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The True King Of Comedy

The True King Of Comedy

The first movie book I ever read was Mack Sennett’s autobiography King of Comedy, borrowed from my local library. I’ve bristled ever since when other people have claimed that title, but Turner Classic Movies is setting things right by devoting four Thursdays in September to Sennett films. That’s not as simple a task as it might seem: for all his fame and influence in the silent era, his movies have been scattered and shamefully neglected. Of the thousand films he produced, only a few hundred are known to exist today.

Enter Paul Gierucki and Brittany Valente of CineMuseum. These two dedicated film buffs and historians, who brought us the valuable DVD collection Industrial Strength Keaton, have scoured the archives and private collections of the world to restore 100 films to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Mack Sennett’s Keystone comedy studio. According to their press release, “These long neglected classic comedies will finally receive a desperately needed restoration in the HD format. Titles, intertitles and missing footage will be replaced, images lightly cleaned and stabilized, original tinting and toning will be restored and newly created scores by some of the best musicians in the industry will ensure that these wonderful films will once again be seen as originally intended.”

Seventy-six of their restorations will debut on TCM; the entire collection will be showcased on DVD and Blu-ray later this year.         

Stars include Chaplin (of course), Mabel Normand, Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, Harry Langdon, Andy Clyde, Ben Turpin, Gloria Swanson, Ford Sterling, Chester Conklin, Louise Fazenda, Carole Lombard and W.C. Fields. Many a stalwart screenwriter and director learned his trade working for Mack Sennett, from Frank Capra to Darryl F. Zanuck.

Not every Sennett short is a gem; some are primitive and even coarse. (Keystone comics routinely kicked their adversaries in the stomach, for instance.) Seen in chronological order, however, they illustrate the evolution of screen comedy. There is a spirit to those early, off-the-cuff comedies that’s hard to resist, and a polish to some of the 1920s sight-gag marathons that’s never been duplicated.

 If your appetite needs whetting, check out this clever promotional video from TCM:

I fell in love with these films after seeing Robert Youngson’s feature film compilation The Golden Age of Comedy when I was seven years old. It was a life-changing experience for me. Reading Sennett’s book was icing on the cake, as it evoked the rough-and-tumble world of early moviemaking—as well as the producer’s longtime love affair with Mabel Normand. (The fact that he made up a lot of those stories—as I later learned—doesn’t reduce their charm in my eyes.)

Now it’s time to rediscover the films of Mack Sennett. Here is a complete TCM program guide for the next four Thursday nights.

Thursday, September 6
TCM Spotlight:  Mack Sennett

8:00 PM
The Curtain Pole (’09)
Comrades (’11)
The Manicure Lady (’11)
With a Kodak (’12)
Dashing Through The Clouds (’12)
9:00 PM
The Water Nymph (’12)
A Grocery Clerk’s Romance (’12)
On His Wedding Day (’12)
A Life in the Balance (’13)
The Bangville Police (’13)A Fishy Affair (’13)
Barney Oldfield’s Race for A Life (’13)
Mabel’s Dramatic Career (’13)
The Speed Kings (’13)
A Flirt’s Mistake (’14)
11:00 PM    
The Knockout (’14)
Mabel’s Married Life (’14)
The Great Toe Mystery (’14)
Recreation (’14)
The Rounders (’14)
Shot in the Excitement (’14)
Curses! They Remarked (’14)
12:45 AM
Tillie’s Punctured Romance (’14)
2:00 AM
The Noise of Bombs (’14)
Leading Lizzy Astray (’14)
Ambrose’s First Falsehood (’15)
Hash House Mashers (’15)
Fatty and Mabel at the San Diego Exposition (’15)
Fatty’s New Role (’15)

Thursday, September 13
TCM Spotlight:  Mack Sennett

8:00 PM
A Bird’s a Bird! (’16)
Gussle’s Day of Rest (’16)
Do-Re-Mi-Boom! (’16)
Court House Crooks (’16)
9:30 PM
Dirty Work in a Laundry (’16)
A Lover’s Lost Control (’16)
A Submarine Pirate (’16)
11:00 PM
Dizzy Heights and Daring Hearts (’16)
Fatty and Mabel Adrift (’16)
He Did and He Didn’t (’16)
Wife and Auto Trouble (’16)
12:30 AM
His Bitter Pill (’16)
The Waiters’ Ball (’16)
The Surf Girl (’16)
Madcap Ambrose (’16)
2:00 AM
Teddy at the Throttle (’17)
Her Torpedoed Love (’17)
A Clever Dummy (’17)
Thirst (’17)

Thursday, September 20
TCM Spotlight:  Mack Sennett

8:00 PM
Mickey (’18)
Hearts and Flowers (’19)
10:00 PM
Down on the Farm (’20)
Don’t Weaken (’20)
Bright Eyes (’22)
Gymnasium Jim (’22)
12:15 AM
The Extra Girl (’23)
The Dare-Devil (’23)
2:00 AM
Ten Dollars or Ten Days (’24)
Picking Peaches (’24)
The Half-Back of Notre Dame (’24)
Black Oxfords (’24)
3:45 AM
Lizzies of the Field (’24)
Galloping Bungalows (’24)
His Marriage Wow (’25)
Water Wagons (’25)
5:00 AM
Super-Hooper-Dyne-Lizzies (’25)
A Rainy Knight (’25)

Thursday, September 27
TCM Spotlight:  Mack Sennett

8:00 PM
Saturday Afternoon (’26)
A Sea Dog’s Tale (’26)
Hoboken to Hollywood (’26)
A Harem Knight (’26)
9:30 PM
Catalina, Here I Come (’27)
Broke in China (’27)
Pride of Pikeville (’27)
The Golf Nut (’27)
11:00 PM
Smith’s Pony (’27)
Fiddlesticks (’27)
Run, Girl Run (’28)
The Best Man (’28)
12:30 AM

His Unlucky Night (’28)

Taxi for Two (’28)

Matchmaking Mama (’28)

Match Play (’30)

2:00 AM

The Great Pie Mystery (’31)

The Loud Mouth (’32)

The Dentist (’32)

Don’t Play Bridge with Your Wife (’33)

The Fatal Glass of Beer (’33)

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