Charley Chase, Roman Polanski, Roy Andersson

charley chase

Curated by David Kalat (of last year’s impressive Harry Langdon collection), “Becoming Charley Chase” draws primarily on the community of private collectors for an illuminating array of rare one and two reel comedies starring or directed by Charley Chase. Chase remains an underrated talent — a key figure in the transition from Sennett grotesque to Roach naturalism — and this box has the added fascination of a dozen or so one-reelers directed by Leo McCarey at the very beginning of his career (his first film, a feature made at Universal, is apparently lost). The Chase-McCarey films are little marvels — ten minute movies that achieve a richness of character and comic invention that few contemporary features can equal. All this, plus an appraisal of Roman Polanski’s “Repulsion,” newly reissued in Blu-ray by the Criterion Collection, in this week’s New York Times column.

And on a completely different page, I’ve got an interview with the great Swedish filmmaker Roy Andersson, on the occasion of the New York release of his brilliant black comedy “You, the Living.”

75 comments to Charley Chase, Roman Polanski, Roy Andersson

  • Patrick Henry

    It has been a couple of years since I saw “My Son John,” but isn’t there the implication that Walker is involved with the attractive young woman whose photo we see beneath a newspaper headline about a Judy Coplin-like figure arrested in Washington for spying for the Soviets? Of course, if you wish, you could assume that their involvement might be only as ideological soulmates (part of the same Commie “cell”).

  • Pat Hobby

    Can anyone point me to something online or in print on the career of Eddie Cline? Anything that would give me some perspective on his contributions to the films of the various comedians he worked with in his career.

  • Brian, subtle is the mise in scene, still too subtle as I learn from your words (don´t get annoyed but you´ve gone too far with the blatant gay-bashing thing); complex is the entire portrait of early 50´s, like it was WW in “Once upon a honeymoon”, love in “The bells of St. Mary´s”, anarchy and free living in “Duck soup” or “Going my way” or maturity in “An affair to remember”.
    We don´t get to know Robert Walker´s character, remember that, what he do, his connections with the Party or whatever are obscure; it´s not compassion what he feels about his intolerant father, his probably half-depressed mother and his brothers, but a permanent (failed) attempt to belong to something extremely different from his intelligence and his values: his family.

  • Gregg Rickman

    Dave, that’s interesting news from Suzanne Lloyd re Milestone directing the KID BROTHER sequence. Perhaps as it was a challenging set-up the scene was prepared and filmed first. Milestone was interested in this early stage of career in imaginative camera work; I still recall the “follow-the-bouncing-camera” sequence with the journalists in THE FRONT PAGE. But as I say, deep focus cinematography was very much in fashion in the late silent era. Subject for further research: Milestone’s credited extant late silent films: TWO ARABIAN KNIGHTS (“Unusual overhead shots, clever arrangements of actors to later reveal a different situation than first seen” – Jim Tritten, IMDB), THE GARDEN OF EDEN (“a visual masterpiece” – Michael Morrison, IMDB), THE RACKET (“excellent visual effects” – ibid.).

    We now resume a subtle and complex MY SON JOHN discussion, in progress.

  • Both TWO ARABIAN KNIGHTS and THE RACKET have problems.
    The first half of TWO ARABIAN KNIGHTS is full of amusing slapstick. The second half suffers from racist anti-Arab stereotypes.
    THE RACKET ruins a lively gangster play, by trying to make the police captain good guy and the gangster bad guy pals/rivals in the WHAT PRICE GLORY tradition! What bizarre nincompoop made this total warping of the material?
    THE RACKET is mainly notable for a street battle, that is one of the more sustained pieces of heavy violence in classical Hollywood cinema. It’s not good – but it’s one of the few set pieces that anticipate today’s “action films” (did Michael Bay see this growing up????)

  • Last wekk Dave Kehr praised DOWNSTAIRS (Monta Bell). Will be watching for this on TCM.
    Want to add that LADY OF THE NIGHT (Bell, 1925) is an absorbing movie, on the level of story and characterization. It gives a vivid look at class structure, telling parallel stories of two women, one born poor, the other rich.
    Will be looking for more of Bell’s works.

    Briefly noted:
    THE JANE AUSTEN BOOK CLUB (Robin Swicord, 2007) is an unexpectedly pleasant entertainment, talky but cheerful.
    I really enjoyed SPEED RACER (Andy Wachowski, Larry Wachowski), especially for its rich color. Thanks Jaime for the recommendation!

    Have been reading HARNESSING THE RAINBOW by Scott Higgins, about the design of Technicolor films in the 1930′s. Have been learning a lot. Best chapter: the detailed discussion of THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD. His final chapter about digital color intermediates, Look-Up Tables and THE AVIATOR (Scorsese) is also fascinating.

