Monday, April 24, 2006


.. because it would be a crime against humanity. But did RKO listen? In the grotesque prototype of all of those "old squares v. hip youngsters" teensploitation flicks of the 60s, RKO gleefully nails shut John Barrymore's coffin. By 1941, John Barrymore, the finest Shakespearean performer of the early 20th century, had been committing public suicide for nearly a decade, aided and abetted by a town more than ready to lend the man a hand and make a few bucks in the process. At 20th Century Fox the year before, John was obliged to further his own mutated public image in the terrible The Great Profile (1940). Referred to as a "self-parody", The Great Profile is in actuality a supreme, almost sublime, act of cinematic self-destruction. His health failing as his drinking worsened, John Barrymore's final movie roles reek of depression, helplessness, and a suicidal urge to bring his own celebrity crashing in on itself. His almost desperate need to martyr himself on Hollywood's cross finally led him in 1941 to RKO and the train wreck that is Playmates. He would die the following year.

Kay Kyser was the star, a major radio celebrity of the day known for his "Kollege of Musical Knowledge", a sixty minute musical quiz and comedy show that had been sweeping the nation since 1937. Bespectacled, gregarious, and soft spoken, southern-fried bandleader Kay was a youth culture rep from a time when jitterbugging was considered, in some quarters, to be little better than having sex in public. But, while an engaging and friendly host, Kay Kyser was not a comedian by any stretch of the imagination. On his show, it was his goofy, rhyme-spouting, pre-beatnik stooge Ish Kabibble (Merwyn Bogue) who received most of the laughs. But once the band made the move to Hollywood, Kay, no more a comedian than he was an actor, had to fulfill the role of comic in his films. The results are, more often than not, pretty dire.. although there are some bright spots to be found in You'll Find Out (1940), a bizarre little scare comedy that pits the band against Peter Lorre, Boris Karloff, and Bela Lugosi, happily lampooning their screen images.

It was perhaps because of the success of You'll Find Out that RKO had the notion of pitting Kyser and Co. against another performer who would be willing to engage in "self-parody". Much like Lugosi, Barrymore's true personality and screen image had become inextricably blurred. Both men were also former sex symbols who had become hopelessly typecast and suffered from serious chemical addictions. The difference was that Lugosi was forever convinced that the role that would help him shake off his typecasting and regain his fame was right around the corner; Barrymore knew his number was up. In Playmates, you almost literally get to watch a man die.

The story is a near irrelevant excuse to get Barrymore and Kyser up on the same screen together. Barrymore, playing Barrymore the Boozy Has-Been Shakespearean Ham, is goaded by his agent Lulu Monahan (Patsy Kelly, more obnoxious than ever) into giving Kay Kyser Shakespearean lessons as a publicity stunt so that he (John) can secure a radio sponsor. You see, John Barrymore is a washed-up old hack that no sponsor wants to touch so getting him in the same room as a groovy up-and-comer like Kay Kyser will convince the sponsors that Barrymore is "hep" and therefore relevant. There are endless painful references to exactly how much of a drunken, broken-down has-been Barrymore is throughout the film. His own agent doesn't like him. Kyser's agent, a very young Peter Lind Hayes, doesn't like him either. Kay respects John as a "great actor" but feels that acting lessons are unnecessary (wrong) and that linking his name with Barrymore's is an extremely bad idea (right, for both men). For his part, Barrymore plays up to every last negative stereotype about him; he's rude, drunken, arrogant, and unprofessional. He openly reads his lines from cue cards off-camera, making the farce even more transparent by deliberately misreading words now and again (even referring to Lulu as "Luh-Luh" at one point). The film climaxes with the jaw-dropping horror that is the band's "Shakespeare In Swing" number and Barrymore's attempt to sabotage Kay's performance by making his mouth pucker with alum. Needless to say, Barrymore accidentally ends up also ingesting the alum and the film concludes with the grotesque sight of Barrymore and Kay on stage, mouths puckered, slapping each other on the back in fits of hilarity. Barrymore viciously overplays this scene to gruesome effect.

Horrible as it may be, Playmates at least allows Barrymore one final heartfelt fling at Shakespeare... which, to be frank, does ultimately serve to make the picture seem even more cruel. During their first scene together, Barrymore re-establishes his credentials with Kyser (and the audience) by delivering a remarkably moving, and ultimately heartbreaking, performance of the famous "To be or not to be" soliloquy from Hamlet (III, i, 65-68). What could have been a tired cliche becomes Barrymore's anguished epitaph, a final moment of clarity in which Barrymore tells the audience, for the last time, "This is what you missed."

