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If Ghostbusters Was Filmed In The 1920s…

In between graduate school and my 80-year-old grandmother moving in with my family, things have been rather insane as of late. That being said, I’m not going to forget my duties as a historian and recast a modern comedy film for the Great Silent Recasting Blogathon!

Deciding on a film was the most difficult part. I had some ideas for a silent It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, but that film was released in late 1963 and therefore just misses the 1965 cut. I sat down and thought about my favorite post-1965 comedy films and then remembered that for Halloween I’d actually drawn a Comedian Heaven picture with four comedians who’d actually all appeared in silents – and all for Hal Roach Studios at one point.

This is what I drew:

GhostbustersIgnore the bad visual pun of Buster Keaton as a ghost in the background.

The whole thing started because one day I realized that Harold Lloyd would have made an absolutely perfect Dr. Egon Spengler. It ended up expanding when I remembered that upon the arrival of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man Ray actually says, “I couldn’t help it,” a line often squeaked out by a Mr. Stan Laurel in moments of desperation. Since Stan and Ollie have to stay together at all costs, Ollie filled in as Venkman, and Charley Chase rounded out the group as latecomer Winston Zeddemore.

Were such a film to actually be made at Hal Roach Studios during the silent era, it would have to be after 1927 to have Stan and Ollie officially teamed up as Laurel and Hardy but before 1929, when the studio converted to sound productions. Harold Lloyd would also have to be coaxed back to work with producer Hal Roach one last time, as he’d moved on and was working independently by the late 1920s. Leo McCarey would be present to direct, so he wouldn’t have to be dragged back from anywhere.

To round out the cast, we need a couple of love interests, a villain, and an antagonist or two. Dana Barrett, Venkman’s love interest, would probably be played well by Thelma Todd, who was alternating between Paramount and First National in the late 1920s but was at Hal Roach Studios by 1929, as she appears in Unaccustomed As We Are with Stan and Ollie (their first talking film). Thelma’s certainly adept at playing comedic romantic leads (as her work with the Marx Brothers shows), so we’ll have her play Dana. For Janine Melnitz, the Ghostbusters’ secretary who eventually ends up dating Egon, I thought it would be particularly cute to bring Harold Lloyd’s real-life wife Mildred Davis out of retirement (she briefly did return to the screen in 1927) and have her fill the role because Harold, as mentioned above, is the perfect Egon.

With those two cast, we need to find someone to play Dana’s awkward neighbor Louis Tully. Considering Rick Moranis’s small size, Charlie Hall might be a nice fit height-wise. For the opposing forces, antagonistic lawyer Walter Peck would be played to perfection by Edgar Kennedy, the mayor could be played by the great James Finlayson just because the idea of Fin as the mayor of New York is hilarious, and Gozer’s physical form could be portrayed by – who else? – Mae Busch.

It could work, I suppose, if those nuclear streams used technology that was available at the time – special magnets, for example, or perhaps vacuums. What’s more important is trying to figure out how Hal Roach Studios could pull off the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man.

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Screencapped Shorts: Madame Mystery (1926)

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…)