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Martin's Obscure Oldies: Part 1

Just a few obscure comedy early comedy gems…

Recently, Influx published several articles from me about three early comedy geniuses—Chaplin, Lloyd and Keaton.  However, as a lover of old comedies, I think it’s important that we don’t overlook some brilliant films by lesser-known comics.  While these folks’ output may not have been as consistently good, sometimes they created little masterpieces you can see today.  While this list is not at all exhaustive and I will likely talk about a few more obscure early comedies in future articles, these three shorts would be a nice start if you would like a good laugh.

Fatty and Mabel Adrift—A

Bridge Wives--A

Roscoe ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle is mostly forgotten today, though some might remember him for his famous rape trial that ruined his career.  Though he was acquitted (with the jury even releasing a letter that said that Fatty was in no way responsible for a sexual assault), his career was practically dead following this trial and he only appeared in a tiny number of films after this, though he did direct films using the pseudonym ‘William Goodrich’.  His best film (Fatty and Mabel Adrift) and his best post-trial film (Bridge Wives) are true classics—and both films are about as different from each other as they can be.

Fatty and Mable Adrift stars Fatty Arbuckle and Mabel Normand as newlyweds.  They buy a small house by the seashore but Fatty’s rival, Al St. John (Fatty’s real-life nephew) isn’t content and plans on his revenge.  So, he and some buddies manage to push the house to the water’s edge and the house floats away—with Fatty, Mabel and their dog inside!  What’s next?  See for yourself, as the film is available on YouTube and is very, very sweet.  In fact, while the film is funny and has a few nice sight gags, its sweetness is what impressed me.  See the film and see what I mean.

While Fatty and Mabel Adrift is a subtle and lovingly made film, Arbuckle directed Al St. John in a truly insane little talking picture, Bridge Wives.  The film begins with Al’s wife nearing the end of a three-month long marathon bridge game!  And, when it ends in a tie and its decided to do a rematch, Al loses his mind and runs amok.  Seeing this long tantrum by St. John and the very funny radio announcer is hilarious and the film ranks as one of the silliest comedies of the 1930s.  Again, you just need to see this on —and it available on the DVD set The Forgotten Films of Roscoe ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle.

It’s a Gift—A

Although the title of this film is the same as a later W.C. Fields full-length film, it’s actually a short starring Snub Pollard.  Snub (and his sister, Daphne) were Aussies who came to Hollywood to make comedies.  Snub’s trademark was his walrus-like mustache and his sweet demeanor.  I’ve enjoyed his shorts, but was simply blown away by It’s a Gift.  It’s not only funny but the sight gags are among the most impressive I’ve ever seen.

The film begins with Snub in bed.  He awakens and you see his home is filled with crazy inventions—and you just have to see them to believe it!  His newest invention, however, is even weirder—a gasoline pill!  And, a group of rich investors want to see it demonstrated.  So, Snub leaves in one of the craziest vehicles you have ever seen—a bullet-car that runs through the use of a giant magnet!  The film is one nutty scene after another and the laughs are non-stop.  But it’s really a film you need to see because my explanation of it doesn’t do it justice.  Like Fatty and Mabel Adrift, it’s also available on YouTube.

As I mentioned above, the list of wonderful early comedies that you can watch today is very long—and would be great for a few follow-up articles.  Try these three—I can pretty much guarantee you’ll like them and stay tuned for a few more suggestions.

Article by Lead Entertainment Writer & Film Critic, Martin Hafer

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