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Saturday, April 22, 2006

Funny Faces on the Films - Part Two

by Geoff Collins

As Ted Healy often remarks during the course of Beer and Pretzels, here I go with another load. Not a load of old rubbish, though. Far from it: for this is part 2 of Funny Faces on the Films (or, if you like, Comic Countenances on the Kinema; I'll have a job topping that one), that wonderful four-page photo section within my beloved Film Fun Annual 1939. Legends mingle with obscurities; but if I recall correctly, I promised you that for our second episode, four out of the five comedians would be Third Bananas - and I'll stand by that statement. The first two are comedy legends; but hardly anyone's heard of Will Hay in the States; and W. C. Fields isn't that well-remembered in Britain. How's that? Did I get away with it?

Will Hay. Our readers in the UK will be smiling now as they think of Will Hay, the only comedian to make British music-hall comedy work well on the screen in Britain. (Chaplin and Laurel, let's not forget, made their films in Hollywood) Will Hay? Our American readers will be saying "Who???" so let me explain. Will Hay dominated British film comedy in the late 'thirties. It's a curiously British trait to recognise, accept and tolerate managerial inefficiency and petty bureaucracy. We've been "led by donkeys" for centuries; our most effective weapon is mockery. We've all known a Will Hay, a prosaic buffoon who's attained a position of minor authority through deviousness and trickery. In his movies, Will's wily enough to get the job but ultimately he's just too incompetent to do it properly. Unlike Robb Wilton's bumbling, good-natured variation on the same character, shifty-eyed Will is fully aware that he's useless and has to use all his cunning to disguise the fact. Consequently his employees, usually disrespectful fat boy Graham Moffatt ("Albert") and senile, crafty octogenarian Moore Marriott ("Harbottle") have this power over him. They spend much of the films' running time arguing and bickering, as they weave convoluted solutions to essentially minor problems. Oh, Mr. Porter! is the accepted masterpiece, but in my opinion Ask a Policeman is funnier as it gets to the main course straight away; it's my favourite comedy of all time.

The Full Monty, I seem to recall, was advertised as "the funniest British comedy since Four Weddings and a Funeral". So what? It was the only British comedy since Four Weddings and a Funeral. Now if they'd called it the funniest British comedy since Ask a Policeman.... that would be something.

After Will Hay, another scoundrel who devotes much energy to covering his tracks: W. C. Fields. Bill essentially played two characters: the desperately-henpecked husband with a monstrous family, who fights back in his own small way by muttering vaguely blasphemous asides, until the worm finally turns and he regains his self-respect (It's a Gift, You're Telling Me, The Bank Dick); and the much more extrovert pompous windbag, down on his luck in some seedy backwater of showbiz, always just one step ahead of his creditors (Poppy, The Old-Fashioned Way, You Can't Cheat an Honest Man).

Fully aware of posterity and the chance to make an easy "authorship" $50,000, Bill rarely missed an opportunity to include fragments of his stage sketches in his movies; so one is always aware of a discreet sense of familiarity and repetition. He also used his films to express revenge over long-harbored grudges. Supporting characters are often based on, or named after, real people who'd pissed him off in the past, including his own estranged son Claude who's usually represented - by such as Grady Sutton - as an unpleasant, blubbery, indolent wimp.

Some of Bill's sketches, and his blustery "sporting gent" characterization, bear a strong resmblance to the work of the British music-hall comedian Harry Tate; and there's a reason for this, which we'll discuss at a later date. In the meantime, all you Fields admirers are strongly advised to have a look at Tate's sketches on [yes, he's going to mention it!]

Bill Fields a Third Banana? Hardly; but in Great Britain you'd have to struggle to find any of his work on DVD; and that's not fair.

Leslie Henson. When I bought my Film Fun Annual 1939 at the age of seven (in 1963, not 1939, I hasten to add!) this photo of Leslie Henson jumped out of the page at me. The jumping analogy is apt: he looks like a frog! Many years passed before I located one of Leslie's records - Tell the Doc, from the stage version of Funny Face - and, wonder of wonders, he sounds like a frog as well. The total effect is astonishing. I've covered Leslie (in glory, I hope) in a previous article. His personality is so strong, even in photographs, that I've managed to accumulate a large collection of Hensonalia simply because he's instantly recognisable. You wade through a mass of bland, nondescript faces in old 1930s magazines, and POW! there he is again. It seems incredible that after World War Two he was considered so unamusing that the West End managers were reluctant to employ him, but that's what happened.

