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Character Studies

Character Studies (1925) is an amusing, technically impressive curio featuring some of the greatest (male) movie stars of the silent era. On a vaudeville-type stage, Carter DeHaven, a popular comedian at the time, sets things up by announcing a series of 'impressions' of several of the biggest film stars of the 1920s. Of course, these are not impressions at all, but carefully framed and edited sleights of hand, bits of movie trickery that George Méliès would've made, had the concept of the "movie star" taken off by the time Méliès was working.

DeHaven first announces "Buster Keaton." Then he opens up a large trunk, dons a different shirt, bends over to look at an unseen mirror in the trunk, disappears for a scant half-second, and up emerges Buster Keaton in the flesh for a deadpan quick bit. Then Keaton ducks behind the chest again and out pops DeHaven. The showman follows up with Harold Lloyd dancing the jig that was his character's trademark in The Freshman (1925). Then it's Fatty Arbuckle's turn to perform his own bit of trademark slapstick with the flick of his wrist and the flip of a flapjack, a gag Arbuckle used in several of his silent shorts. The follow-up to Arbuckle is none other than Rudolph Valentino. Given his lothario star status, it's surprising that Rudy is even in this comedy bit at all. But the former, failed vaudevillian hams it up with a twinkle of the eye, and paves the way for Douglas Fairbanks, who appears as the swashbuckling Robin Hood. Jackie Coogan, in character from The Kid (1921) rounds out the "impressions" that DeHaven presents.

There is a slight mystery as to when Character Studies was actually made. It was released to the public by Educational Pictures in 1928, but it had to have been made before 1926, since after August 23, 1926, Rudolph Valentino was permanently booked underground. Some historians have placed it at 1922, due to Douglas Fairbanks' roguish outfit, similar to the one he wore in Robin Hood (1922), as well as the presence of Roscoe Arbuckle, who had been banned from pictures by the Hays Office after a ruinous scandal had sullied his reputation in 1921. But the picture was made in 1925, in honor of the one silent movie giant who is noticeably absent from Character Studies: Charlie Chaplin. The film was made for a party thrown at Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks' house, Pickfair, in celebration of Chaplin's completion of The Gold Rush (1925).

Cast: Carter DeHaven, Roscoe 'Fatty' Arbuckle, Jackie Coogan, Douglas Fairbanks, Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd.
BW-6m.

by Scott McGee

VIEW TCMDb ENTRY

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