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Secret Cinema Two-Reelers!

  • Maas Building 1325 North Randolph Street Philadelphia, PA, 19122 United States (map)

Secret Cinema unearths vintage comedy TWO-REELERS at Maas Building

From the 1920s through the 1950s, audiences expected a full bill of entertainment from movie theaters. Besides a feature (or two) and coming attractions, they would also watch a newsreel, a cartoon, perhaps a travelog, and more often than not, a comedy short, or "two-reeler." 

Sadly, comedy shorts faded away as television became ubiquitous in  American households, and situation comedies took the place of the theatrical format. Today, the Three Stooges, Laurel and Hardy and Our Gang are the best-known stars of this vanished film genre -- but there were dozens of other stars and series that were familiar to talkie-era audiences.

Some actors who made comedy shorts became huge stars, like Bing Crosby,  Bob Hope and W.C. Fields. But others who were just as famous to moviegoers in the 1930s and 40s -- Leon Errol, Tom Kennedy, Andy Clyde and Billy Gilbert, to name just four once-prominent funnymen -- are, in the 21st century, obscure to all but the most savvy film buffs.

Well, nothing is too obscure for Secret Cinema, and on Friday, January 26, we will return to the Maas Building to celebrate this rich and varied corner of film history. TWO-REELERS will showcase a variety of rarely-seen comedy series and stars of yesterday.

There will be one complete show at 8:00 pm. Admission is $9.00.

The program is still being assembled, but below are details on just a few of the films to be shown. And full disclosure: To fit as much variety into this program as possible, we'll probably also include a few ONE-reel shorts (we thought TWO-REELERS made for a snappier program title!).

NO MORE WEST (1934, Dir: Nick Grinde) - Bert Lahr, later famous as the Cowardly Lion in THE WIZARD OF OZ, stars in this wild burlesque of Westerns. He plays "Gunpowder Bert," a henpecked man who dreams of the romantic frontier. He foils a robbery at a carnival shooting gallery, then somehow winds up sheriff of a Wild West town -- giving Lahr ample opportunity to display the trademark comic mannerisms that kept him working from vaudeville through his 1960s Lay's Potato Chips commercials.

CRACKED SHOTS (1934, Dir: George Stevens) - Producers of short films tried many pairings of actors in their search for perfect comedy chemistry; Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy labored for years in solo outings before producer Hal Roach realized they were funniest when together. 

CRACKED SHOTS features the short-lived team of Tom Kennedy and Will Stanton. Gruff-looking Kennedy (who, contrary to popular rumor, was unrelated to fellow two-reeler star Edgar Kennedy) was featured in countless comedy shorts, and with an assortment of partners. The British Stanton was, for most of his long career, mainly a character actor in bit parts. In this anarchic, somewhat weird short, Kennedy is pushed by Stanton to compete in a skeet shooting match that he is totally unqualified for. Things soon go wrong and his opponent takes umbrage, leading to an unrestrained (and comical) celebration of firepower. Stevens served as cinematographer on many Laurel & Hardy shorts before eventually becoming one of Hollywood's most distinguished directors (SHANE, GIANT). 

GLOVE SLINGERS (1939, Dir: Jules White) - This was the initial entry in an ill-fated series of Glove Slingers shorts, showcasing the misadventures of young pugilists, their amiable college friends, and a rotating cast of older comic players as handlers and trainers. The first two shorts (only) featured beloved third Stooge Shemp Howard in the role of "Uncle Pat," manager of fighter Noah Beery, Jr. Despite the direction by Jules White (who ran Columbia's short films department and thus oversaw their entire run of Three Stooges shorts), GLOVE SLINGERS displays a more naturalistic feel, with (somewhat) gentler comedy bits than seen in the usual Columbia/White house style of slapstick and sound effects. 

Leon Errol short to be announced (we have many to choose from!) - That Leon Errol is virtually unknown to modern audiences borders on the criminal. He emigrated to the U.S. from Australia, and then enjoyed a long career in vaudeville and on Broadway, with some tentative roles in silent slapstick films. It was not until Errol was in his fifties that he perfected the trademark characterization seen in nearly a hundred two-reelers, and numerous features (including several in the "Mexican Spitfire" series, with co-star Lupe Velez) -- and at his peak, the actor  was in his sixties. In these films, Errol plays a balding, somewhat-irascible man with a fondness for drinking and a knack for mix-ups with pretty girls -- leading to inevitable conflicts with his always-suspicious wife. Errol's flustered reactions to the tight spot she winds up in (sometimes innocently and sometimes not) provided the laughs in most of his 165 screen appearances.

MOVIE PESTS (1944) - One of the most prolific and best-known "stars" of 1930s and '40s comedy shorts was Pete Smith, responsible for 209 episodes of "Pete Smith Specialties," as well as another 80 films for other series. Yet Smith's face was unknown, for his specialty was adding sarcastic, wiseguy (and off-screen) narration to these comic looks at the everyday inconveniences of modern life. In this Academy Award-nominated short, Smith catalogs a litany of annoyances one is liable to encounter on a visit to the neighborhood movie theater. 

Plus much, much more!