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Slapstick City! There's Pain in Them Thar Hills!

Welcome to the Slapstick-O-Thon Blog-O-Thon For All Things Slapstick!... O-Thon...

Fingers go 'kablooey'As you may well know, the term Slapstick comes from an actual stick that made a loud noise when it was used to strike something, the point being to exaggerate the sound and effect while keeping the actor safe from harm, and that is the essence of the art. Exaggerated stunts are funny because they're dramatic, but the fact is that most slapstick actors of the heydey were some of the best stuntmen to ever stand before a rolling camera, yet even these brave souls could not always plan for every contingency.

Take for example Harold Lloyd, known for his breakneck high-speed chases and rickety sky-high adventures. Harold spent the more successful years of his career with missing fingers. And it didn't even happen while making a film, though it was certainly work related.

You see, on August 24, 1919, he was posing for photos using a comic prop bombs. Imagine if you will, a man holding a hissing bomb for the camera when the thing turns out to be real and goes off. I guess the fact that he lit his smoke with it before it went off makes him about as super-cool as any one could ever be.

He was temporarily blinded and was forever missing a thumb and a forefinger on his right hand, though he did manage to film the rest of the two-reeler he was working on, Haunted Spooks, with his new prosthetic hand - a long-time well-kept secret. Every film he's been in since that time will reveal him wearing a pair of white gloves, you know the kind, Mickey Mouse made them famous.

You can actuall;y see the shot while watching the filmThen there's Buster Keaton. His first close call was in Our Hospitality (1923). He was almost killed when a safety wire holding him to shore snapped. You can actually see the moment in the film when he realizes it too as they kept the footage in the film.  Buster looks directly at the camera lens and begins immediately picking up speed. Buster was then swept toward a waterfall, where he managed to grab an overhanging branch and held on for dear life until crews could rescue him. He finished the sequence with a fake waterfall, but even the fake one was 25 feet tall high. Crazy, crazy man.

neck goes 'ow'One year later, during the filming of Sherlock Jr., Buster unknowingly broke his neck, again a scene captured on film. The scene involved him hanging from a water spout over a railroad. When the water shot out of the spout it knocked Keaton onto the track with such unexpected force that he passed out. Years later, he discovered the source of the subsequent frequent migraines while at the doctor's. 

Charlie Chaplin, to finish the trifecta, was not one who suffered great injuries on set, though he was one who got hurt by his actions, namely due to the women he associated with and the bad publicity they inspired. The novel Lolita is said to have been inspired by Chaplin's romance with a 16-year-old Lita Grey which began in 1921. Chaplin was 32. His romance was certainly not the most popular of Hollywood events. Given his career, it didn't seem to hurt him all that bad.

One could say that the theft and ransom demand of his exhumed corpse is a little more strange, but I suppose it wasn't painful. It is true, however, that his body was held for ransom.  Luckily the culprits were found, and the body was reburied in its original resting spot, this time with a two-foot thick layer of concrete to protect him.

So, for those of you looking forward to that 'slow down for an accident' moment in film when something might actually be happening for real, well watch some Jackie Chan outtakes, or perhaps even some old-school Slapstick Silents.


Now, having seen so much slapstick that you could slap a stick at... I thought I'd include a couple links to a few of my favourite films if this era:

Chaplin's The Circus (1928) literally made me hurt myself laughing.

Keaton's The General (1927) is 'Silent Staple'. Get on with it.

Lloyd's Girl Shy (1924) has a chase scene that includes every single vehicle imaginable. It's freaky awesome.

Keaton's Go West (1925) has him dressing up in red and leading a stampede of cows through downtown L.A.

You know who else loves Slapstick? Thom Ryan, and he set this all up.  
Check out what everyone else had to say.

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There's a wonderful comedic sense in your writing, Squish, and it shines through this pain-filled post.   Thanks for sharing some of the consequences that our favorite performers had to face just to make us laugh.  Our posts compliment each other very well.

Thank you for contributing to the blog-a-thon.

I was thinking the exact same thing! - er the post complimenting each other, not the patting myself on the back.

Thanks for the reflection on the connection between slapstick and real pain.  It reminded me of the alleged last words of the actor Edumnd Kean: "Dying is easy; comedy is hard".



Joe Thompson ;0)

My own Blog-a-Thon post was about Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. Here’s something I didn’t mention that belongs on your List of Pain:

There’s a scene in the movie where the Boys slam a door in Frankenstein’s face and hold it shut. Lou Costello was off his mark and when the Monster punches through the panel, Lou gets hit right in the kisser. It’s in the film. You see Lou’s head snap around. There’s a brief moment, a split-second where both men freeze, as if deciding what to do next. And then they go on with it and run out of frame. Priceless.

Sometimes, physical comedy gets physical.

I remember seeing that when I was seven.  I also really reember liking it :D

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