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Mack Sennett - TCM Spotlight
Remind Me

Lizzies of the Field

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 rediscovery. 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.

The chase, a Sennett staple, was at the heart of the 1924 short Lizzies of the Field. Billie Bevan stars as a mechanic whose garage competes with its nearest rival in a daredevil cross-country race. Like most Sennett films, the picture is filled with sight gags, like a car with an extendable passenger seat used to snag leading lady Barbara Pierce and the "Snoozenmobile" that lets the driver get in a little extra sleep on the way to work. Once the race starts, it's all speed and stunts as one car backs into the judges' stand and pulls it along the course, the racers run into four men hauling a log across the road, turning it into a pile of kindling, and the villain moves a "road blocked" sign to send Bevan through a blasting site.

This was one of several vehicles Sennett made with Billy Bevan between 1919 and 1929. The Australian clown made more than 100 shorts for the comic pioneer, starting with Treating 'Em Rough (1919) and ending with Calling Hubby's Bluff (1929). With his trademarked bowler hat and droopy moustache, Bevan was usually a mischief-maker in the tradition of such earlier Sennett leading men as Charles Chaplin. Although Andy Clyde only has a small role as the starter for the race, he and Bevan would eventually become a popular comic team for Sennett, although Clyde would also start a series of shorts of his own, usually playing addled old men.

Producer: Mack Sennett
Director: Del Lord
Screenplay: Mack Sennett, John A. Waldron
Cinematography: Bob Ladd, George Spear
Cast: Billy Bevan (Nick Pliers, a Mechanic), Sidney Smith (Another Mechanic), Jack Lloyd (Nick Pliers, The Boss), Barbara Pierce (Polly Pliers, Daughter of the Boss), John J. Richardson (The Villain), Andy Clyde (The Starter).

by Frank Miller


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