MORE CHARLEY CHASE ON DVD (AND EDGAR KENNEDY, TOO)

Reviews
by Leonard Maltin
March 28, 2013 12:00 AM
5 Comments
  • |

Chase with leading lady Linda Winters in THE AWFUL GOOF; two years later she played Susan Alexander Kane in CITIZEN KANE under the name Dorothy Comingore!
Charley Chase is a favorite of comedy connoisseurs but for years, it was difficult to see his best two-reel comedies from the 1920s. They seemed to exist only in scattered 16mm prints, until Kino (drawing on the LobsterFilm archives) and Milestone released their welcome collections. Now Sony has gotten in on the act with Charley Chase Shorts, Volume 1, part of the Sony Pictures Choice Collection of DVDs manufactured on demand, like the Three Stooges Rare Treasures from the Columbia Pictures Vault, which I wrote about not long ago. The nine comedies in this collection may not all be great, but if you enjoy Charley Chase you’ll find something to like in each of them, even if it’s just a moment or gesture. Like Buster Keaton, he always gives his best, whether the material supports him or not. When it does, the results are a treat to watch.  

Chase called the Hal Roach Studios home from the early 1920s through 1936. While he did his finest work during the silent era, often in collaboration with director Leo McCarey, Charley made a smooth transition to sound—like his colleagues Laurel & Hardy and Our Gang—and his two-reelers continued to be popular with audiences. But by the mid-1930s Hal Roach no longer saw an economic future in making shorts. Chase’s would-be starring feature, Neighborhood House, was trimmed to short-subject length and his contract allowed to expire. Producer-director Jules White wasted no time in signing him to a contract as performer, director, and associate producer for the short-subject unit at Columbia.

Working for Columbia would be considered a comedown for such former luminaries as Harry Langdon and Buster Keaton, but this was more of a lateral move for Chase, who did his best work in the two-reel format. What’s more, White wisely paired him with director Del Lord, a silent-comedy veteran who spoke the same language. They often shot on outdoor locations (a “luxury” that cost-cutting all but eliminated from Columbia shorts by the mid-1940s) and tried to give these films the look and feel of Charley’s earlier vehicles, even borrowing vintage gags from time to time. Charley is supported by such able costars as leading lady Ann Doran (who loved working with him), familiar comedy cohorts like Vernon Dent, Bud Jamison, and John T. Murray, and up-and-coming contract players like Robert Sterling and James Craig.

Smith and Dale (Joe and Charley, that is) as directed by Charley Chase in A NAG IN THE BAG (1938)
One short, Rattling Romeo (1939), truly captures the charm and inventiveness of a Hal Roach comedy, as Charley surprises his girlfriend (Doran) by purchasing a car of his own, unaware that it’s literally falling apart. The Heckler (1940) scores big laughs by giving Charley an atypical role as an obnoxious loudmouth—which he’d done just once before, in the Laurel & Hardy feature Sons of the Desert. Others, like The Awful Goof (1939), recall Chase’s situation comedies of the 1920s, full of domestic misunderstandings and mix-ups…the kind that inspired comedy-compilation king Robert Youngson to describe Charley’s onscreen life as “one long embarrassing moment.” (The Awful Goof also includes an abbreviated version of a great running gag from one of the comedian’s funniest silents, Limousine Love. And it features as Charley’s wife a pert young actress named Linda Winters who two years later would be introduced to moviegoers as Dorothy Comingore in Citizen Kane, playing Susan Alexander Kane.)

As a bonus, Sony has included a rarely-seen 1938 short called A Nag in the Bag, directed by Chase and starring the fabled vaudeville team of Joe Smith and Charley Dale. Like all the shorts on this disc the picture and sound quality are superb. When I spoke to Joe Smith some thirty years later he, like actress Ann Doran, had nothing but fond memories of working with Chase. I look forward to Volume 2 with the hope that Sony will include more of the shorts Chase directed with Andy Clyde, Walter Catlett and other comics from the same period.

