduced Travolta as “Glom Gazingo.” Travolta took the jibe good-naturedly — except that he couldn’t stop touching Menzel’s face. (Try to explain that one to us, John!)

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So there you have 10 of Oscar’s most embarrassing moments. I suggest that for this year’s Oscar presentation, they bring on all of the celebrities listed above who are still alive, and make an opening number out of it.

 

Hanging on in Hollywood: Buster Keaton’s Educational and Columbia short subjects (1934-1941)

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The following is my second of two entries in The Fourth Annual Buster Keaton Blogathon, being hosted by the lovely Lea at Silent-ology on Feb. 12 and 13, 2018. Click on the above banner, and read bloggers’ takes on the life and career of silent-film comic Buster Keaton!

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Now that Buster Keaton’s entire short-subject output from the 1930’s and early ’40s is readily available for viewing, this entire period of Buster’s film career has come under re-evaluation, in much the same way as when Laurel & Hardy’s 1940’s Big Studio films came under the light of more sympathetic biographers. Viewing these movies proves that, while none of Keaton’s late-period shorts are up to the tantalizing quality of One Week or Cops, they’re far more enjoyable to watch than was once believed.

As is well-documented elsewhere, by the early 1930’s, Keaton’s personal and professional life had hit the skids. But if none of the major studios wanted to take a chance on him, his name was still a commodity from which money could be made, and Keaton had bills to pay. Based on this matter-of-fact viewpoint, Keaton signed with Educational Pictures in 1934 and eventually performed in 16 shorts for them.

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Educational blithely billed their movies as “The Spice of the Program,” but if the studio could actually have been a spice, it might have been close to arsenic. By the ’30s, Educationals featured either up-and-coming stars who used these shorts only as a stepping stone to bigger things, or former big names such as Harry Langdon and Keaton for whom Educational was a last resort.

Many of Keaton’s Educationals get by sheerly on their audience’s goodwill; you feel they could have been great comedies if they’d just had a little more time and budget bestowed upon them. Some of them actually work as is. The one that everyone always cites as old-style Keaton (and the only short for which Keaton gets [or takes?] a screen credit) is Grand Slam Opera, and with Keaton deftly showing his physicality and his old stage routines, it does indeed work well. But others in the series are quite nice. The Chemist, with Keaton as a milquetoast inventor who runs afoul of some gangsters, is fast-paced, character-driven, and quite funny. Ditto seems to take off on The Playhouse‘s subplot of Buster falling in love with a woman who happens to have a look-alike twin. The short is so otherworldly, with an almost surreal ending, that it wouldn’t have been out of place in Keaton’s ’20s filmography.

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After Keaton’s Educational contract expired, he starred in 10 shorts for Columbia Pictures. Shorts-wise, Columbia was best known as the home of The Three Stooges, and the studio did their best to fit square-pegged Buster into a similarly round hole. Stooges producer-director Jules White served the same function on nearly all of Keaton’s shorts, and his slam-bang approach to comedy ruffled Keaton’s feathers to no end.

To be sure, Columbia, like Educational, was no return to Keaton’s salad days. The Columbia shorts were each filmed in just a few days, and after Keaton finished the final one, he vowed never again to appear “in another crummy short.” Yet it’s completely unfair to say, as Keaton biographer Marion Meade stated, that Buster “phoned in” his Columbia performances.

In his take on Laurel & Hardy’s Big Studio films of the 1940’s, L&H biographer Scott MacGillivray likened The Boys’ studio years to a magician wresting his way out of a strait-jacket, finding it interesting to see how the comedians could pull off their old tricks despite being hemmed in. Similarly, though many of the plot elements and gag structures of the Columbia films seem as old as cinema itself, they’re worth watching just for the grace and nuance that Buster brings to them. He takes moth-eaten situations and makes them look as though he had just invented them.

One element that certainly helps is the shorts’ writing, done mostly by Laurel and Hardy veteran Felix Adler and Buster’s old sidekick Clyde Bruckman. (Bruckman, a co-writer of Keaton’s famed feature The General, must have had more than a say in the making of Mooching Through Georgia, a delightful Civil War send-up.)

Although, again, the quality of these Educational/Columbia shorts is mostly middling, each series bears only one short that is downright painful to watch. Educational’s Allez Oop depicts Keaton’s Elmer becoming jealous when his erstwhile girl (Spite Marriage‘s Dorothy Sebastian) falls for a trapeze artist, and then trying to master similar trapeze tricks in his own backyard. It’s saddening to watch the man who swooped all over a moving train in The General fall flat on his face while trying to swing just a few yards above the ground. (The movie’s sped-up film and music make the situation even more garish.)

In Columbia’s His Ex Marks the Spot, Buster, much to the consternation of his second wife (Dorothy Appleby), decides to let his ex-wife (Elsie Ames) and her boyfriend (Matt McHugh) live in his (Buster’s) apartment so that Buster won’t have to pay alimony. (The boyfriend lives with the ex-wife?? How did this get past the 1940’s censors?) It’s a very mean-spirited short that simply makes Buster look like a doofus in everything he does. The film isn’t helped by its constant cutaways to close-ups of McHugh’s derisive laughter at everyone’s stupid behavior.

But the rest of the shorts are no source of shame for the Keaton buff; just watching Buster’s body language in some of the scenes is worth the viewing. For the most part, the Educational and Columbia shorts are watchable at worst, and the best of them are worthy additions to the Keaton canon — even if Buster himself wouldn’t have agreed.

(If you liked this blogathon entry, click here to read my first entry, about Buster Keaton’s 1965 short subject The Railrodder.)

THE RAILRODDER (1965) – Buster Keaton on the loose again, at last

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The following is my first of two entries in The Fourth Annual Buster Keaton Blogathon, being hosted by the lovely Lea at Silent-ology on Feb. 12 and 13, 2018. Click on the above banner to read blogs related to the multi-faceted show-biz career of silent-film comic Buster Keaton!

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A year before Buster Keaton’s death in 1966, The National Film Board of Canada paid tribute to Keaton by having him do a short subject in his old silent style.

The Railrodder depicts an older version of Buster’s famous persona, porkpie hat and all, reading a newspaper article about increased Canadian travel and deciding he wants to join the crowd. He does this by accidentally starting up an electric railroad car that takes him across the country whether he wants to go or not. Buster, as always, resigns himself to greater forces and decides to enjoy the scenery. By Keaton’s standards, the gags aren’t very elaborate (probably owing to having to taking it easy on the advanced-aged Keaton), but the movie gets better every time you watch it.

After so many years of having to watch Keaton cowtow to The Studio System, it’s a joy to see him perform an entire sound short in his old silent style.

(If you liked this blogathon entry, click here to read my second entry about Keaton’s Educational and Columbia short subjects.)