Saturday, October 08, 2016

Al Christie – Christie Men

No Sparking (US 1927), D: Robert Kerr, C: Ann Christy, Jimmie Adams, William Irving, photo: Robert Arkus.

Gli attori di Christie / Christie Men

    A cura di Steve Massa.
    Le Giornate del Cinema Muto: Al Christie.
    Cinemazero, Pordenone, e-subtitles in English and Italian by Sub-Ti, grand piano by masterclass students, 8 Oct 2016.

Eddie Lyons, Lee Moran. Photo: Collezzione Steve Massa.

Eddie Lyons & Lee Moran

BEHIND THE SCREEN (US 1915). D: Al Christie. SC: Al Christie. C: Eddie Lyons, Lee Moran, Victoria Forde, Stella Adams, Harry Rattenberry, George French, Anton Nagy. PC: Nestor Films. Rel: 23.7.1915. Dist: Universal. DCP, 12'26" (transferred at 18 fps); titles: ENG. Incomp. (orig. 2 rl.; only rl. 1). Source: Library of Congress Packard Center for Audio Visual Conservation, Culpeper, VA.

Steve Massa: "While the “Christie Girls” were a ready subject for studio publicity, there were also plenty of male comics on the Christie roster. This program is a cross-section of some of their most popular – as well as the most neglected."

"The first of Al Christie’s regular performers to become stars were Eddie Lyons and Lee Moran. Under Christie’s guidance they became the most popular team in silent comedy before Laurel & Hardy. They both came from stage backgrounds of vaudeville and musical comedy. Lyons hit movies first in 1911 at the Biograph Studio in New York and he soon joined Imp, which led to David Horsley’s Nestor Films. Lee Moran debuted at Nestor in 1912, and the pair first worked together as part of the ensemble with Victoria Forde, Billie Rhodes, Harry Rattenberry, Stella Adams, Neal Burns, Jane Waller, Betty Compson, Ray Gallagher, George French, and little Gus Alexander. After countless comedy one-reelers they came to be naturally working opposite each other all the time, and were made an official team by Christie in 1915. Behind the Screen comes from this year and is a unique look at how Nestor comedies were made, with the technicians as well as actors playing themselves, including Al Christie directing and putting everyone through their respective duties."

"When Christie left Nestor and Universal in 1916 for his own company, the Nestor players, including Eddie and Lee, all came with him, but not for long. Universal quickly made the boys a counter-offer to direct and star for their own unit. Returning to Universal, they continued under the Nestor brand and in 1918 their releases became Star Comedies . Their shorts were more situational, with them frequently playing buddies who were in hot water with their wives. Eddie Lyons looked like the boy next door, while Lee Moran was goofier – tall and gangly. Often Lyons would play the straight man with Moran supplying the character comedy, as in House Cleaning Horrors (1918), where newlyweds Eddie and Dorothy Devore hire inepthandyman Lee to repaper and paint their love nest, with, of course, disastrous results."

"In 1920 they began making popular five-reel features, such as Everything But the Truth and La La Lucille, but in early 1921 they dissolved their partnership. No reason has been quoted for the split, so it may have just been time for a change. Eddie Lyons moved over to the Arrow Film Corp. and produced a series of shorts for himself, and another for Bobby Dunn. These lasted to 1924, and from there Eddie took supporting roles in dramatic features like Déclassé (1925) and The Lodge in the Wilderness (1926), before his sudden death (which has variously been reported as due to appendicitis, a nervous breakdown, and a brain tumor) in August of 1926. Lee Moran remained at Universal after the split, and for a while headlined in their Century Comedies before going on to shorts for Educational, Standard, and Fox. He also made the leap to supporting roles in mid-1920s features, but his career petered out with the coming of sound. It ended in 1935, and he died at the Motion Picture Country Home in 1961.
" – Steve Massa

AA: Non-fiction, a film about film-making, a highly valuable account on professional film production a hundred years ago. The scenario department, the property room, a carpenter's workshop, a dressing room. "The largest stage in the world". How a scene is shot, and another. The swift switches of cardboard backdrops and carpets. Shooting in sunlight. Transportation: slow but sure. "Otis Turner's company making a feature play". A big scene. Handcranked cameras. Lunch time at the cantina. Visual quality: a good definition of light. *

Beans for Two. Photo: EYE on YouTube.

