Slapstick Encyclopedia, Volume 4: Funny Girls

Welcome to our fourth excursion into the Slapstick Encyclopedia! As stated in the other posts, there are 10 volumes total in the set, so be sure to check back for the next seven Thursdays as we continue our journey through these marvelous silent shorts and then wrap the whole thing up with a list of favorites. Today’s volume is titled “Funny Girls: Genders and Their Benders” and appears on the second disc of the set.

When the police are no help to Lizzie, she decides to take the investigation into her own hands. (Screen capture by Lindsey for TMP)
When the police are no help to Lizzie, she decides to take the investigation into her own hands. (Screen capture by Lindsey for TMP)

The Detectress (1919)
Directed by: Bruno C. Becker
Starring: Gale Henry
Run time: 21 minutes
Gale Henry was a pioneer. In addition to becoming a very popular comedic star of the silent era, she also opened up her very own production company in 1918, according to the introduction to this short. Henry’s company, for which her husband served as a producer, churned out a series of comedic shorts that all starred herself. Here, she stars as a woman who witnesses a robbery and then takes it upon herself to track down the culprit. This short unfortunately relies on a lot of awful (like, “They eat puppies and kittens” awful) stereotypes of Chinese people for its comedy, so I can’t say I enjoyed it. For the first time in the set, I had trouble sitting through this one, though I did finish it in the interest of completism.

It's a difficult journey home for this husband, who faces flooded roads, mud splashes and flat tires due to the rain storm. (Screen capture by Lindsey for TMP)
It’s a difficult journey home for this husband, who faces flooded roads, mud splashes and flat tires due to the rain storm. (Screen capture by Lindsey for TMP)

One Wet Night (1924)
Directed by: William Watson
Starring: Alice Howell
Run time: 11 minutes
According to the DVD’s introduction to this film, Stan Laurel considered Alice Howell one of his top ten favorite comedians of all time. Sitcom and slapstick are blended in this domestic comedy of  a husband, a wife and a rain storm. There’s an adorable puppy bonus, and this one-reeler is just overall a very fun little watch (especially after the disaster that was my viewing of The Detectress).

Dorothy's character dresses as a man, pretending to be Bob's best man. (Screen capture by Lindsey for TMP)
Dorothy’s character dresses as a man, pretending to be Bob’s best man. (Screen capture by Lindsey for TMP)

Know Thy Wife (1918)
Directed by: Al Christie
Starring: Dorothy Devore and Leota Lorraine
Run time: 13 minutes
Dorothy recalled of her films alongside Earl Rodney, “We did not rely upon wild mustaches and funny clothes, but on situation and the story,” according to the DVD introduction to Know Thy Wife. Betty is “the other woman” in this story. She’s been dating Bob while he’s been away from home, but he’s already got an arranged marriage set up by his parents with a woman named Lillian. Just as Dorothy said, this situation brings the comedy rather than it being played out through physical gags. Though the story is the focus of this short, it isn’t much of a ground-breaking one. Still, Know Thy Wife is an enjoyable watch, and Dorothy has a lot of charisma, making it easy to see why she was included in a volume on funny ladies.

Rowdy Ann more than holds her own in a town full of cowboys. (Screen capture by Lindsey for TMP)
Rowdy Ann more than holds her own in a town full of cowboys. (Screen capture by Lindsey for TMP)

Rowdy Ann (1918)
Directed by: Al Christie
Starring: Fay Tincher
Run time: 21 minutes
More trivia from the introductions: Fay Tincher initially found fame as a stenographer named “Ethel” in a series of Mutual Komic Comedies, written especially for her. A few years later she was discovered by Al Christie, who put her in films like Rowdy Ann — his “Al Christie Special” two-reels. Under Christie’s direction, Tincher went from “Ethel” to a famous comic actress known for challenging stereotypes of femininity and typical gender roles through her characters. Here she portrays a female rancher (and later, outlaw), which I loved, given my new-found affection for westerns.

PUPPY! (Screen capture by Lindsey for TMP)
PUPPY! (Screen capture by Lindsey for TMP)

Hearts and Flowers (1919)
Directed by: Edward F. Cline
Starring: Louise Fazenda
Run time: 23 minutes
Produced by Sennett, who Louise Fazenda joined at Keystone in 1915, Hearts and Flowers “would never have gotten past the Hays Office of the mid-’30s,” according to this film’s introduction. This is true. Phyllis Haver co-stars alongside Fazenda as a woman who dresses in traditionally “masculine” clothing, and a kiss between two women is shown. Much praise for the score and sound effects on this one, composed by Eric Beheim. It’s even got puppy howls, which means, you guessed it: another adorable puppy bonus! Wonderful sounds side, the film’s also got a number of great sight gags, like hats that jump when the wearer sneezes, and baseball played with a human ball. The 23 minutes that make up this film feel quite quick, and it’s a very amusing watch.

Want more Slapstick Encyclopedia? Check out the previous posts on Volume 1, Volume 2 and Volume 3!

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