Silent Comedy from Mack Sennett on TCM – Week 3

Every Thursday in September, Turner Classic Movies pays tribute to silent comedy pioneer Mack Sennett, screening 83 short subjects and 4 feature films, most of which have undergone (or are still undergoing, as of this writing) extensive restoration and musical scoring by Paul Gierucki and his team at CineMuseum.

The first two of the four evenings devoted to Sennett this month were programmed almost entirely with short subjects. Thirty shorts were presented on TCM on September 6, some dating back as far as 1909, when Sennett began his film career at the Biograph Company in New York. Last Thursday, 18 were screened, all produced between 1915 and 1917 by Sennett’s Edendale, California-based Keystone Film Company, then affiliated with D.W. Griffith and Thomas Ince in the Triangle Film Corporation.

This week, TCM once again presents a wealth of shorts produced by the Mack Sennett Comedies Company, formed after Sennett left Keystone and went independent (again) in 1917. In addition to 15 shorts, TCM will also premiere three Sennett-produced feature films never before seen on TV – two of which have been restored to their original lengths for the first time.

“This broadcast is my personal favorite,” Gierucki told me in an email message. “It is chock to the brim with some extraordinarily rare and amazing comedies in their full length versions. They have not been seen this way since their original release.”

Tonight’s program begins at 8 p.m. (ET) with MICKEY (1918), a 7-reel feature starring Mabel Normand. Sennett first met Staten Island native Normand at Biograph, and the smitten producer brought her out to California to be his leading lady at Keystone, memorably teaming her with Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle in a popular series of shorts. (FATTY AND MABEL ADRIFT is my favorite of the team-ups TCM has aired in this series. It can be viewed on You Tube, in an unlicensed version, not restored by CineMuseum.)

MICKEY was the only film produced by Normand’s independent production unit within Keystone, established by Sennett in an effort to keep his leading lady (and former fiancée) in the fold. It’s presented tonight in its original release version, with newly restored intertitles and a new score composed and performed by Donald Sosin. A longer, alternate version of the film, with material added for a later re-release, will be included on the Mack Sennett box set due from CineMuseum at year’s end. Gierucki calls that cut, currently being restored from an orignal 35mm nitrate print, “a completely different version.”

MICKEY was produced in 1916, but not released until August of 1918. By then, Mack and Mabel’s professional and personal relationship had soured, and Normand had signed a lucrative 5-year contract with the Samuel Goldwyn Company. Sennett subsequently bought out the contract in 1921, and brought Mabel back for a series of films including THE EXTRA GIRL (1923), a story of a small town lass trying to make it big in Hollywood. The version airing tonight at 12:15 a.m. is a newly completed restoration by CineMuseum.

THE EXTRA GIRL is an absolute must see,” Gierucki told me. “It is different from any version you may have seen before.”

Sadly, Mabel Normand’s career suffered from her connection to the unsolved murder of director William Desmond Taylor in 1922, and the revelation of her cocaine use. She was also connected to another shooting in 1924 and inextricably linked, in the public consciousness, to the persistent legal troubles that plagued her former on-screen partner Roscoe Arbuckle. Public outcry over these scandals led, in part, to the creation of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America trade association in 1922, and, indirectly, to the establishment of Motion Picture Production Code, the self-censorship doctrine that remained in place until 1968. Normand died in 1930 at the age of 37 from complications of tuberculosis.

The third restored silent feature premiering tonight is DOWN ON THE FARM (1920) at 10 p.m. with Louise Fazenda and Ben Turpin, former second banana to Charlie Chaplin at Essanay Studios in Chicago. Fazenda and Turpin, known for his crossed eyes and outsized brush mustache, are joined in DOWN ON THE FARM by Teddy the Dog, the canine star who helped rescue Gloria Swanson in last week’s delightful short TEDDY AT THE THROTTLE (1917). FARM is a five-reeler (silent movies of four reels or greater are usually considered features) co-written by Sennett, with Fazenda as a farmer’s daughter menaced by a villainous banker (is there any other kind?).

