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Silent comedy pioneer Mack Sennett had been creating stars since founding Keystone Studios in 1912. There he promoted the careers of such legends as Charles Chaplin, Gloria Swanson and Fatty Arbuckle. He moved the company to Triangle Film Corporation in 1915, but by 1917 had decided to strike out on his own, leaving Keystone with Triangle and creating his own Mack Sennett Comedies Corporation. That company released films through Paramount and First National before moving to Pathe in 1923.
The move had seemed like a good idea, as Pathe's distribution arm had a wide reach, but the company's management problems would come back to haunt him. Nor did it help that by 1923, Sennett's major stars had left him. He would retain only one of his top discoveries, Harry Langdon, during his six years there. The loss of Langdon in 1926 coupled with Pathe's problems led to sinking fortunes for Sennett. Complicating matters was the fact that, unlike rival comedy shorts producer Hal Roach, who also released through Pathe at the time, Sennett had not maintained ownership of his own films. When the two finally left the distributor, Roach's library was still popular enough to earn him a berth at MGM, while Sennett ended his career in bankruptcy.
Even in decline, however, Sennett's comic imagination was fertile. Once considered "lesser" stars, Sennett's leads at the time, particularly Billy Bevan, Andy Clyde and Madeline Hurlock, are ripe for rediscover. In addition, his later films feature then-newcomer Carole Lombard, learning the comic techniques that would make her one of the '30s' top stars. All of their work had a grace and energy that keep his films fresh and entertaining, even almost 90 years after their initial releases.
Although the 1927 film Smith's Pony stars Raymond McKee and Ruth Hiatt as Jimmy and Mabel Smith, a couple they played in a series of Mack Sennett comedies from 1926's Smith's Baby through 1929's The New Aunt, it is of principal interest as the Sennett Corporation debut of fourth-billed Carole Lombard. Easily the biggest star to emerge from the Sennett Bathing Beauties corps (Gloria Swanson was hired as a leading lady, never a Bathing Beauty), Lombard stepped out of the group in her first film to play a horse breeder who sells McKee a pony for young daughter Mary Ann Jackson. When he smuggles the horse on the ocean voyage home, it causes a series of misunderstandings, particularly since the pony bears the same name as Lombard's character, who's also on the ship.
The "Smith Family" films were a departure for Sennett. Focusing on simple, domestic situations rather than slapstick, they anticipate the television sitcoms of later years, using continuing characters to, in Sennett's words, depict "the average American family in all its humorous aspects." (from "The Smith Family Series" by Brent E. Walker at www.silentmafia.com.)
Producer: Mack Sennett
Director: Alfred J. Goulding, Raymond McKee
Screenplay: Al Giebler, Harry McCoy, Jimmy Starr, Phil Whitman
Cinematography: Vernon L. Walker
Cast: Raymond McKee (Jimmy Smith), Ruth Hiatt (Mabel Smith), Mary Ann Jackson (Bubbles Smith), Carole Lombard, Irving Bacon, Omar the Dog, Billy Gilbert.
by Frank Miller