Stanley Holloway, his best pal, describes Leslie's decline very movingly in "Wiv a Little Bit O'Luck"; but we won't dwell on that. Let's just remember that in the 1930s, on the London stage, Leslie Henson was the Top Man. The Pathe website [oh, there he goes again!] has some fine examples, both silent and croaky, of his incredible range; and for your entertainment, here's my most recently discovered piece of Hensonalia.

click on the thumbnail yada yada...

Lupino Lane. Now we're talking. It always struck me as odd that these Film Fun Annual photos included two Lupinos, one of whom used Lupino as his first name. We'll get to Stanley Lupino in a later article, but for the time being....

Lupino Lane was born Henry George Lupino, and he was a member of the celebrated Lupino family of clowns, acrobats and dancers. He was distantly related to Stanley Lupino, whom we'll meet later; to untangle the genealogy would result in a long monologue along the lines of He's His Own Grandpa. To avoid this, we'll just show you the Lupino Family Tree (from Who's Who in the Theatre, 1946). It'll save a lot of time:

click etc...

It also seems odd that Lupino Lane has never received the acclaim he deserves. His career covered just about every aspect of showbusiness, and he excelled in all of it. In brief: he started in British music-hall as an acrobatic "boy comedian". He took the surname Lane as a tribute to his beloved maternal grandmother Sara Lane, and turned his real surname into a Christian name in order to retain his proud association with the Lupino dynasty; hence "Lupino Lane". His son, an equally gifted comedian briefly glimpsed in a decorating routine in A King in New York, and as the laughing fat man hit with a pie in Carry On Loving, was Lauri Lupino Lane.

"Lupino Lane" is a bit of a mouthful; mostly he was known as Nipper or Nip. He made a large number of American silent comedies in which his acrobatic skills are the equal of Keaton's. All that's lacking, and this is the thing, sadly, that matters most in terms of immortality, is a consistent comic characterization. During most of the 1930s he was a star of London stage musical comedies, notably Me and My Girl, which is still revived today. In this he finally found a comedy persona that worked for him: the little cockney Bill Snibson who inherits a Dukedom. This show also gave him the hit song The Lambeth Walk, and it took over his life. He did over a thousand performances, made the film version (The Lambeth Walk; it was long thought to be lost but apparently there's an extant print with French subtitles. It's an important movie; why isn't it being shown anywhere?) and he even took the Snibson character into other, similar shows such as Meet Me Victoria. The programme's cover art is a fine example of "a picture paints a thousand words"; here you have Nipper Lane exactly.

It'll take a longer article than this to do justice to Nipper. While you're waiting for myself or Aaron to get around to writing it, you may enjoy his talents on Pathe caught him several times, and often at his very best, including a couple of live performances. You haven't heard the last of Nipper.

Ned Sparks. Ned Sparks???? Oops. I seem to remember that I said I wouldn't reveal which of our five subjects wasn't a Third Banana; so in order to keep my promise, let's take a look at that versatile King of Comedy, mega-talented Ned Sparks.

All right, the jig is up. I lied to you. Canadian-born Sparks growled his mainly unfunny lines in a flat monotone, had glazed staring eyes and looked like a Keaton crossed with a zombie. He wasn't a comedian at all. He was a character actor with only one character, and although he starred in some late-silent Educational comedies, he was most often seen as a hard-boiled, pessimistic theatrical agent or stage manager - as in Forty-Second Street. Ned's inclusion amongst all these star comedians is probably due to his rare leading role in a 1936 British production, Two's Company. For a brief moment, in Britain at least, he was among the top names; and then it was back to the "stage managers".

"Radio's Fred Allen" - a Ned lookalike and soundalike if ever there was one - made his feature film debut in a "Sparks part" in Thanks a Million, and did so with such wit, sparkle and immaculate comic timing that he turned a routine Dick Powell musical into a delightful experience. That's the difference.

Well, that's about it, readers. In part three we'll meet only two Third Bananas.

Don't go 'way now!

