In late June of last year I took advantage of some free days to visit my Mother in Virginia for her birthday. It was a fun long weekend that included meals out, a screening of Finding Dory, and an unexpected shared activity when I ran across a puzzle in the book store that was just too good to pass up. It consists of thirty-nine posters from a wide variety of classic films stretching from the silent era of the 1920s into the 1970s. It was an engrossing project to undertake alongside my Mother and we naturally discussed several of the featured movies as we built it. What stunned me a little was that I had actually only seen twenty-six of the thirty-nine films honored. I have vowed to fill these gaps in my knowledge of film and take you along for the ride as I reconstruct the puzzle in question. I’ll re-watch the movies I’ve already seen along with experiencing the ones that are new to me and share my thoughts on each one.
Here is another rather unique entry in this series. The stars of Another Fine Mess certainly are very deserving of their place among the greats of cinema. What makes it a little different from most of what we’ve seen so far though, is that this comedy is a short subject, lasting just over twenty-eight minutes. That the gags and beats in it are relatively well conceived and executed is not just due to the established proficiency of Laurel and Hardy themselves, but must also be attributed to the fact that the story and script had been tried out elsewhere a couple of times. First, it appeared as the stage play “Home From the Honeymoon,” and then a silent version was attempted by Laurel and Hardy themselves in their Duck Soup just three years earlier (Leo McCarey, who worked with the pair extensively while at Hal Roach productions would later use “Duck Soup” again as a title for a Marx Brothers movie). It should also be mentioned that the story was written by Stan Laurel’s own Father, Arthur J Jefferson.
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When it comes to the Academy Awards, there are winners and losers. It may be an honor to be nominated, but the fact of the matter is they only hand out so many statues every year. Over the course of a career in showbiz, there are a limited number of opportunities to win an Oscar. For varying reasons, some of the most famous actors and actresses in Hollywood history never took home the prize. In the April 2002 issue of Movieline magazine, they compiled a list of the ten most famous actors who never won.
Our two headliners today were photographed together in 1965 when Chaplin was honored with the Erasmus Prize.
Sir Charles Chaplin (1889-1977) was one of the most influential filmmakers ever. He grew up in poverty in England and with a father who died when he was about eleven, and a mother who had to be committed to an insane asylum, he had to largely support himself beginning in his early teens. Fortunately, his natural talent for acting quickly became apparent and he was able to find work with a variety of theater groups. In 1910, theater impresario Fred Karno selected Chaplin as part of a troupe that went on an American tour that lasted nearly 2 years. By 1913, Chaplin had been invited to join an American film company, and relocated to the US.
Chaplin soon developed his most famous screen persona, the Little Tramp, a somewhat bumbling but good-hearted man, frequently a vagrant, who struggles against adversity with varying degrees of success. The Tramp featured in dozens of short films beginning in 1914. In 1919, Chaplin was one of the co-founders of United Artists, and soon began making the string of silent features that are his biggest claim to fame. The Little Tramp was featured in most of them—The Kid, The Gold Rush, City Lights, Modern Times, etc.
“What I really want to do is direct.”
In the nineties, it seemed like every movie star wanted to take a turn in the director’s chair. A couple of them were highly successful in that endeavor. Most weren’t so lucky. Just before Kevin Costner hit the jackpot with Dances With Wolves and before Mel Gibson scored Oscar gold with Braveheart, F.X. Feeney examined the phenomenon of actors who try to direct. In this article from the July 1990 issue of Movieline magazine, Feeney asks why movie stars keep stepping behind the camera.