Silent Screams – Puppet Masters | The Merry Skeleton (1897)

While Le squelette joyeux (The Merry Skeleton) is more lighthearted fun with little-to-no scares [to us modern viewers], with it the Lumiere brothers lay the groundwork for using special effects to create monster movie magic, which has advanced a tad in the 100+ years since.

In fact, only 3 years later, Frederick Armitage successfully transported the skeleton away from the static black background and onto a pirate ship at sea for Davey Jones’ Locker. The next thing you know, Davy Jones is raising hell in a Disney movie setting sail towards $1 billion dollars, literally. Thanks, Lumiere brothers!

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Silent Screams – The Road to Elm Street | A Nightmare (1896)

Georges Melies — our defending champion — wins spot #2 in the series as well, this time for Le Cauchemar (aka A Nightmare).

It’s not exactly Wes Craven material as the presentation is more humorous than horrific (though Freddy can be a pretty funny dude at times). However, scary movies are so deeply rooted within nightmares that this work by the cinemagician cannot be ignored. It also happens to be highly entertaining and contains excellent stop-motion substitution tricks especially innovative for the time.

Silent Screams – World’s 1st Horror Movie | The Devil’s Castle (1896)

Considered the first horror movie — and arguably the first vampire movie — Le manoir du diable (aka The Devil’s Castle) is an 1896 Georges Melies film that runs for over 3 minutes, an astonishing length for the time.

The film has been known by a variety of alternate names — The Devil’s Manor, The Manor of the Devil, The House of the Devil, and The Haunted Castle — the latter is actually a different movie by Méliès, made 1 year later on the same set and with many of the same costumes. It is also notable for containing some of the earliest hand-tinting of images.

September Slapstick: Laurel before Hardy, Hardy before Laurel

Laurel and Hardy were the first double act to gain worldwide fame through film. Together, they made over 100 movies — 32 were silent shorts, 23 were feature-length and contained sound. However, each was already well-established before joining as a duo:

Stanley Arthur “Stan” Jefferson [Laurel] was the older of the two. A music-hall understudy to Charlie Chaplin (pre-Keystone), he appeared in over 50 films. Buster Keaton commented on Laurel’s talent, “Chaplin wasn’t the funniest, I wasn’t the funniest, this man was the funniest.” Below is an early Larry Semon vehicle, Huns and Hyphens, which features a pre-L&H Laurel.

Oliver “Babe” Hardy, affectionately known as Ollie, began his movie career before Laurel, resulting in over 250 films before their team-up. He was from Georgia, my home (and current) state, but I won’t hold that against him. Below is The Servant Girl’s Legacy (dir. Arthur Hotaling), a short from 1914 featuring a 22-year-old Hardy.

September Slapstick: Two of a Kind | Fox Trot Finesse (1915)

I’m including Fox Trot Finesse (dir. Maurice Morris) in this Slapstick Series for 3 reasons:

  1. Mr. & Mrs. Sidney Drew were one of the 1st silent film comedy teams.
  2. Sidney was the uncle of John, Lionel, and Ethel Barrymore (and therefore the great-granduncle of Drew Barrymore).
  3. Mrs. Sidney Drew is a spiritual ancestor to the Fake Shemp. Very soon after the death of Drew’s 1st wife — the original Mrs. Sidney Drew (Gladys Rankin) — he married Lucile McVey, who became the new Mrs. Sidney Drew character.
Mr. and Mrs. Sidney Drew have a joint Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, though I am unsure whether that is for Mrs. Drew #1 or #2.

September Slapstick: The Super Friends | A Film Johnnie (1914)

On this final day of September, I’m posting a couple entries on silent comedy teams — those two are coming later today.

Before that, I wanted to give a final shout-out to Mack Sennett and his repertory players, specifically Charlie Chaplin, Mabel Normand, Fatty Arbuckle, and Ford Sterling. They all make an appearance in A Film Johnnie, a meta-movie directed by George Nichols, in which Chaplin visits the Keystone Studios lot. The mayhem that follows is a prelude to the real-life relationship difficulties that soon existed between each of these stars.

September Slapstick: The Movie Dick | Pool Sharks (1915)

W.C. Fields (born William Claude Dukenfield) was a comedian, actor, juggler and writer. Despite creating a comic persona as a hard-drinking misanthrope — while publicly expressing his contempt for dogs, women, and children — Fields remained a sympathetic and beloved entertainer.

Here is his first film appearance: 1915’s Pool Sharks, directed by Edwin Middleton for the Gaumont Film Company.

September Slapstick: Creating The Tramp | Mabel’s Strange Predicament (1914)

The first time Chaplin donned his “Tramp” costume: Mabel’s Strange Predicament, directed by and starring Mabel Normand. From a 1933 interview, Chaplin recalls The Tramp’s inception:

I was hurriedly told to put on a funny make-up. This time I went to the wardrobe and got a pair of baggy pants, a tight coat, a small derby hat and a large pair of shoes. I wanted the clothes to be a mass of contradictions, knowing pictorially the figure would be vividly outlined on the screen. To add a comic touch, I wore a small mustache which would not hide my expression. My appearance got an enthusiastic response from everyone, including Mr. Sennett. The clothes seemed to imbue me with the spirit of the character. He actually became a man with a soul – a point of view. I defined to Mr. Sennett the type of person he was. He wears an air of romantic hunger, forever seeking death, but his feet won’t let him.” 

Note that this is not the 1st film appearance of The Tramp, based upon release date — Kid Auto Races at Venice was released 2 days earlier (on February 7th, 1914).

September Slapstick: The Tramp Appears | Kid Auto Races at Venice (1914)

The first film appearance of Charlie Chaplin’s famous character, The Tramp.

Note that this was not the first time Chaplin donned the costume – that occurred for the filming of Mabel’s Strange Predicament. However, Kid Auto Races at Venice (directed by Henry Lehrman) was released on February 7th, 1914, two days before Mabel’s Strange Predicament.

September Slapstick: Chaplin’s First Film | Making a Living (1914)

An entire blog series can be created just for the shorts of Charles “Charlie” Chaplin, and I plan to do this for the next month starting with the letter ‘C’…maybe I should choose a different time.

Regardless, Chaplin made his film debut in the appropriately titled, Making a Living, playing a swindler and not his lovable tramp character. It was directed by Henry Lehrman and is the 6th of 12 movies featuring Mack Sennett’s Keystone Cops.