Harry Depp

BEANS FOR TWO (US 1918). D: ?. C: Harry Depp (Jimmy), Elinor Field (Betty), George B. French. PC: Strand Comedies / Caulfield Photoplay Co. Rel: 22.12.1919 (1 rl.). Dist: Mutual. 35 mm, 770 ft, 11' (18 fps); titles: ENG. Source: EYE Filmmuseum, Amsterdam.

Steve Massa: "The now-forgotten Harry Depp was a comic lead for Christie in the late 1910s, and was very busy supporting Fay Tincher in shorts like Rowdy Ann (1919) or being teamed with Elinor Field in Strand Comedies like this and Easy Payments (1919)."

"Depp came from the stage, where he had a varied background in stock companies, as support for star comedienne Else Janis, and spending eight years working for producers Klaw & Erlanger in shows such as The Pink Lady and The Little Café. He entered films in 1916 at Universal, appearing in some features and shorts for their Nestor and Victor brands. 1917 saw him shift to Triangle Comedies, where he headlined in numerous one-reelers alongside Reggie Morris, Claire Anderson, Lillian Biron, and Raymond Griffith. Short and slight, with very refined features, Depp made a convincing “other woman” in drag – a handy skill for two-reel farces. With Christie from 1918 through 1920, his resemblance to Christie star Bobby Vernon led him to move on to Fox Sunshine Comedies for a number of comedy shorts, as well as supporting roles in features on the order of Quincy Adams Sawyer (1922) and Inez from Hollywood (1924). After leaving films in 1926, he returned in the early 1930s, regularly playing uncredited bit parts until 1947.
" – Steve Massa

AA: Husband and wife unknown to each other start to finance the purchase of a gramophone via stamps from buying beans. They purchase enormous amount of beans until they have an incredible stock of them – and two gramophones. The beans go to the Belgian Relief Fund. Visual quality: high contrast, a duped look.

Monkey Shines (US 1920), D: Frederic Sullivan, photo: Library of Congress Packard Campus for Audio Visual Conservation, Culpeper, VA.

Eddie Barry & Neal Burns

MONKEY SHINES (US 1920). D: Frederic Sullivan. SC: Scott Darling. C: Eddie Barry, Earle Rodney, Helen Darling. PC: Christie Film Co. Copy: 35 mm, 965 ft, 13' (20 fps); titles: ENG. Source: Library of Congress Packard Campus for Audio Visual Conservation, Culpeper, VA (printed 1994).

Steve Massa: "Almost as neglected as Harry Depp is Eddie Barry, who spent 14 years on and off working for Christie, not only as a star comic but also as a versatile character man. Born George Joseph Burns in 1887, he was the older brother of comedian Neal Burns (more on him in a moment), and had extensive theatrical experience which included playing comedy with the Madame Sherry touring company, stock for the Keith and Proctor theatres, and vaudeville as part of Lasky’s Hoboes. Christie brought him to films in 1916, and until 1930 he took on all kinds of roles with Betty Compson, his brother Neal , Fay Tincher, Billie Rhodes, Jack Duffy, Billy Dooley, and Frances Lee. Tall and gangly, he wasn’t a leading man and was best used as character support, although in the early 1920 s Christie headlined him in his own starring vehicles, such as Monkey Shines, Home, James, and Mr. Fatima (all 1920)."

"Although the Christie lot was his homebase, he also worked in L-K-O and Century Comedies, was teamed with Vera Reynolds in a series of two-reelers for Arrow, and in the mid-1920s was a sidekick in action and Western features on the order of Red Blood, Sagebrush Lady (both 1925), and That Girl from Oklahoma (1926). After a few sound appearances he left movies in 1930, and died in 1966."

"As mentioned above, Barry was the brother of Neal Burns (see No Parking and A Pair of Sexes, in other Christie programs at this year’s Giornate), who along with Bobby Vernon was one of the Christie’s biggest stars of the 1920 s. Born in 1892 , he made his stage debut in 1907 and spent the next few years specializing in light comedy roles, which he continued on film. "

