It Came from Netflix! Slapstick Symposium: Charley Chase Vol. 1
Charley Chase is in the second tier of silent movie comedians, along with the Harold Lloyds, the Fatty Arbuckles, the Ben Turpins and whatnot. Of course, that’s hardly an insult, given that the first tier includes Chaplin, Keaton and Laurel & Hardy. (Indeed, Chase is probably best remembered for a small but memorable part as a prank-playing lodge member in L&H’s sound classic The Sons of the Desert.) That’s rarified ground.
One reason that Chase probably hasn’t remained as popular is that he really didn’t have an identifiable screen persona. Chaplain, needless to say, was the Little Tramp. Keaton was the great stone face (and one of cinema’s most amazing acrobats, right up there with Jackie Chan), and Laurel & Hardy, were, well, Stan and Ollie.
Chase, meanwhile, was an Average Joe. He was generally pleasant, occasionally vindictive, had an eye for the ladies and could be somewhat brash at times, but in all he was amusing without being distinctive.
To compensate, his shorts often relied upon forthrightly ridiculous storylines. That is confirmed by the six shorts found on this DVD, one of Kino’s new Slapstick Symposium series. Both Chase and Lloyd have been treated to two volumes in this series, with other discs featuring solo shorts starring Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy from before they teamed up.
Of the six short subjects found on this disc, two feature generic slapstick set-ups. In one Chase and his automobile suffer various misfortunes due to an extremely muddy road and a rather large pool of water found therein. In another, finds Charley at work as he futilely attempts to avoid being the butt of practical jokes on April Fools Day.
The remaining four shorts feature the sort of outrageous plots I referred to earlier. In Long Flib the King, a foreign princess must marry in 24 hours to assume her country’s throne. Charley is on death row (!) and due to be executed the next day, and agrees to fulfill the requirement. Then he is freed, needless to say, although luckily—as often happens in silent comedy shorts—she has instantly fallen for him and is glad to have him as her king. (The 3 Stooges once had a short with a similar premise, but the ladies were gold-diggers, not royalty, and were less pleased at their husbands’ luck.)
There’s some fish out of water humor, but the main plotline involves Charley trying to avoid a duel with a fellow out to take his place on the throne. Meanwhile, modern audiences will no doubt wince at Charley’s stereotypical Jewish sidekick. Also, watch for Oliver Hardy in a small role.
In Crazy Like a Fox, Charley and a young lady who have never met are subjected by their fathers to an arranged marriage, but accidentally bump into each other and (again) instantly fall in love without realizing who the other is. In attempting to get out of the entanglement with the woman that he doesn’t know he already loves, he rather strenuously pretends to be crazy. I have to admit, this wasn’t my favorite short.
Mum’s the Word finds Charley visiting his mom, who has recently married a rich man and is afraid to admit to him that she has a son for fear that he’ll divorce her. As such, she introduces Charley at their new valet, and wackiness ensues as a French style farce occurs, with everyone thinking that everyone else is playing around on each other. If viewers are askance about the Jew character in Long Flib the King, they will be suitably appalled at the ‘black’ butler played by a white guy in blackface.
In the most ludicrous short (and one that shows how racy the ‘20s were), Charley is a man with severe buckteeth married to a woman with a huge nose (sort of). In a Gift of the Magi riff, both secretly have their afflictions removed, whereupon they meet and don’t recognize each other (!!!). Each feeling attractive for the first time in their lives, they basically decide to cheat on each other with each other—that’s the implication, anyway—and wackiness ensues.
If you aren’t an aficionado of silent comedy, you don’t want to start here, especially with all of Chaplin and Keaton and some of L&H on disc already. However, if you are a fan of this sort of thing, the material here should provide a mildly entertaining diversion for a couple of hours.