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Mack Sennett - TCM Spotlight
Remind Me

His Unlucky Night

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 she had played larger roles in Sennett's films, Carole Lombard at least got to feature in visually imaginative sequences in the 1928 two-reeler His Unlucky Night, recently restored from print elements at UCLA. To capture the sense of constant chatter coming into the switchboard where she works, director Harry Edwards put Lombard at the center of a series of superimpositions featuring the various callers to whom she connects. It's all part of a madcap night of misunderstandings that threaten star Billy Bevan's marital bliss.

When Fox canceled her contract after the 1926 auto accident that left her with a small facial scar, Lombard signed with Sennett on the advice of friends, who thought he could help her work on comic technique. Although she often spoke fondly of the experience, her chief memory was that she had had to paint her nose red for one film. When it took two weeks to get the paint off, it cost her a boyfriend, who didn't think she was "dainty" enough for him.

Producer: Mack Sennett
Director: Harry Edwards
Screenplay: Nicholas T. Barrows, Douglas Bronston, Harry McCoy, Earle Rodney, V.K. Shimer, Vernon Smith, Maurice Stephens
Cinematography: St. Elmo Boyce, Lewis Jennings, Ray Rennahan, George Unholz, William Williams
Cast: Billy Bevan (Billy Trotter), Dot Farley (Mrs. Trotter), Vernon Dent (Homer Brown), Carole Lombard (Peggy), Carmelita Geraghty (Jenny), William McCall (Hotel Manager), Andy Clyde (Homer's Father-in-Law), Pussums the Cat.

by Frank Miller



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