"He began working with the Nestor Company with Nellie the Pride of the Firehouse (1915), and stayed with them until Christie set up his own shop in 1916. Like his brother he began freelancing in 1918, with appearances at L-KO, Nestor (appearing in Stan Laurel’s first films), Sennett, and Century, but by 1921 he was exclusively with Christie. Handsome and charming, Neal always got the girl by the end of a picture, but in 1924 he and Christie took a more character approach to his screen persona by adding a pair of horn-rimmed glasses. This gave Neal a bookish, persnickety personality that sethim apart from the crowd of good-looking but bland leading men. Through 1929 Neal turned out top-notch two-reelers, and even found time to direct his Christie contemporaries Jack Duffy and Frances Lee. The arrival of sound was not kind to Burns, as he lost his star status, and the stock market crash wiped out the fortune he had amassed in the 1920s. Relegated to uncredited extra work, he kept busy in films until 1946 , and passed away in Los Angeles in 1969.
" – Steve Massa

AA: This film has the same concept as Howard Hawks's Monkey Business (1952), written by Ben Hecht, Charles Lederer, and I. A. L. Diamond, based on a story by Harry Segall. Monkey glands turn a tired old man, Uncle Ebenezer, into a virile party-goer who heads into the company of dancing girls at a cabaret and learns all the new steps. But his wife, Aunt Sally, has an operation, as well, and soon they are dancing together on their second honeymoon. *

Bobby Vernon publicity shot. Collezione Steve Massa.

Bobby Vernon

SECOND CHILDHOOD (US 1923). D: Harold Beaudine. SC: Frank Roland Conklin. C: Bobby Vernon, Babe London, Earle Rodney, Charlotte Stevens, Lincoln Plumer. PC: Christie Film Co. Dist: Educational Pictures (orig. 2 rl.). DCP, 20' (transferred at 24 fps); titles: ENG. Source: Lobster Films, Paris.

Steve Massa: "Al Christie’s biggest star, male or female, was Bobby Vernon, who with his diminutive size and eager-to-please personality was the “little boy” of slapstick comedy. Although practically all of his films centered around romance and the pursuit of the leading lady, he sometimes seemed too young to know why he was pursuing her or what he should finally do if he caught her."

"Born Sylvion de Jardin, his career began on stage with Kolb & Dill (the West Coast version of Weber & Fields). While still a teenager he entered films at Universal, and became part of the ensemble in their Joker Comedies. After a couple of years he switched to Mack Sennett, where he made a miniature comedy team with the petite Gloria Swanson in shorts such as The Danger Girl (1916), Teddy at the Throttle, and The Sultan’s Wife both 1917). "

"In 1918 he joined the Christie organization, and began an 11-year association with the producer. The 1920s were the peak of his career, as he headlined in tailor-made comedies on the order of A Barnyard Cavalier (1922), Ride ’Em Cowboy (1924), and Why Gorillas Leave Home (1929). Although his voice was fine in talkie appearances like Sheer Luck (1931), Vernon didn’t go over in sound. Getting too old to play his regular youthful character – his hairline was visibly receding and he was getting stocky – he opted to move behind the camera, and as Robert Vernon worked for Educational and Paramount as a writer and comedy supervisor, before his early death in 1939.
" – Steve Massa

AA: Waiting for "the usual birthday check" from the rich uncle Oscar the couple, haunted by debt collectors, is surprised to learn that the uncle is going to bring it in person to the non-existent son. Bobby Vernon now needs to dress as "little Oscar". But Oscar also brings with him his daughter Violet (Babe London) who is superior in boxing. A comedy of anxiety and embarrassment. Visual quality: low contrast, duped.

Grandpa's Girl (US 1924), D: Gilbert Pratt, C: Jack Duffy, Kathleen Clifford. Photo: Cineteca Nazionale, Roma.

Jack Duffy

GRANDPA’S GIRL (US 1924). D: Gilbert Pratt. Titles (orig.): Norman Z. McLeod (title-card artwork). C: Kathleen Clifford, Jack Duffy, Eddie Barry, Margaret Cullington, Jimmie Harrison, Lila Leslie, Babe London, Eddie Baker, Budd Fine, George B. French. PC: Christie Film Co. Rel: 15.6.1924 (2 rl.). Dist: Educational Pictures. DCP (from 35 mm, orig. 376 m), 23'40" (transferred at 20 fps), b&w + col. (tinted); Titles: ITA (in rima). Missing main title. Source: Fondazione CSC - Cineteca Nazionale, Roma (Digitized and restored in 4K, 2016; with thanks to Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa).

