Saturday, June 27, 2015

Leo McCarey: His Wooden Wedding, What Price Goofy?, Dog Shy, Wrong Again

US 1925. D: Leo McCarey. Story: Hal Roach. DP: Glen R. Carrier. C: Charley Chase (lo sposo), Katherine Grant (la sposa), Gale Henry (la donna sulla barca), Fred De Silva, John Cossar. P: Hal Roach per Hal Roach Studios. DCP. 19’. B&w. English intertitles. From: Lobster Films.
    Restored in 2015 from 35 mm blow up print from 16 mm reduction negative Blackhawk.

US 1925. D: Leo McCarey. Story: Hal Roach. C: Charley Chase (Jamison), Katherine Grant (sua moglie), Noah Young (lo svaligiatore Omaha Oscar), Lucien Littlefield (il maggiordomo Speck), Jane Sherman (l’amica della moglie), Marjorie Whiteis (professor Brown), Fay Wray, il cane Buddy. P: Hal Roach per Hal Roach Studios. DCP. 25’. B&w. English intertitles. From: Lobster Films.
    Restored in 2015 by Lobster Films from a 35 mm camera negative

US 1926. D: Leo McCarey. Story: Hal Roach. C: Charley Chase (Charley), Mildred June (la ragazza), Stuart Holmes (il duca), Josephine Crowell (la madre della ragazza), William Orlamond (il padre della ragazza), Fred Kelsey (poliziotto), Jerry Mandy (il complice), il cane Buddy (Duke). P: Hal Roach per Hal Roach Studios. 35 mm. L.: 552 m. 20’ at 24 fps. B&w. English intertitles. From: Library of Congress.

Di nuovo sbagliato. US 1929. D: Leo McCarey. Story: Leo McCarey, Lewis R. Foster. DP: George Stevens, Jack Roach. M.: Richard Currier. C: Stan Laurel (Stanlio), Oliver Hardy (Ollio), Del Henderson (il proprietario del quadro), Josephine Crowell (sua madre), Harry Bernard (il poliziotto), Charlie Hall (il vicino), William Gillespie (il proprietario del cavallo). P: Hal Roach per Hal Roach Studios.  DCP. 20’ B&w. English intertitles. From: Lobster Films.

Viewed at Cinema Jolly (Il Cinema Ritrovato, Bologna) with Donald Sosin at the digital piano, 27 June 2015

AA: Revisited four short comedies directed by Leo McCarey for Hal Roach. There are those among us who find that McCarey was already at his best in these late silent comedies, and certainly they are perfect in many ways: in their sense of character, rhythm, and timing. They are carefully designed yet there is a feeling of spontaneity and improvisation. Liberty is a contender for the funniest film ever made.

McCarey's mastery as a comedy director was based on his understanding of the character, the comedian. The stories, the situations, and the gags are funny, but even more prominently, McCarey's films are character-driven. He is never in a hurry to forward the plot when there are more juicy nuances to be discovered in the character's reactions.

A favourite plot of McCarey's is the fundamental misunderstanding: Charley Chase is led to believe that his fiancée has a wooden leg (His Wooden Wedding); Charley rescues a perfumed dog who refuses to leave him which leads his wife to believe that he is having an affair (What Price Goofy?), the request to "give the Duke a bath", concerning yet another dog, is taken too literally by the "butler" Charley (Dog Shy): the reward for returning a stolen painting, Gainsborough's The Blue Boy, is mistaken by Laurel and Hardy to mean an eponymous horse (Wrong Again).

The plots can be plain silly but they provide a solid springboard for a wealth of comical innovations. McCarey approaches his comedies via the comedians and helps them create a world where they can flourish. He always confessed that he had learned everything from Charley Chase, but soon he mastered comedy sovereignly with many comedians. No director has directed so many great comedians so successfully.

Charley Chase belongs to a remarkable tradition of film comedy which was started by Max Linder: the comedy about the utter embarrassment of the distinguished gentleman. Even Charles Chaplin was inspired by Linder, but he created an original tramp character. Charley Chase is in a more direct line of influence from Linder, and together with McCarey he perfected that tradition.

Prints: His Wooden Wedding is a blow-up from 16 mm. What Price Goofy? looks mighty good. Dog Shy looks very good, as well. Wrong Again looks like it has been made from a difficult source (16 mm? low contrast?).

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