My Facebook compadre John Carpenter (not to be confused with the director of Halloween…particularly since the Facebook Carpenter goes by “John K.”) is known to friends and creditors as “The Movie Man”; John’s a devoted classic film buff and collector of 16mm cinematic antiquities, which he’s been sharing with appreciative audiences in his home base of New York for a good many years. Some of the treasures from his collection have even made their way to DVD; previously on the blog I’ve reviewed Alpha releases like Blondes and Redheads: Lost Comedy Classics (a particular favorite of mine) and Monty Banks: Hollywood’s Forgotten Comic Genius.
John’s newest compendium of silent comedy delights is The Movie Man’s Matinee (the title of which also serves as his Facebook group), and while I wait for a copy of it to arrive in the hallowed mailbox of Rancho Yesteryear (he’s promised to send me a screener), he asked me if I’d take a gander at another Alpha release for which he provided content—Charley Chase: From Keystone to Hal Roach, 1915-1926. A single-disc collection of Chase shorts from his employment at both Mack Sennett’s laugh factory and the “Lot of Fun,” Charley Chase is a release designed to whet the appetites of movie mavens who may be unfamiliar with the work of the comedian who was a highly-regarded civil servant in the department of the two-reel comedy.
I need to be honest here and say that with two exceptions, most of the content on Charley Chase was not unfamiliar to your humble narrator…only because four of the shorts—Love in Armor (1915), A Ten-Minute Egg (1924), Outdoor Pajamas (1924), and Big Red Riding Hood (1925)—have previously seen DVD action on VCI’s Becoming Charley Chase. For the Chase novice, however, you’re in for a real treat: Egg, Pajamas, and Hood are from Chase’s stay at Hal Roach, with Pajamas my personal favorite of these one-reel comedies; the plot is convoluted and head-scratchingly offbeat as somehow in the course of ten minutes, Charley’s “Jimmie Jump” is turned loose in the outdoors clad in nothing but his P.J.’s (he rescues a woman from a runaway horse…said lady being TDOY fave Martha Sleeper) plus he’s the target of both an angry cop and the brother (Leo Willis) of a woman looking to settle a score with her husband (Sis sends Bro a telegram that reads: “My husband is a brute. He beats me between meals and we eat often.”). Egg also produces quite a few chuckles, with Charley having business cards printed up identifying himself as a bouncer (at the “Barrel of Blood Café”)…and then later having to get physical with a con man (OTR veteran Joe Forte) who’s rooked his fiancée’s mother out of her life savings.
The first short on the Alpha Charley Chase collection is Hash House Mashers (1915), which recently made the rounds on The Greatest Cable Channel Known to Mankind™ (that’s how I happened to see it) and at last check, it’s scheduled to appear on Flicker Alley’s upcoming Blu-ray/DVD release of The Mack Sennett Collection Volume 2. (Which, by the way, I will be on like ugly on an ape, to quote one of my favorite Dodge City citizens.) John provides a preview on this DVD of a comedy in which Charley (without his trademark dapper moustache) fakes a wedding to his intended (Virginia Chester) to both fool her disapproving father (Frank Opperman) and scheming rival (Fritz Schade). (According to Brent Walker’s indispensable reference Mack Sennett’s Fun Factory, the faux wedding device turned up previously in a 1912 Biograph short, Helen’s Marriage, and was reworked for the 1916 Keystone Better Late Than Never.) Mashers is one of Chase’s early Keystone efforts, as is the bonus short Mabel’s Blunder (1914), with Mr. Parrott as the best friend of Mabel’s beau (Harry McCoy). Charley’s character is on the margins for most of this one-reeler; it’s really a showcase for Mabel as she disguises herself as a chauffeur to spy on Harry after she mistakes his sister as a rival for her boyfriend’s affections. (I also learned from Brent’s book that contrary to sources, Normand did not direct this comedy.)
The treat for me on Charley Chase was a 1926 two-reeler that I had not seen: in Tell ‘Em Nothing, Charley’s a divorce lawyer who gets into hot water with his missus (Gertrude Astor) when she mistakes a client (Vivien Oakland) for his girlfriend. (Life was quite complicated back in those days.) The highlight of this short finds Vivien hiding under a Murphy bed with a case of hiccups, and since Charley has explained to Gertrude that he’s the one with the malady she keeps handing him glass after glass of water to try and cure him. It’s very funny stuff, and if you haven’t seen Nothing I’d recommend a purchase of this DVD for it alone.
Charley Chase: From Keystone to Hal Roach is designed to be kind to the wallets of budget-minded movie mavens who might want to “kick the tires before buying the car.” Yet it’s also a nice introduction to the neglected comedian, who threatens to be overshadowed with each passing day thanks to an adult film star with the same name. (If you think I’m kidding about this, you should check out TDOY’s search results sometime.) Thanks to John for providing the screener for this entertaining collection, and let’s give him a hearty round of applause for his tireless efforts to introduce new generations to the magic of the movies from days gone by.