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I enjoy comedy shorts quite a bit. They’re quick watches, as the term indicates, and more often than not they’re pretty goofy and fun. They’re also pretty easy to screencap, which is why I’m going to go about analyzing them this way – with images to go along with what I’m writing. It’s more fun if you can see what I’m talking about, after all.
Today’s offering is Madame Mystery, a film produced by Hal Roach Studios (a pet studio of mine) in 1926. The reason I chose to explore this one…well, frankly, there’s more than one reason, so let’s just get those out of the way quickly:
- Theda Bara parodies herself. By 1926, vamps had gone from being the sirens of the screen to a subject of parody. By playing a role much like the ones that catapulted her to fame, but in a comedic style, Bara gently mocked herself.
- One of the two male leads in the film is James Finlayson. Fin is better known as that Scottish guy who did the stink-eye and spent a significant amount of time dealing with Laurel and Hardy (and the originator of Homer Simpson’s “d’oh!” catchphrase), but here he displays a completely different comedic characterization, showing his range as a performer.
- Speaking of Laurel and Hardy, they’re both involved in this. Ollie actually appears in the film as the captain of an ocean liner, whilst Stan co-wrote and co-directed the film. Knowing Stan’s involvement, the observant viewer will notice his style of comedy permeating the action even though he doesn’t appear in front of the camera. This film was finished about a year before Stan and Ollie’s official double act teaming (though they had a blind date in The Lucky Dog some years prior) during the time period in which Stan had decided he’d work out better as a writer and director because he couldn’t settle on a particular comedic characterization. Just give him a year and he’ll end up being the Stan we all know and love, though.
All that being established, let’s actually look at the film now. (more…)