Classic Movies · Stuff You Should Know

Coming (Ma)clean


No sooner has silent film accompanist Ben Model (the hardest working man in the ebony-and-ivory business) recovered from the huzzahs and favorable plaudits for his Undercrank Productions DVD release The Alice Howell Collection than he’s back in the Kickstarter business, with a campaign that got underway yesterday.  As a lifelong fan of silent film comedy, I’m compelled to plug the heck out of this event because this time around, Ben will be bringing to disc the celluloid antics of a comedian I’ll admit was a mere mist in the memory even for me (I knew he was the star of the 1925 version of Seven Keys to Baldpate…and that’s pretty much it). 

Douglas MacLean

On the subject of funster Douglas MacLean, Ben writes: “Douglas MacLean starred in 23 feature-length light comedies from 1919 to 1927, and his screen persona was that of a middle-class young man making his way in the world and going on wacky adventures.  It was a type of film Douglas Fairbanks pioneered and made from 1915-1920 until he switch[ed] to swashbucklers when he made The Mark of Zorro.  MacLean essentially picked up the genre where Douglas Fairbanks left off.  He made two or three features a year and was one of the comedians you went to see while you were waiting for Buster or Harold to come out with a new picture.” 
I even went back to my Kindle copy of Steve Massa’s Lame Brains & Lunatics: The Good, the Bad, and the Forgotten of Silent Comedy (Steve has collaborated with Ben on many, many projects) for additional information and only found MacLean mentioned twice (once in reference to Johnny Haines, noting the two men’s comedic styles were similar).  As such, I’m kind of stoked about Ben’s Kickstarter—”Nearly all of MacLean’s features are either lost, overseas, or missing reels or are fragments, but these two are 100% complete and have been preserved by the Library of Congress,” Model states on the Kickstarter project page.  

Douglas MacLean makes with the “high and dizzy” in 1921’s Bell Boy 13.

The two features to which Ben are referring are One a Minute and Bell Boy 13—both released in 1921.  Minute survives in an excellent 35mm print and Boy in a very good 16mm.  “These are the only prints of these films on the planet,” Model notes because—as always—nitrate won’t wait.  The link to contribute is here; if you pony up $28, you’ll get your name in the “special thanks” section of the DVD credits (not to mention a postcard suitable for posting on your refrigerator or household appliance of your cherce) and a copy of the finished product.  The goal is to raise $4.800.  (Update: The Kickstarter hit the target in just nine hours, but I still encourage you to donate if you can; Ben is mother-henning ideas for some stretch goals.)

Johnny Arthur and Marie Prevost flank MacLean in Divorce Made Easy (1929), Doug’s cinematic swan song (according to the [always reliable] IMDb). MacLean later went into producing, where his efforts include Wheeler & Woolsey’s Caught Plastered (1931) and the W.C. Fields-ZaSu Pitts romp Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch (1934).
“We’ve all heard of great silent films having been preserved at a film archive and thought, ‘wouldn’t it be great if somebody put that out on DVD?’” Ben asks in his windup pitch (just before the cops arrive and suggest he move along).  “Here’s a chance for you to be part of that ‘somebody!’ Make your pledge to ‘The Douglas MacLean Double-Feature DVD Project’…and participate in a unique silent film enterprise.”  I’ve made mine, and very much look forward to reviewing Doug on the blog when the project comes to a finish. 

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