Saturday, November 05, 2005

It's a Classic Comedy "What If"/"What Is" Weekend

Coincidentally enough, Geoff and Nick's posts both involve Ted Healy, King of Stooges. Nick has handled the what-is of Healy and Pendelton, while Geoff has tackled the what-if of Healy and Costello. Synchronicity is just weird.. For the hell of it, I'm going to repost my nightmare Chaplin and Brendel "What If" from my personal blog. Enjoy.. if you dare.

In late 1928, Hollywood's most powerful studios conspired to destroy upstart distribution company United Artists. Taking advantage of the growing demand for talkies and the decline in output from UA stars Charlie Chaplin and Douglas Fairbanks, MGM, Paramount, and Universal used their distribution networks to almost completely choke UA's proPublishduct from the nation's theaters. The loss of revenue, coupled with the Crash of 1929, forced UA to declare bankruptcy in early 1930. Chaplin, in particular, was hit hard, losing millions in the crash and the collapse of UA. Saddled with debt, Chaplin was forced to throw himself upon the mercies of the very studios which had contributed to his financial ruin. In no position to haggle over terms, Chaplin found himself at MGM in June 1930, hard at work on his first "All-Singing, All-Dancing" talkie, Everything's Swell, a rags-to-riches story in which the Tramp, a small town theater handyman, bungles his way to stardom. Distressed by a loss of creative control and frustrated by management's refusal to cast him in appropriate vehicles, Chaplin turned to drink and became increasingly unmanageable. By 1935, his critical reputation as a genius in tatters, Chaplin was cast out on his ear by studio head Louis B. Mayer (who publicly referred to Chaplin as a "baggy-pants prima donna"). Charlie Chaplin was quickly hired by comedy shorts producer Hal Roach who featured Chaplin in a new series. Although given a great deal of creative latitude and the opportunity to work alongside former Karno understudy Stan Laurel, the alcohol and disillusionment continued to take their toll on Chaplin's ability to perform. When Roach shifted production away from shorts in 1937, Chaplin found work at Columbia's comedy shorts department under producer/director Jules White (who had directed Chaplin twice at MGM). The resulting shorts, a total of thirty-nine made between 1938 and 1946, had a few highlights (especially in those directed by Charley Chase) but were generally poor. Nonetheless, the films were well-received by the public and represented a welcome and sizable paycheck for the comedian, the biggest star in Jules White's stable of comics. In 1944, following a series of slapstick service comedies featuring the Tramp as a harried Army private (and one, Blitz Dizzy (1942), which starred Chaplin in a brilliant turn as a Hitler-like dictator), Chaplin was callously teamed with Swedish dialect comedian El Brendel. The teaming was one of many forced comedy partnerships at the Columbia shorts department and was particularly humiliating for Chaplin, who hadn't had to share top billing since his earliest days at Keystone. The Chaplin and Brendel shorts were similarly well-liked by audiences, especially in rural America, but were among the worst films of Chaplin's career, featuring tired slapstick, awkward dialect humor, and downright narcoleptic performances from a severely depressed and frequently drunken Chaplin. Worst of all, many of the final shorts saw Chaplin playing resigned straightman to Brendel's madcap Swede, with Chaplin not even receiving billing in trade ads or publicity material. Chaplin quit Columbia and film altogether in 1946 and spent several years "drying out" in various clinics along the West Coast before making a genuine comeback on live television in 1949.

"Let go of me, you fool! Jules White wants us to rehash Three Stooges scripts!"

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Blogger Nicko said...

This post actually got my roommate so creeped out he couldn't read the entire thing. Rare praise, indeed.

3:15 PM  

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