Sunday, April 24, 2011

Phil attends COMEDY SHORTS NIGHT at the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum-April 23, 2011

In June of 2006, I first came to the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, and as luck would have it, I came on their monthly Comedy Shorts Night, and I had the most amazing time. To see the films of Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Harold Llyod, and Laurel & Hardy on the big screen with live music, I was instantly hooked, and I proceeded to attend their weekly Saturday night shows. Fast forward to tonight, and it's comedy night once again. This time I decided to share my love of silent comedies with some friends of mine. I brought my good friend Amanda and her ten-year-old son Brian out with me to Niles. I treated them to dinner at Bronco Billy's Pizza Palace, where we stuffed ourselves on pizza and garlic cheese bread. After dinner, we walked over to the Edison Theatre for a night of laughter.

Original Movie Poster 1916
The first film of the night was THE COUNT, starring the famous Charlie Chaplin. Chaplin plays an apprentice at a tailor's shop. After burning a count's trousers, Chaplin gets fired, while his boss (Eric Campbell) discovers an invitation to Miss Moneybags' (Edna Purviance) dinner party. Soon Chaplin arrives and pretends to be the count and makes Campbell his secretary. Both he and Campbell fight for the affection of Miss Moneybags, but things get even more complicated when the real count arrives.

The film was written and directed by Chaplin, and it was his fifth film he made for the Mutual Film Company, which was released on September 4, 1916. Chaplin signed with Mutual in December of 1915, after being lured away from the Essanay Film Company. The film was also known as Almost a Gentleman. A funny two-reeler comedy short that only adds to Chaplin's comedic legacy.

The next film shown was WHAT PRICE GOOFY, starring funnyman Charley Chase as Mr. Jamison. He is married to a very jealous wife (Katherine Grant), who has a gossipy friend (Jane Sherman). When she sees Mr. Jamison talking to an attractive young woman, she reports back to Mrs. Jamison, who walks out on him. Then he must play host to Professor Brown, who just happens to be a stunning woman (Marjorie Whiteis). But his wife comes back home, and he has to hide the professor. However the star of the short was the lovable and talented Rin-Chin-Chin as Chase's dog Buddy.

Produced by Hal Roach and released by Hal Roach Studios on June 7, 1925, it's considered a lost classic, rarely seen today. However, thanks to the museum, they'll be keeping the film in constant rotation for many more years to come.

Still from Buster Keaton's film NEIGHBORS 1920
After a quick intermission, the show continued with NEIGHBORS, starring the great Buster Keaton. He and Virginia Fox play young lovers who live next door to each other, but their fathers despise each other with a passion. With only a wooden fence separating the families, Buster uses it as a prop to perform some hilarious slapstick comedy. But will true love triumph over adversity?

The film was directed by Keaton and his long-time collaborator Edward F. Cline, and was produced by Joseph M. Schenck. Schenck would go on to produce some of Keaton's most beloved classics such as STEAMBOAT BILL JR. and THE GENERAL. NEIGHBORS was released on December 22, 1920.

Original Movie Poster 1928
The fourth and final film of the night starred the comedic duo of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy. FROM SOUP TO NUTS is pure comic gold, and in my humble opinion, one of their funniest shorts. The boys are inexperienced waiters who are hired for a swanky dinner party held by Mrs. Culpepper, played by Anita Garvin. With the boys as the waiters, hilarious situations ensues, and there is a running gag involving Hardy and a cake that must be seen.

The film was produced by, once again, Hal Roach, who's studio was the home to some of the greatest comedians of all time. From Laurel and Hardy to Charley Chase to the Our Gang series, Hal Roach Studios was THE greatest comedy studio of all time. And this film is proof to that statement. The film was released to the public on March 24, 1928.

Tonight's program was shown once again to a sold out crowd, and with good reason. Where else can you take your family to see some of the greatest comedians of all time in one night? Comedy Shorts Night is one of the museum's most popular programs, and they do this once a month. Both Amanda and Brian had a blast and expressed interest in coming back again next month. It felt good to share something that I've been enjoying for the past five years with some of my friends, and I guarantee that you will have a great time too!

To learn more about the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, their film schedule, and how to become a member, visit their website at

Thanks for reading, and enjoy the show!

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