This is the first in a series of monthly posts that will highlight my favorite comedies of each decade. Key word here is favorite and not necessarily the best. Comedy is a highly subjective category. While many film lovers see Billy Wilder’s Some Like it Hot to be one of the best comedies, there are folks, well informed film lovers, who disagree.
I myself believe many of our modern day comedies rely too much on trashy jokes and not enough on sophisticated humor. A fart joke gets the laugh. Why bother with intelligent humor. Now, I have nothing against low-brow or bathroom humor, but how many times do we have to see Will Farrell take off his shirt, pants, or more (Old School, Blades of Glory, Talledega Nights, Anchorman, Step Brothers, Daddy’s Home)? Today’s audiences also have an intolerance for the buildup to the joke. Attention spans have diminished over the years. Television is partially to blame for this; the jokes have to come quick to get them all in a twenty minutes time frame. Laurel and Hardy would never survive in today cinema world. It’s not that there are not good comedies today. The Big Sick is one of my favorite films of 2017, and Judd Apatow has a pretty good record. However, overall they are far and in between.
Anyway, this series begin with 1910-1919. The most obvious thing about this list is that most of the films are from Charlie Chaplin, Yet to go out on his own, Buster Keaton has two films where he was still second banana to Fatty Arbuckle. He did not start making his own films until the 1920’s. I have seen a few of Harold Lloyd’s Lonesome Luke films from this period. but none for me at least. are memorable. His best work came in the decades ahead.
Enough already! Here are the films in alphabetical order, some with comments.
A Dog’s Life
Poignant and funny. The Little Tramp rescues a fellow outsider, Scrapes, a four legged mutt being picked on by other dogs. A bit lightweight but plenty of laughs.
Charlie escapes from prison, and after dodging the law, he saves the life of a rich woman and suddenly finds himself a hero with her family. The law eventually catches up with our antihero, but not before a brilliant sequence with Charlie dodging the police with the help of sliding doors.
Behind the Screen
Fatty ditches his nagging wife on the Coney Island beach (he buries himself in sand and she goes off trying to find him), while Arbuckle heads for a fun time at the amusement rides of Luna Park where he meets a pretty young girl and Buster Keaton. The film is filled with low brow, knock about, violent humor; the kind that Arbuckle specialized in at the time. The joy of this film is watching a young Buster still finding his way on screen, and Coney Island’s Luna Park.
Chaplin’s short, The Immigrant, remains a poetic work that manages to combine romance, drama and a social conscience message about immigration and America. Like all of us or our ancestors, Chaplin was an immigrant himself, and much of what we see he draws from his own experience. The anticipation, the fears and the unknown. Visually, Chaplin drew inspiration from Alfred Stieglitz masterful photograph The Steerage which depicted the class separation on a ship bound from America back to Europe. There’s both a knowing hint foreshadowing what may lay ahead mixed with the Tramp’s rebellious humor. When one of the steerage class passengers spots the Statue of Liberty, Chaplin and the others gather around to look at America’s symbol of freedom. Suddenly, an immigration official shows up roping all the immigrants, just like cattle, into one confined area. Officials push and shove them as their processing begins right on board the ship. When Chaplin’s turn comes, the official kicks him in the butt because he is not moving fast enough. The rebellious tramp gets his turn when the official turns his back on him.
In boot camp, Charlie has been assigned to the “awkward” squad. Sent to France, he becomes an unlikely hero after he receives a package containing Limburger cheese that smells so bad, a gas mask is required. He tosses the cheese over the top and into the German trenches managing to capture a dozen or so German soldiers (he surrounded them). Our hero also captures the Kaiser and get a parade back home. Of course, in the end, it all a dream from which his fellow soldiers wake him up. By now, Chaplin had matured from the knock about comedy of his early days to more elaborate humor that build up over time. Still, his best work was still ahead. At the time of its release, the film was a welcome comic relief from the war.