In a series of silent vignettes scenes from the movies of the teens and 1920s are presented: As comedian Charlie Chase and his family disrupt an entire movie audience with their unruly antics, an offscreen narrator explains that this scene was typical in neighborhood theaters in the 1920s, when silent comedy was king. The scene shifts to 1914 at the Keystone Studios, where Charlie Chaplin is just launching his career as "The Tramp." After a domestic squabble with his wife, played by Mabel Normand, Charlie encounters Mack Swain at a diner, and the two become embroiled in a food fight that culminates with a pie in the face. In a 1916 short, Mabel and Fatty Arbuckle star as newlyweds whose marital bliss is imperiled by Mabel's jilted suitor, Al St. John. During a storm, Al shoves the sleeping sweethearts' cottage out to sea. Awakening to water lapping at her feet, Mabel sends her loyal dog to summon help and rescue them. In 1917, Wallace Beery portrays Gloria Swanson's evil guardian who chains her to the railroad tracks, where she is rescued from an onrushing train by her beau, Bobby Vernon, and Teddy, the Keystone dog. In 1924, Harry Langdon and Alice Day appear as newlyweds whose domesticity is shattered by the arrival of a burly cook named Annie. After Annie quits in disgust, she is replaced by the glamorous Fifi Le Fluff, who arouses Alice's jealousy. All ends happily, however, when on a stormy night, Fifi, an undercover secret service agent, unmasks Harry's boyhood friend as an international criminal. In a 1923 Hal Roach short, Snub Pollard is the madcap inventor of the "magnet car," a car that propels itself with a big magnet. In 1928, Stuart Erwin and Edgar Kennedy appear as a couple of guys in search of an ice cream cone while being harassed by a traffic cop. Next, Buster Keaton, known as "the great stone face," portrays a moving man who innocently disrupts the annual police parade, thus making himself the target of a chase by the entire police department. A 1924 short shows Ben Turpin traveling through the frozen north, where he encounters Mack Sennett's Bathing Beauties emerging from their igloos. In a scene written by Frank Capra, Billy Bevan propels a column of automobiles over a sand dune. The film ends with the 1929 short Big Business , in which Leo McCarey directs Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy as Christmas tree salesmen, who try to pitch a tree in the middle of summer to impatient home owner Jimmy Finlayson. The transaction slowly escalates into warfare as Finlayson angrily dismantles Laurel and Hardy's car and they retaliate by vandalizing his house. After taking notes on the entire incident, a police officer intervenes, and they all tearfully shake hands. Laurel presents Finlayson with a cigar, and after he and Hardy run off, Finlayson lights the cigar, which then explodes in his face.
The Keystone Cops
Laurel And Hardy
The Sennett Girls
Al St. John
Teddy, The Keystone Dog
John E. Allen
Charles L. Cooke
When Comedy Was King
Robert Youngson's When Comedy Was King (1960) is an affectionate and reverential anthology of manic scenes from classic silent film comedies, featuring such iconic performers as Charlie Chaplin, Laurel & Hardy and Buster Keaton, alongside the forgotten likes of Harry Langdon, Edgar Kennedy, Mabel Normand and Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle. The film was Youngson's second theatrical compilation of existing material related to the silent film era. The Golden Age of Comedy (1957) had rekindled public interest in the cinematic partnership of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy. (Hardy had died in 1957 and a quietly retired Laurel would follow in 1965.)
In retrospect, the documentary proved invaluable for its inclusion of the classic pie fight scene (in condensed form) from Laurel and Hardy's lost short The Battle of the Century (1927); shortly after Youngson duped the sequence for use in his own film, the negative for The Battle of the Century decomposed entirely. The success of The Golden Age of Comedy ensured a follow-up and When Comedy Was King hit movie screens scarcely two years later.
Born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1917, Robert Youngson received a master's degree in business administration from Harvard University after undergraduate studies at New York University. While attending Harvard, his 16mm short subject Smoke Dreams (1940), which depicted a young woman's hallucinatory reaction to smoking marijuana, received the Harvard Film Society Award and a cash price of fifty dollars. Youngson went to work editing newsreels for Pathé News in 1941 and returned to it after his military service in World War II. When Pathé was sold by RKO to Warner Brothers in 1947, Youngson was retained as a writer-producer of short subjects, notably the Sports News Review and Vitaphone Novelties one-reelers. Nominated for five Academy Awards for "Best Short Subject" between 1951 and 1957, Youngson won twice, for World of Kids (1951) and This Mechanical Age (1954), the latter a look back at some of the less successful pioneers of early aviation. Largely forgotten now, Youngson had sufficient industry clout in the spring of 1960 to receive name-above-the-title status on theatrical one sheets for When Comedy Was King, which also trumpeted his early Oscar® wins.
The demand for contemporary retrospectives highlighting the silent epoch kept Robert Youngson busy throughout the decade, during which he was responsible for no less than six additional feature length compilations, among them Days of Thrills and Laughter (1961), MGM's Big Parade of Comedy (1964) and his final, Four Clowns (1970). It seems sadly ironic that a filmmaker so devoted to preserving a neglected art form that he would make it the focus of his own career would be forgotten so swiftly after his death but such was the case of Robert Youngson. The filmmaker's untimely demise in New York in April of 1974 went largely unnoticed, apart from a special, posthumous citation from the National Board of Review for "his 25 year work with tasteful and intelligent compilation of films."
Clearly, obsession was something that ran wildly in the Youngson family. The anthologist's Oxford and Sorbonne-educated widow, Jeanne Keyes, founded and served as president of The Count Dracula Club (now The Vampire Empire Club) and The Bram Stoker Memorial Association, opened a Count Dracula Museum in New York City (located now in Austria) and in 1986 founded The International Society for the Study of Ghosts and Apparitions.
Producer: Robert Youngson
Director: Robert Youngson
Screenplay: Robert Youngson
Music: Ted Royal
Cast: Roscoe 'Fatty' Arbuckle, Wallace Beery, Charles Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Harry Langdon, Edgar Kennedy, Mabel Normand, and other silent stars.
by Richard Harland Smith
The Harvard Crimson, May 29, 1940
The Film Encyclopedia by Ephraim Katz
When Comedy Was King
Robert Youngson's onscreen credit reads: "produced and written by." The entire film consists of edited clips from silent comedies. Youngson provides an offscreen narration throughout the picture. As noted in Youngson's narration, Leo McCarey directed and George Stevens photographed the Big Business short starring Laurel and Hardy, and Frank Capra wrote the sequence with Billy Bevan and the automobiles.
According to modern sources, clips from the following shorts, among others, were included in the film: the 1914 Keystone-Mutual production The Masquerader, starring Charlie Chaplin; His Tysting Place, a 1914 Keystone-Mutual film starring Mabel Normand, Chaplin and Mack Swain; Fatty and Mabel Adrift, a 1916 Keystone Triangle production starring Normand and Fatty Arbuckle and Teddy at the Throttle, a 1917 Keytstone-Triangle Production starring Gloria Swanson and Wallace Beery. When Comedy Was King was produced as a follow-up to the 1958 film The Golden Age of Comedy, which Youngson also produced.