Fazenda began her film career in 1913 and started working with Sennett at Keystone two years later. She was often cast as a homely farm girl, with calico-dressed characterizations that would be borrowed in later years by cornpone comedians like Judy Canova and Minnie Pearl. Apparently, Fazenda was used by Sennett as a bargaining chip to help keep Normand in line at Keystone, when the mercurial star’s demands got out of hand. In real life, Fazenda married producer Hal Wallis in 1927 and retired from film in 1939, after a successful transition to talkies. She’s also featured in the short HEARTS AND FLOWERS (1919) at around 9:15 p.m. tonight

Ben Turpin, who plays The Faithful Wife’s Hushand in DOWN ON THE FARM, also appears in two shorts airing tonight: BRIGHT EYES (1922) at approximately 11:15 p.m. and THE DAREDEVIL (1923) at 1:30 a.m.

Another iconic silent film figure making his first appearance in this series is Harry Langdon, famous (and occasionally derided) for his baby-faced man-child persona. Langdon stars in PICKING PEACHES (1924) at 2:20 a.m., HIS MARRIAGE WOW (1925) at 4:25 a.m.

Also appearing tonight are Australian comic Billy Bevan (five films), Sid Smith (four films, including two in which he’s teamed with Bevan) and Vernon Dent (six films), who went on to be a frequent foil for the Three Stooges. Frank Capra also is represented tonight as writer of SUPER-HOOPER-DYNE LIZZIES (1925) at 5 a.m., with a new score from Ben Model

Keep in mind that airtimes are approximate. And your DVR’s listings may not be entirely right, either. If you want to watch an individual film, I recommend you record both the preceding and following programs, to insure you get what you want.

Enjoy the movies! The line-up is after the picture.

Note: hotlinks below lead to unrestored (unlicensed) versions on You Tube. These are not the versions that will air on TCM, or appear on the upcoming DVD release.

Thursday, September 20 – 15 Mack Sennett Shorts and 3 Features

8:00 PM – 10:00 PM – 1 Short and 1 Feature

MICKEY (1918) – Feature
Director: F. Richard Jones, James Young
Release Date: August, 1918
Production Company: Mabel Normand Feature Film Company
Shooting Locations: Mabel Normand Studio; Lake Arrowhead, California; race track in Phoenix, AZ
Duration: 71 minutes – 7 reels
Restoration: CineMuseum
Score: Donald Sosin (composer/performer)
Cast: Mabel Normand (Mickey, an Orphan), George Nichols (Joe Meadows), Wheeler Oakman (Herbert Thornhill), Minta Durfee (Elsie Drake), Laura La Varnie (Mrs. Drake), Lew Cody (Reggie Drake), Tom Kennedy (Tom Rawlings), Minnie Deveraux (Minnie)

HEARTS AND FLOWERS (1919)
Director: Edward F. Cline
Release Date: June 22, 1919
Production Company: Mack Sennett Comedies
Duration: 23 minutes – 2 reels
Restoration: CineMuseum
Score: Dennis Scott (composer/performer)
Cast: Louise Fazenda (A Flower Girl), Ford Sterling (A Leader of Men), Phyllis Haver (A Magnate’s Daughter), Billy Armstrong (An Indignant Nobleman), Jack Ackroyd (A Child of Destiny)

10:00 PM – 12:00 AM – 1 Feature + 3 Shorts (1920-1922)

DOWN ON THE FARM (1920) – Feature
Director: Ray Grey, F. Richard Jones, Erle C. Kenton
Release Date: April 25, 1920
Production Company: Mack Sennett Comedies
Distributed by: United Artists
Duration: 50 minutes – 5 reels
Restoration: CineMuseum
Score: Donald Sosin (composer/performer)
Cast: Louise Fazenda (Louise, the Farmer’s Daughter), Harry Gribbon (The Rustic Sweetheart), Bert Roach (Roach, the Farmer), James Finlayson (The Sportive Banker), Billy Armstrong (The Man of Mystery), Don Marion (The Baby), Marie Prevost (The Faithful Wife), Ben Turpin (The Faithful Wife’s Husband), Dave Anderson (Grocery Man), Joseph Belont (The Minister), Teddy the Dog.