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Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Knights of Knavery

I found these scans on eBay last week while window shopping. They're from the Columbia and RKO promotional books for the years 1932-33 and 1937-38 respectively and are meant to pique exhibitors' interest in the Wheeler and Woolsey features for those years. Talk about your studies in contrasts. Columbia president Harry Cohn lured Bert and Bob away from RKO in 1932 for a one-picture deal that resulted in the team's most outrageous picture, So This is Africa!. STIA! was clearly just a glint in Norman Krasna's eye when this bee-yootiful advance annoucement was published so the two-page spread simply promotes the requisite elements for any W&W picture: Bert, Bob, Bob's cigar, and tiny women crawling all over them.

click on thumbnail for full-sized image

The copy appropriately praises the team to the skies:
The "Maniacs of Mirth" make their debut on the Columbia program. Their reputation is world-wide and they need no introduction here. Their antics in "Rio Rita" placed them at once in the first rank as comedians. Columbia's plans for these two "Knights of Knavery" will further establish them firmly as the screen's stellar comedians! A recent poll of the public taste in pictures showed that the great majority, young and old, rich or poor, male or female, preferred comedy! Give your audience what they want -- by the Kings of Comedy!

Columbia will spare nothing to make this picture the funniest that Wheeler and Woolsey have ever made! It's a corking story filled with action, pretty girls, new gags and antics that will leave your audience gasping for breath between the laughs!
Columbia may have short-changed the team financially will their ill-conceived (for Bert and Bob, anyway) work-for-profit scheme, but they certainly lived up to their promise to deliver a top-notch W&W vehicle. As far as I'm concerned, STIA! was the best picture W&W had made up to that point, thanks primarily to Krasna's no-holds-barred screenplay. And if what remains after the Hays Office got finished cutting it into coleslaw is any indication, the original cut was probably the team's funniest feature, period. I rather doubt Columbia intended to screw over the team for a one-shot, and highly profitable, picture. The studio's publicity and the feature itself seem ample proof that Columbia was extremely happy to have Bert and Bob on their roster. The story of Bert and Bob's return to RKO has been told in such a way that suggests that the deciding factor for their departure was Columbia's withholding of the team's percentage of the profits.. their only pay. As STIA! was one of Columbia's biggest moneymakers of 1933, this would have been the very definition of killing the goose that laid the golden eggs and I personally don't believe it. I find it much more likely that Bert and Bob, impatient and wary of the "revolutionary" work-for-profit scheme, accepted RKO's more conventional counter-offer before the profits on STIA! had begun to materialize. When W&W left, Columbia (Cohn) spitefully withheld the money.

Anyway, contrast that snazzy two-page W&W announcement with this one from RKO's 1937-38 promotional book. I suggested in an earlier post that, after 1936, RKO didn't care about the team that had saved the studio's bacon during the Depression. I now present Exhibit A.

Christ on a pogo stick! I rather like the streamlined, Mike and Ike-shaped Bob, but what the hell has happened to poor Bert?? What did he ever do to the RKO publicity department that would compel them to portray him as maniacal, gap-toothed ghoul?? The copy:
The Bellylaff boys in one hoky-poky howler.
'Nuff said.

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Thursday, April 13, 2006

The Scowl Heard 'Round the World...

Mabel Normand-ologist Marilyn Slater tipped me off to this upcoming biography of Ford Sterling to be published in July by McFarland (who else?). Wendy Warwick White, a film historian whose name I recognized from this excellent article about early British comedy, has reportedly done a terrific job piecing together the life and career of my favorite unsung Keystone sociopath. For those of you unfamiliar, Ford Sterling was Keystone's long-time resident comic villain and, following the departure of comedian Fred Mace in 1913, the Chief of the Keystone Kops as well. He's probably one of the most familiar Keystone faces today thanks to his dominant presence in the iconic Kops photo.. you know the one (microbes from outer space know the one). Sterling cuts quite an intimidating figure in the early Keystones, his deeply amoral and unpredictable character standing out as easily the most anarchic of Sennett's anarchists. So inexorably linked was Sterling with Mack Sennett's brand of comedy that by the 1920s, years after he had left the Sennett studio, Mack felt obliged to dress up Andy Clyde and make him play Ford Sterling! Needless to say, White's book is already on my must-have list.

Ford Sterling
The Life and Films
Wendy Warwick White

ISBN 0-7864-2587-3
ca. 65 photographs, filmography, notes, bibliography, index
softcover (7 x 10) 2006

Not Yet Published, Available Spring/Summer 2006

Vaudeville, burlesque, Shakespeare, baseball—in the course of his career, Ford Sterling performed them all. The well-educated son of a middle-class Chicago family, Sterling succumbed to homesickness and the acting bug, leaving his college career at the age of 18. After trying a variety of performing activities—including working as an aerobatic circus clown—Sterling found his true niche in comedy. Best known for his role as the Keystone Kops villain, Sterling was a comedy legend as great as Charlie Chaplin in the opening decades of the twentieth century. He left his mark on silent film and effortlessly made the transition to sound; becoming one of the most sought-after character actors of the 1920s.