Steve Massa: "Known as the “foxy grandpa” of silent comedy, Jack Duffy was actually some 30 years younger than his popular screen persona. Born in 1882, he was the younger brother of Irish character actress Kate Price, and spent years in stock companies, musical comedy, and vaudeville. His first documented movie work is for Universal in 1916, and he can be spotted in bit parts in shorts such as Chaplin’s A Dog’s Life (1918), and Misfits and Matrimony (also 1918) with Earl Montgomery and Joe Rock. Around 1920, with the use of make-up and the discarding of his dentures, he hit upon his senio-citizen character and found his niche. Overnight he was everywhere, working as a regular player at Fox and Speed Comedies, plus supporting Larry Semon, Louise Fazenda, and Monty Banks in titles like The Hick, A Rural Cinderella (both 1921), The Fast Male, The Counter Jumper (both 1922), and Jungle Pals (1923)."

"In 1924 he became part of the stock company in Christie Comedies and two years later became one of their stars. Through comedy misadventures such as Hold Still (1926), Chicken Feathers, Hot Papa, and Queer Ducks (all 1927), Duffy gummed his way with relish. The peak of his career was the late 1920s, when his shorts were built around the character of “Sandy McDuff,” a cranky Scottish skinflint, plus he had juicy supporting roles in features like Ella Cinders (1926) and Harold Teen (1928). He began the sound era in shorts, and had a hilarious bit in the Marilyn Miller feature Sally (1929), buthis appearances soon dwindled, and he embarked on a second career as a studio make-up man. Sadly, Duffy never reached the age of his movie alter ego, as he passed away at 57 in 1939.
" – Steve Massa

AA: I read my handwritten notes seven weeks afterwards and find remarks such as: - college - moving a huge load of furniture - bees in ancient Egypt - an alarm bell - petrified - bees attack - an entrance hall full of grandsons - the girl in drag - a boxing hall - the girl beats an overpowering adversary. I confess I have forgotten this film. A digital transfer in 4K from a 16 mm, high contrast, and duped source.

No Sparking (US 1927), D: Robert Kerr, C: Jimmie Adams, Ann Christy, photo: Robert Arkus.

NO SPARKING (US 1927). D: Robert Kerr. SC: Frank Roland Conklin. C: Jimmie Adams, Ann Christy, William Irving, Billy Engle, Cliff Lancaster, Stella Adams. PC: Christie Film Co. Rel: 22.05.1927 (2 rl.). Dist: Educational Pictures. Incomp., DCP, 12'26" (transferred at 24 fps); no titles. Source: Lobster Films, Paris.

Steve Massa: "In addition to being one of Al Christie’s stars, Jimmie Adams was a popular screen clown for more than a decade. Born in 1888 in Paterson, New Jersey, he spent time on the stage and entered films in 1917. His early work was in Fox Sunshine Comedies, where he was part of the ensemble with Lloyd Hamilton, Billie Ritchie, and Hugh Fay, and then he moved to Century, where he played second fiddle to animal actors such as Joe Martin the orangutan and the Century Lions. During this time he even wrote World War I songs with Charles Parrott (Charley Chase). Jimmie’s big break came in 1920, when producer Jack White headlined him in a series of wild and crazy shorts like A Fresh Start, Nonsense, and Bang! (1921), in which he was teamed with Lige Conley or Sid Smith."

"From there he moved over to Hallroom Boys Comedies and briefly back to Jack White before signing with Christie in 1923. The next few years saw his best films, and although not a particularly inventive comic Jimmie did everything with a breezy nonchalance, and shorts such as Safe and Sane (1924), Be Careful (1925), Whoa, Emma (1926), and Oh, Mummy (1927) were fast and funny. In addition to his busy schedule for Christie, he found time to appear as comic relief in the features Triumph (1924) and Her Man O’War (1926). His starring career came to an abrupt end in 1928, due to illness that may have been caused by drinking bad bootleg booze. A year or so later he returned to the screen in small bits, mostly in his old pal Charley Chase’s talkies, like Arabian Tights and Luncheon at Twelve (both 1933), where he was part of the singing group The Ranch Boys. He died in 1933 at age 45."

"More Christie Men: In addition to the above players, other regular Christie men included the leads Jimmie Harrison, Earle Rodney, and Jay Belasco, ubiquitous supporting characters George B . French and Harry Rattenberry, and headliner Billy Dooley.
" – Steve Massa

AA: Our protagonist learns to defend himself and he beats the villain dressed as a donkey. The climax takes place in a burning house. The protagonist is taken for a superhero. I write these remarks seven weeks afterwards and do not remember this film well anymore.

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