In order to make his father look younger for his date, Lupino Lane consents to dressing up as a child. Things are complicated by the fact that the girl of his dreams just happens to be the daughter of his dad’s date—and she thinks he’s just a cute little boy.
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Dating in short pants.
Silent comedy was so stuffed with talent that it is often difficult to give less famous comedians their due. Lupino Lane is not the most famous silent comedian and is usually mentioned today as a footnote in the biography of his esteemed cousin, actress and director Ida Lupino.
However, just because Lupino Lane has been lost in the shuffle doesn’t mean that his work is unworthy of notice. Quite the opposite. A member of an acting family and veteran of the British stage, Lane’s comedic chops and delightful stunts make his films a real treat.
In Naughty Boy, Lane plays Johnny Jones, a dapper young chap who is just a little prone to accidents. He falls head over heels for Mary (Kathryn McGuire, Buster Keaton’s leading lady in The Navigator and Sherlock Jr.) but she is already seeing the dastardly Henry Sharp (Wallace Lupino, Lane’s little brother).
Back at home, Johnny’s dad (Robert Graves) needs a little assistance. It seems that he has been dating a woman and has told her that he is only thirty, which won’t exactly fly when she meets his adult son. Sure, he could come clean but what would be the fun in that? Instead, he proposes that Johnny dress as a child to fool his date. (What do they plan to do if the relationship gets serious? The film is mum on this point.)
The girlfriend (Blanche Payson) seems to have no similar qualms about her own age. She has a grown daughter of her own and guess what? It’s Mary from the beginning of the picture. Henry Sharp is still hanging around too but Mary has grown tired of him. Johnny decides to use his disguise to encourage the breakup.
Naughty Boy’s plot is a bit on the wacky side, a defect or a feature depending on your point of view, but the best moments of the film come from zany little bits of physical comedy.
A few of the film’s slapstick highlights: Lane loses his silk hat while carrying an armload of packages. After a few failed attempts to retrieve it, he drops into the splits and dunks his head into the hat.
Later, Johnny (disguised as a child) fails to play nicely with an overly exuberant girl and is dragged off for a spanking by Blanche Payson. Johnny stomps on her foot and as she hops in pain, he claps his hands in time and then starts a jaunty dance. Later, she tries to put Johnny to bed but he fights being undressed by pelting her with pillows.
Not all of the jokes land. The finale involves Johnny pursuing his rival on a bicycle and having to get imaginative about what he uses for tires. What should have been a prime bit of funny never quite lands. However, for the most part, the film is a charming diversion.
Lupino Lane’s antics delighted audiences but he is not often admitted into the upper echelon of comedians. Everyone has their own taste, of course, but I find his films to be delightful. (I never cease to be amazed at the venom some fans store up for silent comedians who fail to please them.) Lane had acrobatic grace that was almost unrivaled and he knew how to showcase it.
Lane starts things off as a dapper chap who always seems to get into scrapes. (His hat routine at the start of the short being a prime example.) The highlight of the picture is, of course, his child act and he clearly was having some fun here. Lane’s character takes his disguise as an excuse to indulge in mischief that would be unthinkable for a respectable twenty-something.
Using the same trick that worked so well for Mary Pickford and, later, Shirley Temple, Lane surrounds himself with tall performers to make his character seem even more childlike. Amazonian comedy veteran Blanche Payson plays his would be step-mother while Robert Graves (just shy of six feet) plays his dear old dad.
Is Naughty Boy the greatest comedy of the silent era? No but it’s solid entertainment and Lane brings his usual polish to the show. He gets to showcase his acrobatic skills, his dancing and his all-around zaniness. I have no complaints at all.
Before we leave Mr. Lane please excuse me clearing up something that seems to confuse a lot of people. Lupino Lane was Ida Lupino’s cousin but some people have the notion that he was her uncle and those people are busily editing Wikipedia to prove same. He wasn’t her uncle but there isn’t too much clear information on the Lupino family tree. So I made a chart. I have not included any spouses or siblings who do not figure into the tale.
(All names and dates are from the Encyclopedia Britannica. They are different everywhere I looked so I arbitrarily picked the Britannica as the source. What matters here are not the dates of birth and death so much as family relationships. The Lupinos make things even more challenging by taking on assorted stage names. Slippery rascals.)
See? Cousin. Specifically, first cousin once removed. (Lane was the first cousin of Stanley, Ida Lupino’s father.) I know everyone says second cousin but this is more correct. However, simply calling him her cousin is just fine.
So now that we’ve cleared that up, we can wind things down. Naughty Boy is an amiable silent short with fantastic physical comedy and some fun performances from Lupino Lane and his supporting cast. It’s definitely worth seeing.
Movies Silently’s Score:★★½
Where can I see it:
Presently, the only home media option is a bargain disc of so-so quality. I hope Lupino Lane will get a little more love on DVD or Blu-ray soon.