From Many Unhappy Returns to A Dutch Gold Mine, this biography chronicles the life and times of George Ford Stich, Jr. (aka Ford Sterling). It follows Sterling from his childhood to his college days at Notre Dame, where he got his first taste of acting. The main focus of the work is Sterling’s career, from 1911 to 1937, which is unfortunately largely forgotten today. With an emphasis on correcting inaccuracies and restoring Sterling’s legacy, this volume examines his on-screen work, his production ventures, his involvement with the Screen Actors Guild and his final debilitating illness. A detailed filmography provides all known production, cast and crew information as well as a synopsis for each film. The work is also indexed.

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Sunday, April 09, 2006

Stainless, Aimless and Brainless

by Geoff Collins

Am I describing the Three Stooges? No - because it would be impossible to improve on David Quinlan's flawless summing-up, which I'll quote (without permission!)

"Short, aggrieved, aggressive and moronic, they are the blind led by the blind."

Perfect. But I'll bet Aaron cuts it out - because any mention of the Stooges tends to unleash a deluge of affronted hero-worship by semi-literate Stooge fans who, by some strange symmetry, also fit Quinlan's description. So in order to stem the flow of abuse, I'll say this: the Three Stooges are very funny. We love 'em. We just don't mention them all that frequently because our aim is to bring attention to the forgotten heroes*, those craftsmen of comedy who seem to have escaped the frenzied, pointless adulation heaped upon other, lesser talents.

Which brings us, by a fantastically tortuous route, to the subject of today's article. Stainless Stephen was a small, diffident Yorkshire comedian whose showbusiness career began on local radio. His real name was Arthur Clifford Baynes, and the cigarette card biography claims that "he started life as a schoolmaster." He must have been very precocious; most people start life as an embryo. His home town, Sheffield, is where they make stainless steel, so in order to achieve a distinctive costume for his music-hall appearances, he put a strip of stainless steel around his too-small bowler hat and voila! Stainless Stephen.

As if this wasn't enough to allow him free entry to One-Trick-Pony Land, he also pronounced his punctuation - not in the form of amusing squiggly sound effects, the way Victor Borge occasionally did it - but as follows:

"This is Stainless aimless brainless Stephen, semi-colon, broadcasting semi-conscious at the microphone semi-frantic."

And so on. It should be pointed out that Stainless didn't do this all the way through his act - the audience would have lost the will to live - just occasionally, to make a point, and at the end. Here he is closing a broadcast on March 22, 1941:

"And so, countrymen, semi-colon, all shoulders to the wheel, semi-quaver, we'll carry on till we get the Axis semi-circle, and Hitler asks us for a full stop!"

Yes, it's all very cute, but it's also a dangerous game. Arthur Askey undermined his material by openly pointing out how bad it was. Stainless took this approach a stage further, breaking comedy "rules" by reminding the audience that it was all just a load of words on a page. How can you sustain an entire career on such a narrow approach? Well, he didn't. He kept audiences amused during the war years when a lower standard may have become acceptable in the cause of morale-boosting, but thereafter he more or less disappeared. He didn't make films or appear on television; he didn't become a character actor like Jimmy Jewel or Billy Russell. He just stopped. Full stop.

So where's the evidence? I'm trying to convince you that Stainless is a Third Banana, and you're saying - quite rightly - "Prove it!" Well, let's take another look at that cigarette card picture. You have to admit it's a stunning portrait; Stainless had a great "comedian's face", wistful, friendly and endearing. There's a touch of Robb Wilton in there - and he also looks a lot like Hugh Herbert peering from behind the tree in Hellzapoppin, each time with a different hat on. I can't recall Hugh wearing a steel-rimmed bowler, though, but it is a long time since I've seen Hellzapoppin. It's a long time since anyone's seen Hellzapoppin.... because the bastards who own the rights won't release it to DVD!! Have we mentioned this before???

Thank you. Now back to our subject. There's not much of Stainless on record, two sides for Broadcast and twelve for Decca in 1929-30 including The Punctuating Punchinello, a title which beautifully sums up his act and his looks. But English Decca records from this period are fantastically rare; in forty years of collecting I've never seen one - so there's not much hope there. How about films? Well, readers - and you know what's coming next, don't you? - we must turn our attention to the Pathe Website.