  • Tony Wiliams

    Patrick, From my memory of seeing the film a year ago you are correct. On the other hand, this could be ideological deviousness on the part of a director who was pulling his punches here.

    Certainly, the film needs better circulation and more analysis than being regarded as a mere Red Scare product. I think Robin Wood has written some interesting material on this film and not entirely from a gay perspective but seeing the film as a critique on the normal American family.

  • Alex Hicks

    McCarey made a lot of good movies, but for “towering achievements” I’d start off pairing MAKE WAY FOR TOMORROW with THE AWEFUL TRUTH.

    (Haven’t seem MY SON JOHN, which I’ve not seen so engagingly discussed as at this thread.)

  • James L. Neibaur

    Greg — I agree that Lloyd Hamilton’s short MOVE ALONG is somewhere near his best and rivals the work of the Chaplin-Keaton-Lloyd triumvirate. It is difficult to assess Hamilton because such a tiny percentage of his work survives, and we can only make comparative studies based on what little we have available and accessible.

    Here is my review of Anthony Balducci’s new book on Hamilton:
    http://www.roguecinema.com/article1793.html

    Balducci works hard to assess Hamilton’s career based on the few surviving films, and a lot of investigating the lost ones (surviving scripts, stills, period reviews, et. al.). The results are good.

    Here is my review of the Chase DVD set:
    http://www.roguecinema.com/article1792.html

    I think Chase had a solid rapport with McCarey and they were able to collaborate well. McCarey was more than a veritable traffic cop, but I certainly agree with Yair that it was Chase himself who was most responsible for the creative comedy ideas in his films. The one-reeler YOUNG OLDFIELD, from his Jimmy Jump period, is a particular favorite of mine.

  • jwarthen

    Waited all week for your adepts to get something going on Roy Andersson and it hasn’t happened.
    Dave’s trompe de oiel identification is a keeper, but I would have expected someone to note the similarity between his two most recent films’ fixed-camera long-take spectacles and some of the best of silent comedy. And of course Andersson is often funny as hell.

  • Junko Yasutani

    ‘I’m sure you’ll be as surprised as I was to learn that Hayes’ amazing performance is actually “completely over the top.”’

    Yes, Helen Hayes gave great performance of mother’s becoming hysteria for son. It is not exaggerated, but emotionally true to me.

    ‘“My Son John” is a typically complex McCarey study in contrasting character that undermines any simple ideological reading.’

    Dave, you have siad it best about MY SON JOHN, so interesting movie to me, also great Leo McCarey movie.

  • Tony Wiliams

    Gwendolyn Audry Foster is the wife of Wheeler Winston Dixon. She interviewed him in a past issue of sensesofcinema.com. I’ve heard of “keeping it in the family” but this is ridiculous!

  • Shawn Stone

    Gregg, Another early Milestone that survives is THE CAVEMAN (1926, WB), with Marie Prevost as one of the idle rich who, on a whim, tries to turn laborer Matt Moore into a gentleman. Good light comedy with a memorable party sequence. The only prints are at the Library of Congress, so it probably won’t turn up on TCM.

  • Gwendolyn Audrey Foster and Wheeler Winston Dixon wrote A SHORT HISTORY OF FILM (2008). This is an introductory text-book, that exactly matches its title. It is a brief, mad dash, that looks at a lot of leading figures in film history. It is clearly and simply written. Its most unusual feature is its insistence on covering many female and black directors.

    One suspects, that for the millions of people out there who know nothing about film classics made before 1995, that A SHORT HISTORY OF FILM would be a clear introduction to what they are missing.

  • Johan Andreasson

    jwarthen, if you have the chance, look at Roy Andersson´s commercials for the closest link to his films and silent comedy. That is where he really discovered how to get the laughs from the fixed-camera take. I think Gregg Rickman mentioned early in this thread that Keaton and Chaplin already knew about this. Andersson has mentioned in an interview, asked about how much of a perfectionist he is, that he at his worst had 118 takes to get a ketchup commercial just right, where Chaplin had 232 takes for one scene in THE GOLD RUSH. So Andersson comes off as the relaxed guy here.

  • I’m no expert on Eddie Cline. But his silent comedy-drama THE RAG MAN (1925) is a nice vehicle for Jackie Coogan, post THE KID. No masterpiece, but endearing and with good storytelling.

  • Gregg Rickman

    James, thanks for the posts to your worthy reviews. I have already picked up the Chase set and agree with Dave about the great deep space headlights gag in HELLO BABY!

    Regarding Lloyd Hamilton, one Salty Dog posted a good review of a Looser Than Loose Hamilton DVD back in 2007 at http://abrokenheartandaglassofbeer.blogspot.com/2007/09/lloyd-hamilton.html

    Mike, I also like Eddie Cline a lot, and consider him a very much overlooked figure in the history of screen comedy. But then as we’ve seen there are a lot of those!

