Theme Month! November 2017: Anti-Slapstick

The modern view of silent films is a little topsy-turvy. While new laugh-out-loud comedies have to fight for awards season recognition and dramas get easy respect, silent films have the opposite problem. Silent slapstick comedy is feted and praised while non-horror, non-European dramas sometimes get lost in the shuffle.

I review a LOT of drama on this site but I wanted to sneak in another neglected sort of silent film: non-slapstick comedy. There’s nothing wrong with slapstick, of course, but it’s a mistake to think that “faw down, go boom” was the only sort of funny business going on. In fact, “slapstick” is sometimes used to describe ALL silent comedy, which is ridiculous.

The films I will be reviewing this month will have some physical comedy, of course, (they are still silent films) but much of the humor will be derived from zany situations and eccentric characters. (At least in my opinion.) Domestic comedy, dramedy, drawing room comedy, black comedy, farces, I hope you will enjoy!

Naturally, different sorts of comedy would mix and there may be some cases of “you got peanut butter in my chocolate, you got chocolate in my peanut butter” but here are some funny films that aren’t exactly slapstick:

Chicago (1927) Murder is funny! Especially when Phyllis Haver does the shooting.

Chess Fever (1925) Gaming addiction is funny! Especially when the Russians make the comedy.

Flirting with Fate (1916) Hiring a hitman to kill you is funny! Especially when Douglas Fairbanks is the victim.

Fox Trot Finesse (1915) Dance fads are funny! Especially when a May-December couple gets caught up in one.

A Girl’s Folly (1917) The film industry is funny! Especially with real behind-the-scenes footage.

The House in Kolomna (1913) Sneaking your boyfriend into the house is funny! Especially when you disguise him as the new cook to do it.

Oh Doctor! (1925) Hypochondria is funny! Especially when the victim is played by Reginald Denny.

Show People (1928) Did I mention that the film industry is funny? Well, it is. Especially with Marion Davies in the lead.

Why Change Your Wife (1922) Divorce is funny! Especially when William de Mille does the writing.


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      1. ostjudebarbie

        once the 1910s rolled around and movies started to look and feel “recognizable,” you can really appreciate the humor in title cards and in good acting. but slapstick hung around longer than that and i have honestly never understood it.

  1. Keith S.

    I loved “Flirting with Fate” and “Show People”. I’ve yet to see any Reginald Denny silent; is it true that his refined English accent limited his career in talkies?

    1. Fritzi Kramer

      I don’t think it limited it so much as sent him down a different path than he would have experienced had he been from, say, Omaha. His roles got posher but not necessarily worse. His silent comedies are such a delight, though! I’m happy to spread the word about them and will be featuring another Denny comedy this month.

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