Sold at Auction (1923) A Silent Film Review

Snub Pollard plays an orphan who grows up to be… an auctioneer’s assistant? When he inadvertently sells the contents of a house belonging to the chief of police, he must embark on a wild goose chase to buy everything back or spend his not-so-happily-ever-after in prison.

Home Media Availability: Released on DVD.

And you think your job’s bad…

One of the best things about Hal Roach comedies is that there is always something and someone new to discover. With over 1,200 producing credits to his name, Roach’s brand is one of the largest in classic comedy. Keeping that fact in mind, I put it to some of my readers: Other than big stars like Laurel and Hardy, Harold Lloyd, Charley Chase and Thelma Todd, which Roach performer would they like to see reviewed?

The overwhelming majority gave me one name: Snub Pollard.

Snub and mustache.

I was most familiar with Pollard as Harold Lloyd’s sidekick/antagonist but he also performed solo comedy and his fans seem to generally agree that his most fruitful period was during his time with Hal Roach.

Have my readers led me to comedy gold? Will Snub be just as funny headlining his own comedy? Let’s examine Sold at Auction to see.

Considering the housing prices in LA, this surprises me not at all.

The film opens with a mother sneaking up to the steps of an orphanage and leaving a basket with her baby inside at the door. Twenty-five years pass—and the basket is still there! Out comes Snub Pollard ready to begin his day and he starts things off by helping a little boy cross a busy street. The good deed has fateful consequences as Snub ends up being thrown through the window of an auction house.

Business had been slow for the auction house but Snub’s abrupt entrance changes all that. You see, they were selling first aid kits. The auctioneer (Charles Stevenson) hires him on the spot to demonstrate their fine line of blackjacks and brass knuckles.

Heading off to camp. (Also, I would buy one of these motorcycles.)

Meanwhile, Wallace Howe is penniless so-and-so who is advised to raise money by selling off his furniture and knickknacks. Enter James Finlayson, the Scottish firecracker best remembered for his battles with Stan and Ollie. He is a harried husband who just wants to take his family (wife, kids, pa-in-law) camping and he lives next door to Howe.

Okay, you’ve probably already guessed what is probably going to happen—and it does! Snub sells every stick of furniture while Finlayson and family are off battling mosquitoes at the campsite. They return and are horrified to see what has happened. It is then that Finlayson properly introduces himself; he is Sylvester Finkelbuster, chief of police. Snub’s mission: Get back every single item that was sold or spend a couple of decades wearing a ball and chain.

Snub on a runaway piano.

What choice does he have? Snub opens his auction book and sets off to recover the furniture. Will he succeed or will he trade in his bassinet for iron bars? See Sold at Auction to find out.

The comedy in this film is a little more in the Bizarro World than the films of, say, Our Gang or Laurel and Hardy. While they would sometimes include a bit of what Stan Laurel called “white magic” (e.g. using fingers to light cigars), they basically existed in the real world. Pollard’s comedy universe is a little weirder, a little crazier and the craziness is universal. Everyone in the cast from Pollard to Finlayson to the supporting cast has bats in the belfry and no one takes particular notice because weird is normal in their eyes.

Don’t worry, it’s just a man being run over. A normal Tuesday, really.

Of course, a baby left on a doorstep would still be there over two decades later. Of course, a father would take his family camping in a motorcycle with four sidecars. Of course, paying customers would insist on their brass knuckles being demonstrated on somebody’s living jaw. The film sets up its oddball set of rules and then it follows them to the letter, an essential element to creating comedy that borders on the surreal.

Despite the wild and often violent slapstick, Pollard’s persona is milder than it was in his Harold Lloyd days. He’s basically a good guy, a born loser who’s aware that he’s never going to exactly succeed in life but he tries his best anyway.

Give the man his teeth… or else!

The film is helped along by its experienced supporting cast. Finlayson is his usual pugnacious self, hopping mad at the loss of his furniture and then strangely cheerful as Snub risks life and limb to get it all back. Jack Ackroyd (who had a significant supporting role in the wonderfully weird Cruise of the Jasper B) is particularly funny as Finlayson’s father-in-law. He spends the entire short issuing threats and demands in order to get his teeth back. Well, you would too if you had a ham sandwich in your pocket.

It has a relatively loose story structure but the short feels tight and snappy. Much of this can be credited to the direction of Charley Chase, who is credited under his real name of Charles Parrott. The film includes some snazzy little flourishes, like a “melting” scene after Pollard is socked with a blackjack and a small army of animated mosquitoes.

What a world! What a world!
The most terrifying scene in the history of cinema.

And H.M. “Beanie” Walker, resident title writer at the Hal Roach lot, keeps things moving along with his usual flair:

The film also features a pretty decent final punchline, which, of course, I shall not be revealing here. You’ll thank me later.

So, how did my Snub Pollard experience pan out? Very well! I’m not a big fan of rough slapstick but this film had enough weird little details to keep me happy and it’s always nice to see Finlayson at work.

Finlayson, Pollard and Ackroyd think things over.

Sold at Auction was a delight overall. Plenty of slapstick but with that Roach joviality and I enjoyed the oddball and surreal elements. Pollard is a scream and Finlayson does his usual smashing job as the slow-burning antagonist. This one definitely gets my stamp of approval.

Where can I see it?

Sold at Auction has been released on DVD as part of the Festival of Silent Comedy series by It includes an excellent piano score performed by Ben Model. It’s also included as an extra on the company’s DVD release of Gloria Swanson’s Manhandled.


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  1. floodmouse

    Yes, this idea of moving the furniture out of the wrong house was re-used in “Ghosts on the Loose” in the 1940s. I had never heard of this older film. Thanks for the heads-up!

  2. Marie Roget

    “Every lady an’ gent of refinement should carry a blackjack.” Think I’ll hand letter a sign of that and hang it in the foyer between the coat rack and the umbrella stand where it’s sure to add class to the joint 😉

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