Charley Chase: Films from 1914 to 1940
Hal Roach still considers Charley Chase - writer, director and comedian - the most inventive creator of comedy that ever worked for him, not even excluding Stan Laurel. Yet although his films, especially in the late silent period, were popular, funny, sophisticated and served as an invaluable training ground for a number of important writers, directors and players, he has never really been given his due. Over the past year this Chase compilation has played to delighted audiences at the New School in New York, at the AFI Theatre in Washington, at the National Film Theatre in Washington, and the Telluride Film Festival.
It should be stressed that these short comedies were NEVER intended to be seen together in such quantity, and with most comedians such a grouping would suffer from inevitable diminishing returns. It is very much of a tribute to Chase's charm and versatility that such a program DOES work so well.
Like many other comics, Chase started with Mack Sennet's Keystone comedies, and found the rigid slapstick formula limiting. He had much better luck with Hal Roach, where the comedians were recognisable human beings rather than clowns, and where plot, sophistication and sight-gags were carefully balanced and constructed. He reached his peak in the silent period, but his charm - and even a pleasing singing voice - enabled him to make a successful transition to talkies. Many of his sound 2-reelers were remakes of his silents, but their (original) near-surrealism was often toned down to the more “realistic” demands of the sound comedy, and some of the more outrageous and visually double-entendre gags had their bite removed by the Production Code. Nevertheless, he maintained pleasing standards in his talkies, and even the weaker ones usually had marvellous moments.
If Chase never became as big a silent comedian as some of the others, it is probably because he peaked quite late, when most of his contemporaries had already made the transition to features, and because he wasn't quite as original as some of them. He overlapped a little into Harold Lloyd territory - and into Reginald Denny's too. Then too, his forte was the comedy of embarrassment and frustration, which didn't lend itself to the silent comedy feature as well as the pathos of Chaplin and Langdon, or the comedy-thrill material of Lloyd. Although he appeared in the occasional feature, in both silent and sound films, and sometimes to brilliant effect (as in his long sequence with Laurel and Hardy in Sons of the Desert) he remained primarily in shorts - and made so many of them, and of such high standard, that perhaps we should in fact be grateful that he did not go into features and thus curtail his output.
His screen character was that of the would-be bon-vivant, the bachelor having a last fling before marriage, or the humdrum husband, trying to get along in business and recapture some of the abandon of earlier days. In one sense, he was almost an extension of Harold Lloyd - after Lloyd married the girl in the last reel and settled down.
Chase had charm and taste both as a performer and a director: directing The 3 Stooges in Tassels in the Air, he even managed to make the word “charm” not inapplicable to that violent trio.
Chase used his real name Charles Parrott when he directed; he was the brother of James Parrott, also a comedy director, and formerly a comedian who, as Paul Parrott, looked so much like Charley that people still confuse them. Charley died in 1940, still a young man - he was 46 - in the middle of a series of 2-reelers for Columbia.
We have kept this compilation to 2 hours and 20 minutes, covering all phases of his career from beginning to end, including one film that he directed.