    To follow up on the very real similarities between silent comedy and what Andersson is doing today, I’ve been waiting for someone to pick up the dropped thread of Roman Polanski. Like Leo McCarey, he began his career with a series of (humorous) short films where he laid out themes and techniques he would continue with for the rest of his career. (Other than that, I don’t think Polanski and McCarey have much else in common. Oh yeah – they don’t like Communism!)

  • jbryant

    I agree with Mike about The Rag Man, a warm, fast-paced and amusing film that proves Jackie Coogan’s performance in The Kid was no fluke. He and Max Davidson make a charming team, and the Turner print has an excellent new score by Linda Martinez, a winner of TCM’s Young Composers contest.

  • Joseph McBride

    I suppose one could contrast Polanski’s THE PIANIST (carefully pronounced “Roman Polanski’s THE PEE-AN-IST” in the TV ads) with McCarey’s oddball anti-Nazi comedy/drama ONCE UPON A HONEYMOON.

  • James L. Neibaur

    Re/Eddie Cline — it is difficult to determine just how collaborative it was on his Keaton two-reelers, with the understanding that Buster himself was likely the de-facto director of such Cline-credited films as the extraordinary THE PLAYHOUSE or THE BALLOONATIC. But Cline was good at directing comedians who had a reputation for being difficult, such as W.C. Fields (including the delightfully surreal, outrageously constructed NEVER GIVE A SUCKER AN EVEN BREAK) and Olsen and Johnson (the equally surreal CRAZY HOUSE, which is actually somewhat better constructed than HELLZAPOPPIN). It is noteworthy that Cline directed two interesting political satires — CRACKED NUTS with Wheeler and Woolsey and MILLION DOLLAR LEGS with Fields — that pre-dated McCarey’s DUCK SOUP.

  • Gregg Rickman

    Cline was one of the few directors W.C. Fields would work well with; according to James Curtis’ definitive biography Fields insisted on Cline being brought in to shoot his scenes in YOU CAN’T CHEAT AN HONEST MAN. Credit for that masterpiece THE BANK DICK must go in part to Cline. THE BANK DICK also includes a nice verbal tribute to Keaton (almost forgotten by 1940); that same year, Cline’s low-budget spoof of melodrama THE VILLAIN STILL PURSUED HER gave Keaton a nice supporting part he uses to essentially take over the picture.

    Cline of course worked hand-in-glove with Keaton on most of his short films, and on THREE AGES, but if you look at his 1919 Sennett short HEARTS AND FLOWERS (available in the set “Slapstick Encyclopedia”) Cline’s direction is pedestrian, far from the command of the medium Keaton immediately brought to co-directing their short films in 1920.

    Cline’s three pre-Code Wheeler and Woolseys (HOOK LINE AND SINKER, CRACKED NUTS and the notorious SO THIS IS AFRICA) fall below the achievement of William Seiter’s and Mark Sandrich’s films for the same team, in my opinion, but his two post-Code W&Ws perk up their slide.

    Richard Roberts has a nice appraisal of Cline’s BRINGING UP FATHER (1946) up at the Silent Comedy Mafia website, http://www.silentcomedymafia.com/viewtopic.php?f=6&t=19

  • Tony Wiliams

    For film classics (and neglected films) made before 1995, the work of Bordwell and Thompson as well as davidbordwell.com. is far superior. Although they are both married, I’ve seen no evidence of either interviewing the other in a supposoedly impartial situation.

  • Mike Grost

    I’m a great admirer of the work of Bordwell and Thompson, too!

  • I am late getting to this discussion; my bad.

    Gregg’s list of DVD releases are heartily endorsed by me, as is looserthanloose. Every once in a while I’ll pop in some silent comedy from American Slapstick or some other set just for completion’s sake and be bowled over by it, as I occasionally discover a true gem with, say, Snub Pollard.

    Somebody mentioned LIMOUSINE LOVE; one of the Chase films available on German DVD but nowhere else that I’ve found, and my fave silent of his (talkie? THE PIP FROM PITTSBURG). Chase is tremendously popular with my movie-party friends. I think the Three Stooges shorts he directed are the best Curly-era shorts they ever did, particularly the classic VIOLENT IS THE WORD FOR CURLY with the “Swingin’ the Alphabet” number.

  • Gregg Rickman

    Laughing, the documentary on Chase that’s on the new Chase set has an explanation of just where Chase got the alphabet song from. Also a clip of a Chase-directed Lloyd Hamilton short. Enjoy!

    PS – all true comedy fans like THE PIP FROM PITTSBURG because all comedy fans like Thelma Todd. You bet, it’s a talkie.