To purchase this DVD and other Sony Choice Collection titles, including newly-remastered titles from the 1930s through the television era, click HERE.

Speaking of golden-age comedians, I had to watch VCI’s new release of the British comedy Hey! Hey! USA (1938). It’s not that I’m such a rabid fan of English comedian Will Hay, but this particular title costars my old favorite Edgar Kennedy, as a gangster named Bugs Leary. It’s not a great film by any means but Edgar gets a lot of screen time and he’s fun to watch in an unusual setting. Much of the story takes place here in the States, although it was quite clearly shot in the U.K., with a little help from other American actors like David Burns, Eddie Ryan and child actor Tommy Bupp. For more information on this and the other Will Hay double and triple-features in the VCI catalog, click HERE.

 

You might also like:
Free Indie Movies and Documentaries    

5 Comments

  • dr jack | June 8, 2013 9:57 AMReply

    Please help me find a Charley Chase short to purchase, Now We'll Tell One (1932). Thanks

  • Marshalsify | April 6, 2013 10:07 AMReply

    Hopefully Leo, these Charley Chase Columbia shorts deserve to be rediscovered, including some extras in subsequent volumes, including some commentary tracks by Chase and Columbia Comedy scholars, as Chase made only 20 starring shorts at Columbia, there is ample room to include the shorts he directed for other comedians (his Stooges shorts are, of course, already and readily available!

  • Paul F. Etcheverry | March 29, 2013 11:02 AMReply

    Leonard, it brings a smile to my face reading this. I got your FILM FAN MONTHLY issue spotlighting Charley, followed by THE GREAT MOVIE SHORTS, after rolling in the aisles laughing at incredibly funny Chase clips in various Robert Youngson silent comedy compilation features. Decades later, my opinion hasn't changed - I still find many of Charley's films, both his starring vehicles and those he wrote and directed for other comedians, fall-down hilarious. Too bad he didn't live long enough to work with Preston Sturges (as fellow Roach and Sennett studio veteran Edgar "Slow Burn" Kennedy did, especially wonderfully in UNFAITHFULLY YOURS).

  • Martin Grams | March 28, 2013 7:20 PMReply

    A few years ago I saw "The Heckler" when it was screened at the Cinevent Convention in Columbus, Ohio. While I had seen a couple dozen Chase shorts from Columbia, that one I couldn't help but roar with laughter the entire time. That short alone is worth the cost of the DVD.

  • Dave Kirwan | March 28, 2013 12:54 PMReply

    I just picked up the new Chase/Columbia disc last month and your comments are spot on! Charley's Roach talkies were, generally, a notch down from his silents, his Columbias another notch removed from those... which means these last films were merely charming and delightful as opposed to fall-off-your-chair hilarious. Really, not a bad standard at all. Although I would certainly direct all Chase newbies to the earlier films first, it wouldn't be a great tragedy if this disc was one's initial exposure to the comedian. And if you are familiar with his best work, it's actually kinda fun to see how he sliced and spliced some old plots together, usually at a peppier clip, in these streamlined efforts. That Smith and Dale short is a great example of what a good comedy director could do with routine material and a better than average cast.

    Have just caught up with the Will Hay comedies in the last few years, but must have missed HEY! HEY! USA! Will certainly track it down, although I note the absence of Moore Marriott and Graham Moffatt in the cast. They added so much of the fun in those old Hay features (and some of the Arthur Askey epics too!) But, wait... Charley Hall's in this one? Okay, I'm there!

    As usual, keep up the great work, Leonard!

Email Updates

Latest Tweets

Follow us

Most "Liked"

  • Movie Heaven, Courtesy Of TCM
  • From the Beginning - An Orphan Black ...
  • Fading Gigolo
  • Transcendence
  • A Shaky Matter
  • A Sharper Focus On Hollywood And WW ...


leonardmaltin