DON’T WEAKEN (1920)
Director: Malcolm St. Clair
Release Date: September 5, 1920
Production Company: Mack Sennett Comedies
Duration: 20 minutes – 2 reels
Restoration: CineMuseum
Score: Donald Sosin (composer/performer)
Cast: Ford Sterling (Prof. Yonson), James Finlayson (Prof. Yonson’s Assistant), Charles Murray (The Father), Fanny Kelly (His Wife), Harriet Hammond (Their Daughter), Joseph Belmont (The Daughter’s Beau)

BRIGHT EYES (1922)
Director: Roy Del Ruth, Malcolm St. Clair
Release Date: January 9, 1922
Production Company: Mack Sennett Comedies
Duration: 20 minutes – 2 reels
Restoration: CineMuseum
Score: Dennis Scott (composer/performer)
Cast: Ben Turpin (Oil Magnate, Billy Bevan (Nosey Butler), Phyllis Haver (Modest Maid), Dot Farley (Ambitious Mother), Bud Ross (Nearly Bankrupt Husband), Harriet Hammond (Marriageable Daughter), Jack Richards (Fortune Hunter), Kalla Pasha (Chef), Dave Anderson (Oil Expert), James Finlayson

GYMNASIUM JIM (1922)
Director: Roy Del Ruth, F. Richard Jones
Release Date: May 1, 1922
Production Company: Mack Sennett Comedies
Duration: 22 minutes – 2 reels
Restoration: CineMuseum
Score: Donald Sosin (composer/performer)
Cast: Billy Bevan (Jim), Mildred June, Kewpie Morgan, Marvin Loback, Al Cooke, James Finlayson

12:15 AM – 2:00 AM – 1 Feature and 1 Short (1923)

THE EXTRA GIRL (1923) – Feature
Director: F. Richard Jones
Release Date: October 28, 1923
Production Company: Mack Sennett Comedies
Duration: 68 minutes – 6 reels
Restoration: CineMuseum
Score: Phillip Carli (composer/performer)
Cast: Mabel Normand (Sue Graham), Ralph Graves (Dave Giddings), George Nichols (Zachariah “Pa” Graham), Anna Dodge (Mary “Ma” Graham), Vernon Dent (Aaron Applejohn), Ramsey Wallace (T. Phillip Hacket), Charlotte Mineau (Belle Brown), Mary Mason (Actress) Max Davidson (Tailor)

THE DAREDEVIL (1923)
Director: Del Lord
Release Date: November 25, 1923
Production Company: Mack Sennett Comedies
Duration: 20 minutes – 2 reels
Restoration: CineMuseum
Score: Donald Sosin (composer/performer)
Cast: Ben Turpin (Joe Magee, Actor), Harry Gribbon (The Director), John J. Richardson, Kewpie Morgan (Western Heavy), Madeline Hurlock (Leading Lady)

2:00 AM – 3:45 AM – 4 Shorts (1924)

TEN DOLLARS OR TEN DAYS (1924)
Director: uncredited
Release Date: February 15, 1920
Production Company: Mack Sennett Comedies
Duration: 20 minutes – 2 reels
Restoration: CineMuseum
Score: Donald Sosin (composer/performer)
Cast: Eddie Gribbon, Phyllis Haver, Charles Murray, Kalla Pasha, Ford Sterling, Leo Sulky

PICKING PEACHES (1924)
Director: Erle C. Kenton
Release Date: February 3, 1924
Production Company: Mack Sennett Comedies
Duration: 20 minutes – 2 reels
Restoration: CineMuseum
Score: Donald Sosin (composer/performer)
Cast: Harry Langdon (A Shoe Clerk), Alberta Vaughn (His Wife), Ethel Teare (Her Chum), Dot Farley (A Customer), Kewpie Morgan (Her Husband), Vernon Dent (The Manager), Irene Lentz (His Wife)

THE HALF-BACK OF NOTRE DAME (1924)
Director: Del Lord
Release Date: February 24, 1924
Production Company: Mack Sennett Comedies
Duration: 20 minutes – 2 reels
Restoration: CineMuseum
Score: Donald Sosin (composer/performer)
Cast: Harry Gribbon, Jack Cooper, Madeline Hurlock, Louise Carver, Andy Clyde, Vernon Dent, Kewpie Morgan, Barney Hellum, Jack Lloyd, Roger Moore, Kalla Pasha