Pathe filmed part of an ENSA concert (Entertainments National Service Organization - but Tommy Trinder called it "Every Night Something Awful") at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane in September 1939; and this includes a brief chopped-up clip of Stainless doing his stand-up routine. The first thing he says is completely incomprehensible, which is probably why it was edited out of Roy Hudd's video Jokes That Won the War. God knows what he actually says - and I've played this clip over and over again - but it sounds like: "Shit-can anybody who's listening from the Outer Hebrides, an aspy hyphen de lardee-doh hiccups ouch! It will take me all my time to keep stainless this evening!"

After this surreal and saucy intro, the rest of his act is unadventurous but well-timed front-cloth topical patter: "You know, I can't understand it - I mean, look at this fellow Adolf Hitler. He was only a lance-corporal when I was a sergeant-major; now he's the president of Germany and I'm not even on the London County Council!"

Reel 3 of Radio Parade, that odd compendium of variety acts which is mysteriously preserved in Pathe's archive (they didn't make it!) has a longer and more characteristic Stainless sequence, although he's dressed as a railway guard with a cap on instead of his usual bowler. He attempts a monologue : "Oh dear me. Ooh... [sits down wearily] What a life, comma, said Stainless Stephen, semi-colon, soliloquising to himself, semi-quaver, as is his custom, semi-final..." but is often interrupted because he's loading up the guard's van and has to catch parcels thrown at him by another guard, until the final one catches him in the face and renders him "semi-conscious". It's not bad, and you can see the influence of Robb Wilton: half-closed eyes, a quiet sense of calm, and that cracked, gentle Northern voice. Without his costume and the pronounced punctuation, he would have been a very ordinary stand-up comedian. His training as a schoolmaster (from birth!) clearly gave him a love of language, and brackets him (in brackets) with the other English "scholastic" eccentrics such as Gillie Potter and Cyril Fletcher. Personally I can't have enough of these oddities on the periphery of English comedy; and if you think Stainless is slightly surreal, wait till we get to Nosmo King!

Stainless retired from showbusiness in the early 'fifties, comma, and became a Gentleman Farmer in Kent, semi-colon; he subsequently enjoyed a very happy retirement. Full stop. It's probably just as well that he did, exclamation mark! How could someone like Stainless compete with the Goons, question mark? Oh, I'm getting fed up with this now so I think I'll just fade out, series of little dots.....

I've just discovered, thanks to Google, that there's a Scottish rock band called the Trash Can Sinatras, and one of their songs is "Stainless Stephen". No relation of course - not even to Hugh Herbert.

Stainless Stephen: 1892-1971.

Shit-can aspy hyphen de lardee-doh hiccups ouch!

*like Chaplin... -A

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Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Charlie v. Charles

Can I get much further from true Third Banana comedians than Chaplin? Geoff argues that Charlie certainly qualifies for Third Banana status here in the States as we, well, booted him out (or, rather, cowardly locked him out) in 1952. Perhaps, but like so many other colossal flubs on the part of America's Powers That Be, Chaplin's shameful expulsion has largely gone down the memory hole, as have his leftist politics, and today his films tend to stand on their own. Nevertheless, Third Banana or Ultimate Top Banana, this Punch review of City Lights, arguably Chaplin's finest feature, deserves some attention for its keen insights and remarkable prescience. E. V. L., the Punch film critic who also disproved the theory that the world in 1930 was united in its love of Keaton's MGM talkies, here examines the pros and cons of City Lights, the nature of Charlie's fame, and, to top it off, charts the potential path of Chaplin's career in sound. Indeed, as it turned out, the Tramp and sound were mutually exclusive and while Chaplin, now Mr. Charles, didn't really turn into a dramatist, most of his talkies are pretty heartbreaking. There's an interesting dig at Harold Lloyd in there, too, whose comedy megastar status had yet to fade in 1931. If I disagree with E. V. L. about anything here, it's his assessment of City Lights' crushing final moments. There's nothing positive about that ending; it's a profoundly cruel scene with both the Tramp and the Flower-girl now permanently separated from one another by personal and social expectations, easily the darkest ending of any of Chaplin's films. As Walter Kerr writes in The Silent Clowns, "The end is isolation, face to face, smiling through ice."

click on thumbnail for full-sized image

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