Robert Youngson Enters Leo's Den
Youngson/Metro's Big Parade Of Comedy Clips
What we now take so for granted ... TCM had a day of comedy last week that I'd have died for in the late 60's: Laurel-Hardy, The Marx Bros., Abbott and Costello --- are new fans being won by these? Much is writ of present day historians forged upon Robert Youngson compilations made between 1957 and 1970. One of what TCM had was MGM's Big Parade Of Comedy, a mid-way Youngson (1964) and not regarded his best, yet I did start-to-finish in nostalgic glow not only for funsters excerpted, but as reflect on Bob as seeming lone voice on behalf of oldies that really weren't so old at the time. He had way of making past seem ancient past. "A quarter-of-a-century ago," his narrators would intone, but honestly, what's twenty-five years? To me, that seems like yesterday afternoon. Would a modern Youngson mourn the distance between us and Hot Shots! or City Slickers? These are a quarter century gone too, but maybe time trips lighter since 1991. After all, we lined up to see Star Wars redone, with grizzled principals aboard, after thirty-eight years. Has there ever been such gulf surmounted in a whole history of movies? So many of Youngson's Big Parade was still marching in 1964, others buried before our lifetimes. Of all his mash-ups, this was most uneasy mix of still-active and long-gone.
Parade was Youngson's first foray into talkie clips. It's been conceded since that sound was not his friend. From promising start of long-unseen silent highlights (including Buster Keaton's The Cameraman), we are amidst, for balance of length, dialogue sections of mixed interest. There's emphasis on sight-gagging where Youngson could find it, thus a tall dose of Dave O'Brien falling down in Pete Smith Specialties, these largely unknown to 1964 youth (the Smiths were available to TV, but no station around me used them). A lot of the sound stuff needed context to work, a problem Youngson always had with excerpts, but not so niggling where he stuck to silents. Clark Gable staging a fake bombing raid makes sense, and gets laughs, when you've watched Too Hot To Handle up to that point. Standing alone, and in need of narration to make sense of it, the routine lays flat.
Youngson's search was for slapstick, which you'd not expect to find in a Garbo vehicle, but to his credit, here is a skiing bit from Two-Faced Woman that works nice as stand-alone, and not needful of explanation as to the film's complicated narrative set-up. This plus famed "Garbo Laughs" highlight from Ninotchka did what her whole career otherwise couldn't --- made Garbo seem a fun personality accessible to a new generation not awed by her remote and chilly image. For that, the long-retired actress should have broken silence to send Bob a letter of thanks. MGM's Big Parade Of Comedy lost money. Had Youngson's audience dwindled down to just kids? ... or maybe these clips were too familiar from late, late shows. A problem could have been folks proposed as funny who weren't necessarily funny folk, like aforementioned Garbo and Gable, but Youngson stuck to known comedy quantity where he could, and there was plentiful footage to draw from. Trouble was, it wasn't necessarily these clowns at their best.
1964 was pre-dawn on the Marx Brothers as Big Men On Campus, and Youngson evidently didn't trust their verbal wit to carry segments he'd use, thus a train-buggy chase that source feature Go West spent over an hour building up to. Most would have said then, and certainly now, that the Marxes don't register at slapstick speed, their part slowing the Parade way down. Robert Benchley was also best when verbal, but here at least his awkward reactions to social stress (a hotel check-in, dentist office, crowded theatre) are brief and straight to a point. Youngson had quaint compulsion to pen lyrics for theme songs he'd assign to Benchley, Jean Harlow, Marie Dressler, whomever else he took particular fancy to. Sometimes a clip choice was precisely right to demonstrate what made a star great, as with Marie Dressler's resigned response to a drunken Wallace Beery in Tugboat Annie. In this one moment, we understand why Dressler was irreplaceable, least of all by ham-fist-and-bray Marjorie Main, who thankfully isn't part of MGM's Big Parade Of Comedy.
Youngson appreciates best the silent clowning. There's wild fooling, like mass of humanity pouring out a mansion's front door and down steps like a waterfall, this clip yet to be identified even by experts, but what a bizarre few feet. Who but Youngson, let alone in 1964, would have brought up the Arbuckle tragedy in connection with the disgraced comedian's nom-de-plume direction of The Red Mill, from which extract with Marion Davies is shown. How many realized then that it was Arbuckle that guided The Red Mill as William Goodrich? I assume that was insider info that Youngson was revealing for a first time. Ditto his use of Dane and Arthur, popular and prolific in their day, touched also by tragedy in Dane's case (not addressed by RY) --- but has anyone since 1964 given us scenes, let alone features in entirety, of this team's work? --- which based on China Bound and Detectives highlighted, look illuminating, if not essential, to grasp of late silent comedy.
The big get for the silent portion is The Cameraman, an early demo outside Rohauer revivals of how great Buster Keaton was in his prime. The feature lends itself well to excerpting, Youngson aware that this is the jewel among MGM laugh properties from pre-talking era. Word is they ran off a print that Youngson took home, its resurface after his death paving way for insertion of footage missing from elements Metro successor Warner Bros. was heir to. Chalk up rescue of The Cameraman to Youngson then, plus more recent recovery of the second reel from Battle Of The Century, another thought-vanished reel that was part of his estate and since utilized to put the Laurel and Hardy short for a most part right (only a couple minutes still missing). I wonder if any cast/crew on Keaton's beach pics for AIP (what he referred to as "pajama pictures") happened to see MGM's Big Parade Of Comedy and spoke to Buster about it. Surely someone in his orbit brought word that The Cameraman was back on screens, at least in part. Would Keaton have made trek downtown to see Youngson's handiwork?
Jean Harlow was a biggest deceased name in 1964, thanks to a lurid bio and two sleazy pics in preparation based on lies let loose by the book. Youngson gave her due, of course, and so supplied the curious their first glimpse, outside television, of the real Harlow, who by 1964 seemed an other-worldly sex goddess with alabaster skin and hair to highlight fact she'd been gone a generation. Her final scene in Dinner At Eight, with Marie Dressler, gets Parade airing, a certainty wherever "Best Of MGM" is topic, the company having used the clip before in anniversary shorts (Harlow also gets lion's share of footage in Parade's theatrical trailer, the film's pressbook making her a primary selling point as well). Recognition of the Thin Man series is confined mostly to dog Asta, a common thread run through scenes from at least four of the series. Again Youngson ducked verbal sparring to put emphasis on the visual, in this case pooch antics where dialogue played no part. Youngson might have wished he had more of W.C. Fields, seen here in David Copperfield, the Great Man, like the Marxes, on eve of youth's discovery and embrace. Time-honored Laurel and Hardy, Youngson's luckiest charms, get music overlaid upon the egg-crack routine with Lupe Valez from Hollywood Party, which was at least fresh, if not particularly funny, and a dance from Bonnie Scotland has advantage of being self-contained, thus easy to extract. I watched Big Parade Of Comedy, deleted it, then realized I didn't have a DVD. Does Warner Archive have this one on their drawing board?