Thursday, January 31, 2008

Cut to the Chase

I mentioned a little over a week ago how Martin Grams, Jr. of Finders Keepers had a sale on some of the Andy Clyde Columbia shorts and how that afforded me the opportunity to re-watch many of the two-reelers that entertained me during the halcyon days of my television childhood. Rodney Bowcock, Mr. Grams’ faithful Indian companion, also sent me a hefty cache of the old Columbias the same week, including a nearly complete accounting of the two-reelers former Hal Roach comedian Charley Chase cranked out for the Lady With the Torch.

Chase made a total of twenty comedies for Columbia between 1937-1940, and I’ve been fortunate to see sixteen of them. Many of the shorts Rodney sent me I previously owned on VHS (a collection that I recently bequeathed to my musician friend The Chief, because I figured he was the only person I knew who would appreciate them) but a handful of the shorts in the “Bowcock collection” were completely new to me. The first of these, The Grand Hooter (1937), was Chase’s debut for the studio and while it’s nothing really special (Charley’s wife is annoyed that he spends all his free time with his lodge buddies), it moves along at a breezy clip and generates a chuckle or two. (It’s also one of two shorts in which Charley sings, which was a speciality of his at Roach.) The best of the not-previously-seen shorts is Skinny the Moocher (1939), in which Charley’s upcoming nuptials (to TDOY character fave Ann Doran) are jeopardized by his valet, kleptomaniac John T. Murray; it’s got a number of generally funny scenes. The other two shorts, The Mind Needer (1938) and The Sap Takes a Wrap (1939), don’t do a lot for Chase’s reputation; Needer might very well be the worst of Charley’s Columbia output were it not for the fact that it needs to stand in line behind Man Bites Lovebug (1937).

Chase fans have a tendency to malign his Columbia shorts, particularly when compared to his rich output at Roach, but in watching Charley’s available Columbia product I was surprised to see that his batting average remained fairly high. The Wrong Miss Wright (1937), The Big Squirt (1937), Many Sappy Returns (1938), The Nightshirt Bandit (1938), Pie a la Maid (1938), Rattling Romeo (1939), The Heckler (1940) and His Bridal Fright (1940) are all first-rate comedies, with Wright, Squirt, Returns and Maid my particular favorites. Wright was a sound remake of Charley’s classic silent Crazy Like a Fox (1926), and because I saw Wright before Fox I was curious to see how the material would play in a silent comedy since it would appear to rely an awful lot on dialogue. (Much to my relief, Fox works just fine.) Bandit is a two-reeler I remember vividly from my childhood, particularly the gag with the recliner that opens up a trap door in its seat, dropping the reclinee into a dunking pond. Greg Hilbrich at The Shorts Department says that none of the Chase shorts were included in the package Columbia put together for television (a compendium Columbia/Screen Gems dubbed The Hilarious Hundred…even though it contained 200 two-reelers), and though I don’t mean to disparage his thorough research I’m nearly positive I saw it on TV (along with its remake, Andy Clyde’s Go Chase Yourself [1948])—I can’t figure out where else I would have seen it.

There are four remaining Columbia Chase shorts that I have not been able to see—From Bad to Worse (1937), The Chump Takes a Bump (1939), The Awful Goof (1939) and South of the Boudoir (1940). (If anyone knows a source for these, drop me an e-mail.) I have seen Chump’s remake, Wife Decoy (1945), which stars Hugh Herbert (and is one of Herbert’s better Columbia efforts), and Boudoir was also remade as a Herbert vehicle entitled When the Wife’s Away (1946)—I’ll watch the Herbert version when Mr. Hilbrich gets around to sending me the comedies I recently purchased off of him on eBay.


Anonymous said...

The chances of releasing Columbia Andy Clyde shorts to DVD is doubtful.

Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. said...

The chances of releasing Columbia Andy Clyde shorts to DVD is doubtful.

I think a better term would be "unlikely." After all, one of Clyde's two-reelers, Hot Paprika (1935) was an extra on one of the Sam Katzman box sets.

But I've learned never to dismiss such notions--if you had told me five years ago the entire run of M Squad would be on DVD I probably would have laughed you out of the building.