BLACK OXFORDS (1924)
Director: Del Lord
Release Date: May 18, 1924
Production Company: Mack Sennett Comedies
Duration: 24 minutes – 2 reels
Restoration: CineMuseum
Score: Ben Model (composer/performer)
Cast: Sid Smith (The Jockey), Vernon Dent, Marceline Day (The Girl), Anna Dodge, John J. Richardson, Kalla Pasha, Andy Clyde, Natalie Kingston, Marvin Loback

3:45 AM-5:00 AM 4 Shorts (1924-1925)

LIZZIES OF THE FIELD (1924)
Director: Del Lord
Release Date: September 7, 1924
Production Company: Mack Sennett Comedies
Duration: 16 minutes – 2 reels
Restoration: CineMuseum
Score: Donald Sosin (composer/performer)
Cast: Billy Bevan (Nick Pliers, A Mechanic), Sid Smith (Another Mechanic), Jack Lloyd (The Boss), Barbara Pierce (Polly Pliers), John J. Richardson (The Villain), Andy Clyde (The Starter)

GALLOPING BUNGALOWS (1924)
Director: Edward F. Cline
Release Date: November 2, 1924
Production Company: Mack Sennett Comedies
Duration: 20 minutes – 2 reels
Restoration: CineMuseum
Score: Donald Sosin (composer/performer)
Cast: Billy Bevan, Sid Smith, Natalie Kingston, Sunshine Hart, John J. Richardson, Andy Clyde, Margaret Oliver, Bud Ross

HIS MARRIAGE WOW (1925)
Director: Harry Edwards
Release Date: March 1, 1925
Production Company: Mack Sennett Comedies
Duration: 21 minutes – 2 reels
Restoration: CineMuseum
Score: Donald Sosin (composer/performer)
Cast: Harry Langdon (The Groom, Harold Hope), Natalie Kingston (The Bride, Agnes Fisher), William McCall (Her Father), Vernon Dent (A Pessimist – Prof. Looney McGlumm)

WATER WAGONS (1925)
Director: Del Lord
Release Date: February 22, 1925
Production Company: Mack Sennett Comedies
Duration: 17 minutes – 2 reels
Restoration: CineMuseum
Score: Donald Sosin (composer/performer)
Cast: Madeline Hurlock (Dolly Barr), Andy Clyde (Capt. Barr, Dolly’s Father), Sid Smith (Percy Bimbo), John J. Richardson (The Villain), Bud Ross, Leo Sulky

5:00 AM-6:00 AM 2 Shorts (1925) 

SUPER-HOOPER-DYNE LIZZIES (1925)
Director: Del Lord Writer: Frank Capra
Release Date: June 14, 1925
Production Company: Mack Sennett Comedies
Duration: 20 minutes – 2 reels
Restoration: CineMuseum
Score: Ben Model (composer/performer)
Cast: Billy Bevan (Hiram Case, A Hired Man), Andy Clyde (Burbank Watts, His Boss), Lillian Knight (Minnie Watts, His Daughter), John J. Richardson (T. Potter Doam, A Scamp), James Donnelly, Vernon Dent, Leo Sulky

A RAINY KNIGHT (1925)
Director: Lloyd Bacon
Release Date: September 20, 1925
Production Company: Mack Sennett Comedies
Duration: 24 minutes – 2 reels
Restoration: CineMuseum
Score: Dennis Scott (composer/performer)
Cast: Raymond McKee, Ruth Taylor, Marvin Loback, Eugenia Gilbert, Irving Bacon, Leo Sulky

About willmckinley

Will McKinley is a New York City-based writer, producer, reporter, radio host, and #OldMovieWeirdo. He’s been a guest on Turner Classic Movies (interviewed by host Robert Osborne), Sirius Satellite Radio and the official TCM podcast. Will has written for PBS and Slate and his byline has appeared more than 100 times in the pages of NYC alt weeklies like The Villager and Gay City News.
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