At Hal Roach: The Talkies Vol. Two 1932-33
And off we go into another couple of years of prime Charley Chase, one of the most versatile and likable (and funny) of 1930s comics, but alas almost exclusively working in short subjects, and not a TV fixture for us baby boomers, and hence not as fondly remembered as comics who were able to stretch their artistic wings into feature films or onto after-school TV marathons..
Biographical information on Mr. Chase (real name: Charles Parrott) can be found in our review of Volume One, so we’ll skip right on ahead to this set of 15 short subjects (2- and 3-reelers, approximately 20-30 min. each) plus one bonus short in (phonetic) Spanish language.
For his 1931-1932 series of short comedies, producer Hal Roach was set with five series of short subjects, rotating weekly:
- Laurel & Hardy
- Thelma Todd and Zasu Pitts
- Our Gang
- Charley Chase
- The All-Stars featuring The Boy Friends (a sort-of grown-up Our Gang, with a lot of alumni from that series)
For 1932-33, the lineup remained much the same, except that the All-Stars now starred The Taxi Boys, with Billy Gilbert and Ben Blue.
Obviously, this was a hefty schedule to stick with, but the Roach team having Chase – who could contribute gags and songs and direct and who had production experience, too – helped a lot. Joining two DVD volumes of Thelma Todd short subjects pairing her with her two partners, Miss Pitts and Patsy Kelly, Kit Parker Films has now released a second volume of Charley Chase films, including some of his best shorts. Offering the same music, comic spirit, and charm as the Laurel & Hardy films made at the same time, the Chase shorts are a joy to revisit or, in many cases, to view for the first time.
Unlike stablemates Laurel & Hardy or Thelma & ZaSu, Charley wasn’t confined to urban settings or even modern times in his short subjects. Nor was he bound by the laws of physics… some of his funniest shorts involve the bending of time and space for laughs. And it’s important to remember that a series typically ran from the end of summer through the following summer (similar to TV series today), so we’re actually picking up Charley midway through the 1931-32 season (mostly directed by Warren Doane) and into the middle of the 1932-33 season (mostly directed by Charley himself, or his brother James Parrott).
Highlights of the Set
From 1932, the best films are The Tabasco Kid (directed by our old pal James W. Horne), with Charley playing a notorious Mexican bandit who just happens to look like Charley; well-received comedy from Billy Gilbert and music from the Ranch Boys really add to this one. The Nickel Nurser has “efficiency expert” Charley brought in to teach spoiled rich girl Thelma Todd the value of money; Young Ironsides (which kicked off the 1932-33 season) is a riot, with Charley hired to keep pretty Muriel Evans from entering a beauty contest and disgracing her family; young Paulette Goddard can be seen in this one. Girl Grief is one of our Chase favorites, as Charley – who is terrified of women – hired as an instructor at an all-girl’s school. Now We’ll Tell One and Fallen Arches are two of those “not bound by the law of physics” short we mentioned: in the former, he wears a science-fiction device that can change his personality at the press of a button; in the latter, he takes everything so literally that when he’s told to “take a hike” to the West Coast from the East, he starts walkin’.
By now, we’re into 1933, and the highlights include Charley as a Tarzan-like figure in Nature in the Wrong; bamboozled into buying into a failing dry cleaning business by James Finlayson in His Silent Racket; attempting to get home from France after the Great War with his vocal group pals The Ranch Boys in Sherman Said It, one of a series of popular musical shorts with Charley set during the war; and the hilarious Luncheon at Twelve, with Charley as a hapless house painter. As director, Charley remade this short with the Three Stooges a few years later at Columbia.
Through these shorts, we can also track Charley’s talented leading ladies: Miss Todd steps out (the only short with her on the set is the first one) and is eventually replaced by the beautiful and winsome Muriel Evans, who is supplanted in 1933-34 by Betty Mack. All of them are winners.
All of the shorts look fine, and have bonus commentary by Richard M. Roberts, who knows what he’s talking about. The bonus short is Una Cana al Aire, a 4-reel phonetic Spanish version of the early Chase talkie Looser than Loose. Unlike the Laurel & Hardy Spanish films that add a lot of bonus material and musical acts to flesh them out to 4 or 5 reels, this is pretty much a straight version of the early film, with Chase doing a pretty good job of Spanish, joined by an alternate, Spanish-speaking cast (this was in the days before dubbing had been perfected).
Charley stuck around the Roach lot for three more years, so there are plenty more comedies – including some of his all-time best – still in the vaults, and hopefully this set will be successful enough (it deserves to be!) for additional releases. Very highly recommended.