Poor Charley Chase! He plays Mr. Moose, who is curses with a hideous set of teeth. His wife is equally homely, the owner of a ridiculous schnoz. Two separate sessions of secret plastic surgery later, both husband and wife are knockouts and they immediately decide to have a fling… with each other!
They like Pina Coladas…
Anyone who has spent any time around silent movie fans knows that factional warfare can get vicious. There is no debate more deadly than the Great Comedian War. The problem is, frankly, just a few of the more passionate and vocal fans, the majority of silent movie viewers are delightful. However, the possibility of igniting some sort of heated argument is always present.
I generally try to hide behind a sofa when these things breaks out. I like Chaplin. I like Keaton. I like Lloyd. I like Langdon. I… don’t like Larry Semon but hardly anyone does. (I still might get in trouble for that last one.) I refuse to get worked up because someone’s taste in comedy does not match mine.
Plus, I have a little secret. While I enjoy most silent comedians very much, when I have had a long day and I just want something fun, I always turn to the same star: Charley Chase.
The plot should be a familiar one to fans of silent and pre-Code cinema: A husband sets out to cheat on his wife but his would-be lover turns out to be… his wife! (These plots are heavily influenced by the popular Strauss operetta, Die Fledermaus.) Mighty Like a Moose adds a new angle: The wife is equally ready to cheat.
The setup is that Mr. and Mrs. Moose are united by their homeliness. He has awful teeth and she has a giant nose. Both secretly plan to have plastic surgery to correct their defects (this is wonderful movie plastic surgery that does not require recovery time). Well, you guessed it, they run into one another, he makes a pass, she accepts and before we know it, they are off to a party together.
One problem, though. The party is raided by the vice squad and Mr. and Mrs. Moose end up on the front page of the newspaper. Mr. Moose knows that his wife will never forgive him and is despondent… until he overhears Mrs. Moose come home. He quickly puts two and two together and is outraged. How dare she cheat? How dare she?
One aspect of the film that I really appreciated is how it pokes fun at the double standard that prevailed (and still does, to some extent), which was that a man is expected to sow wild oats or step out but a wife who does such a thing is a sinner. Can’t we just agree that cheating is wrong for everyone? Many famous films treat a man’s cheating like the wife’s fault and indicate that if she leaves him alone, he’ll come home wagging his tail behind him. But a cheating wife? Burn the harlot! Well, Mighty Like a Moose has Mr. Moose discover the true identity of his would-be paramour and he is outraged. How dare she? Chase and the film play up the hypocrisy for all it is worth. It’s quite refreshing to see this viewpoint lampooned.
Mr. Moose decides to teach his wife a lesson and, in a bit clearly inspired by Max Linder, proceeds to use his false teeth to make her believe that he is both her husband and her lover. A fight! Oh, what can Mrs. Moose do?
Well, she can look at the newspaper, see the before and after picture of her husband (his transformation made the news) and clock him.
All in all, a very satisfying marital comedy and a nice example of the high-quality output that Hal Roach was producing at the time.
As was typical for silent short comedies, the title cards are full of pop culture references and digs at then-current events. I thought it would be fun to dig around and offer explanations for some of the more obscure jokes. (The titles are by the famous H.M. “Beanie” Walker, who was responsible for some of the funniest cards in the business.)
While Benito Mussolini is now remembered for his alliance with Hitler, he actually was admired by many in the U.S. and U.K. when he first took power in 1922. His fans viewed him as the firm hand needed to guide Italy out of its slump. Of course, those admirers conveniently ignored the horrific aspects of fascism but that is another story.
Mussolini was not without his enemies. One of them was Violet Gibson, an Irish debutante who hated Il Duce for his bloody reign of terror. During one of his public appearances, she made her way through the crowd, took aim at his face with a small pistol and fired. Mussolini turned his head at the last second and the shot nicked his nostril. Bloody but not fatal.
Mussolini was shot in April of 1926 and the film was released in July of the same year, which makes the title card very topical indeed.
This is, of course, a reference to little Nipper, who recognizes a recording of his master’s voice.
Plus fours were baggy knickerbockers that extended four inches below the traditional length. I always have called them “golf pants” and I don’t think I’m alone in this. Chase’s long underwear in this scene resembles the popular sporting fashion.
The polka was one of THE dance crazes of the nineteenth century. By the time the silent era was in full swing, however, it was used as shorthand for an out-of-fashion dance. You had to be really out of touch if you still thought the polka was fashionable. Of course, polka had the last laugh as it still has a passionate following while the more fashionable dances of the twenties have faded away.
Chase also makes references to Florodora (a popular play of the previous century and originator of the beautiful Florodora girls) and Mayflower (as in Puritans sailing on), both digs at his partner’s old-fashioned ideas.
The film is confidently directed by Leo McCarey and I think we can safely say that he knows his onions. After all, he famously brought Laurel and Hardy together and would later direct The Awful Truth, Duck Soup and An Affair to Remember. Under his command, Mighty Like a Moose moves along at a nice clip but it is not rushed.
Of course, I am here for Charley.
Charley Chase may not be the most famous of the silent comedians but he has a passionate following (I am a third-generation Chase fan) and I must say that it is well-deserved. His comedies are merry everyman affairs with just enough of the fantastic or surreal to keep things lively. While I like some Sennett, I am very much a devotee of the Hal Roach style, a gentler and more believable comedy world occupied by Our Gang and Laurel and Hardy.
I first saw Chase when I was quite young. My parents made it their mission to pass on the love of Hal Roach Studios. Laurel and Hardy were the universal favorite. Still are. Sons of the Desert is generally considered to be the boys’ best feature and I certainly am not going to argue with the assessment. Charley Chase had a small role as an obnoxious conventioneer. Well, we fell in love with him as only small children can. We rewound his scene and ran around shouting “What a dob!” at the top of our lungs.
(Chase’s Mighty Like a Moose co-star, the gorgeously coiffured Vivien Oakland, would have a supporting part in Laurel and Hardy’s “other” best feature, Way Out West.)
At the time (pre-internet), it was pretty hard to find any other Chase material. Well, I fell in love again when I started to seek out more silent comedies. Mighty Like a Moose was the first Chase silent film that I saw. I was hooked again!
Mighty Like a Moose is a great introduction to this talented comedian and is deservedly popular at film festivals and in box sets.
Movies Silently’s Score: ★★★½
Where can I see it?
While there are many versions floating around, I like the charmingly scored version to be found in the Charley Chase Collection box set.