Comedian Lupino Lane plays every last part in this comedy short. The plot? A tipsy, top-hatted fellow and a really horrible child manage to disrupt an evening at the music hall. The material is old but Lane manages to keep things fun.
Well, they saved money on extras…
Lupino Lane is a pretty obscure performer but I love him. Second cousin of Ida Lupino, he was an accomplished stunt comedian who made a series of comedy shorts in the mid-to-late twenties before graduating successfully to the talkies.
Lane’s reputation rests on his stage performances which, for obvious reasons, we are now unable to enjoy. Fortunately, we can see him in his silent shorts, as well as his supporting role in the Griffith film Isn’t Life Wonderful?
Every comedian who was worth his salt had to make one of these multiple-roles-in-the-theater films, it seems. Lane throws his hat into the ring with the 1929 short film, Only Me. And the title is literal. Every single role, from beginning to end, is played by Lane. He is doubled on occasions (by his brother, Wallace Lupino) but all of the character work is him.
I know this film gets a lot of flack for being unoriginal in concept (true enough), but it coaxed several honest-to-goodness belly laughs from me. That’s not easy to do, by the way.
None of the characters have names so I will just give them titles. The two with the largest parts are the Lush, a top-hatted tippler, and the Brat, a small child armed with an impressive array of fruit and pastries. Between the two of them, they manage to disrupt pretty much every act that comes on the stage. This sounds a lot like Chaplin’s A Night in the Show, right? In all fairness, though, Chaplin’s film was based on an older music hall routine and Lane was a music hall veteran.
The acts trip onto the stage one by one, each played by Lane in assorted disguises. He is an operatic diva, a be-caped daredevil, a strongman, a tutu-wearing acrobat in a curly wig, and all of the characters in a You Must Pay the Rent melodrama, just to name a few. And yes, this is very much like Buster Keaton’s The Play House.
What is distinct about Lane’s multiple role playing (at least compared to other films I have seen in this sub-genre) is that the characters are aware that they look alike. The comedy is filled with double takes and quizzical glances as Lane meets Lane meets Lane. This adds to the surreal nature of the short.
Lane has an agile babyface that goes wonderfully blank when he is met with these strange occurrences. He also makes use of putty noses to further differentiate his characters, though it is always clear just who is underneath the makeup. And while his stunts do not have the breakneck kinetic power of Keaton’s (do anyone’s?), he is very, very funny when he leaps, twirls and falls down and goes boom.
If I had to boil this film down into one word, I suppose it would be whimsical. Both Keaton and Chaplin’s comedy could have a bit (or more than a bit) of a dark undercurrent. Lupino Lane is cheerier. That’s not to say that all the humor is sweetness, light and bunnies. But he has definitely created a happy world of humor.
I just wanted to make a quick observation. Lane’s theater is populated with acts that would have been extremely popular at the turn of the century: the serpentine dancer, the melodrama complete mustachioed villain… Audiences in 1929 would have immediately gotten the joke. The modern equivalent would be like a comedian dressing up in a white polyester suit and striking some disco poses. We’re making fun of mom and dad’s pop culture touchstones.
The problem is that sometimes inexperienced viewers will see these melodrama scenes and assume that they were either being played straight (okay, unlikely in this case but it has been known to happen) or that they were spoofing the then-current entertainment (more likely). This would be like someone from the future seeing that 2013 comedian performing his bit of disco-based comedy and assuming that disco must therefore have enjoyed major mainstream popularity in 2013.
So what’s the verdict?
Only Me may not break much new ground but it is cute and genuinely funny. I highly recommend it.
Movies Silently’s Score: ★★★½
Where can I see it?
Only Me was released as part of the Slapstick Encyclopedia box set.