Fast-paced offering from Mack Sennett’s famous studio. Silent comic Billy Bevan is a zany mechanic who enters an auto race to defend the honor of his garage. Bevan is supported by Sidney Smith and Any Clyde, two familiar faces to silent comedy fans.
A day at the races…
When movie fans talk about Mack Sennett-produced comedies, they usually mean the films that he made in the early to mid-1910’s. You know, the ones with Fatty Arbuckle trying to win Mabel Normand’s hand while Ford Sterling schemes and the Keystone Cops fall down and go boom.
Sennett’s comedies of the 1920s don’t seem to get as much attention. One of the reasons is that Sennett’s famously low wages meant that his biggest stars would almost invariably leave for greener pastures. So, how do these later comedies fare? Let’s find out.
Billy Bevan is not a household name but he starred in a series of popular films for the Sennett brand. You may not realize it but you have probably seen him dozens of times. He made a successful sound transition but his Australian accent meant that he was often cast as an Englishman. (Hollywood always did have a tin ear for accents.) Oh, and where have you seen him? He had small parts in famous films like Cavalcade, A Tale of Two Cities (1935), Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, Bringing Up Baby, Rebecca, Tin Pan Alley, Mrs. Miniver and Jane Eyre (1943), just to name a few.
In Lizzies of the Field, Bevan was supported by Sid Smith and Andy Clyde, two actors who should ring a bell for silent comedy fans. Del Lord, a veteran director for Sennett and a future director for the Three Stooges, takes the helm.
The story is simple because everything is leading up to the fast-paced and stunt-laden automobile race that takes up most of the film’s run time. Billy and Sid are mechanics who work for the Black Cat Garage. The garage’s main rival is the Red Dog Garage, located next door. The owner of the Red Dog, played by Jack Richardson, has been harassing Sid’s girlfriend (who is the daughter of the Black Cat owner) and stealing their customers. And so, off to the races!
Now we come to the meat of the comedy and it does not disappoint. I am not usually an enormous fan of racing comedies as they tend to get tedious fast. However, Lizzies of the Field is a frenzy of wild stunts that simply cannot be ignored.
I’m going to state the obvious but here goes: This wasn’t faked. The cars were not models. There was no rear projection or green screen. These were real stunt drivers taking real risks. There were a few tricks that would make the stunts slightly less dangerous but performing auto stunts could never be described as a safe profession. The film ends with the spectacular crash of nearly every car in the film and it is quite a sight to behold.
Other than the race, the most famous scene in the movie is the chair scoop scene that appears near the beginning. The leading lady, Barbara Pierce, is walking along when Jack Richardson comes along in his car. He has an extendable passenger seat that he uses to snatch Miss Pierce right off the street. (She responds by boxing his ears.) It’s a clever bit of stunt comedy and is definitely one of the highlights.
At just 14 minutes, Lizzies of the Field is a fast and funny little comedy. It’s not out to win any awards or tug at the heartstrings, it is just meant to be a bit of fun. It succeeds rather well.