Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Teddy at the Throttle is classic early slapstick romance

By Doug Gibson

This month (September 2012) Turner Classic Movies is showing early silent Mack Sennett/Keystone Company comedy shorts. They are a treasure to view and my favorite so far is 1917’s “Teddy at the Throttle.” I don’t know if by that date a damsel in distress, a feckless boyfriend, a dastardly villain, the scheming vamp, a heroic dog – and a girl tied to the railroad tracks – had become clich├ęs already.

Certainly, “Teddy at the Throttle” does not take itself seriously. It’s a great comedy, with lots of slapstick that includes slips in the mud and a very fat man taking up two seats on a train. But it’s a must-see film for fans of the silent era. Fortunately, TCM has the full 27-minute version. (YouTube has a couple of shorter versions, a 24-plus minute-version without music and a 22-minute version one that focuses more on the orchestra than the film (see above).

The plot is simple and well-suited for a one-reel comedy farce.  The young lovely is “Gloria Dawn,” played by Gloria Swanson, who is engaged to “Bobbie Knight,” a rather simple-minded by good-hearted man, played by Bobby Vernon. Gloria is an orphan, and her finances are being handled by “Henry Black,” “her rascally guardian,” played by Wallace Beery. Black, of course, is stealing Gloria’s money. He enlists his vampy sister, played by May Emory, who easily turns the head of simple-minded Bobby. At that point,

Black moves in on a repulsed Gloria, hoping to marry her for her cash, get rid of her, and split the loot with his sister. There’s an uncaring aunt who hangs around, lots and lots of extras and of course, there’s “Teddy,” a faithful dog who turns out to be a big hero.

The film, directed by Clarence G. Badger, is fast-paced, manic comedy at its best. The two stars, Swanson and Beery went on to much bigger status, and they are fantastic. Swanson is so vulnerable that you want to reach into the screen and take her away from the villainous Beery, who has no qualms about tying her to the railroad tracks and gleefully anticipating her horrendous death. Ah, but Teddy won’t let that happen.

Besides YouTube and TCM, you can buy Teddy at the Throttle as part of a Kino Collection DVD. It’s worth the cash.

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