Magnolia

Magnolia

Friday, 14 April 2017

Film #17 - A Pair of Tights (1929)


    
Starring Anita Garvin and Marion Byron.

Featuring Edgar Kennedy, Stuart Erwin, and "Spec" O'Donnell.

Directed by Hal Yates.

Synopsis

"The story of two girls who were born hungry, raised hungry, grew up hungry - And still are!"

        
"A Pair of Tights" begins with our hungry girls, Anita and Marion, lamenting the fact that Anita seems to have char-grilled another dinner beyond edibility.



Marion soon gets over the disappointment by informing Anita that her boyfriend is coming to visit with his boss, and that the boss wants to meet Anita.

Anita is happy about this - maybe the two girls will get taken out to dinner?!



Marion's boyfriend (Stuart Erwin) and his boss (Edgar Kennedy) turn up outside the girls' flat in a car. Stuart has no money and Edgar is revealed to be a tightwad.



Observing Stuart turn out his empty pockets, Marion and Anita are not too thrilled...



Still, Marion is pleased to see her boyfriend. Anita, however, takes one look at Edgar and is not attracted to him!



Anita goes and sits on the piano stool and Edgar follows. She is deliberately cold towards him, staring at him blankly as Edgar tries to think of something to say.



Marion and Stuart, meanwhile, are all smiles and giggles!



Edgar tries to put his arm around Anita, but she pushes his hand away. He gets up, affronted, and Anita goes crashing off the edge of the stool to the floor! Edgar returns to the seat to try and embrace Anita again, but she shoves him away.

Anita then stands up and sends Edgar crashing off the stool onto the floor.




The party of four then set out in the car to find somewhere to have dinner...for 25 cents!

Marion spots an ice cream parlour and asks Edgar whether they can get four ice cream cones. Anita advises against it, saying that their appetites will be spoiled, at which point, Edgar's ears prick up and he happily obliges in handing over money to Marion!

Marion heads into the parlour to get 4 ice creams, but not before getting hit on the nose by the swinging door as she tries to enter.

Marion has trouble opening the door, carrying 4 ice cream cones, so she kicks it open with her foot, only for the doors to hit her backside on the way out. The four scoops of ice cream fall off the cones!



Edgar gives Marion more money and she heads back to get more ice cream. In the meantime, a policeman (Edgar Dearing) appears and tells the trio in the car that they can't wait outside the shop and must keep driving round the block.

Marion decides to exit out of the shop backwards first this time, only for a dog to start jumping up at her.



She holds the cones up high in an attempt to stop the pooch getting them. As she does so, she inadvertently causes a fan to blow the ice cream off the cones, straight into Edgar's face, much to Anita's merriment.



Marion goes back with more money, and the rest of the gang must drive on as the policeman approaches once again.

A cautious Marion heads back out of the parlour, only for the dog to badger her again! The dog manages to get hold of one of Marion's garter belts (?!) which has fallen down, and pulls her around for a bit.



She puts the ice creams safely on the seat of a parked car and bends down to sort out her tights. As she does so, the owners of the car return and a woman (Ellinor Vanderveer) sits down on the ice creams!

A shocked Marion runs back into the parlour.



The gang drive on, and crash into the side of a car driven by Charlie Hall (who else?!). Charlie gets out to remonstrate, just as Marion returns with the ice cream.

Charlie takes the ice creams and sticks them on Edgar's head. He also gives Marion money to buy more ice cream; a pleasant chap, that Mr Hall. This leaves Anita in stitches, looking at Edgar's forehead.



A young man (Spec O'Donnell) has just purchased an ice cream. He loiters outside the door just as Marion exits the parlour. The door knocks Spec and his ice cream falls on the floor. He retaliates by knocking Marion's cones to the ground!

Spec asks his father (Harry Bernard, who lives above the shop) for another dime. He chucks one down, which Spec fails to catch, so he gropes around on the floor for it by the door.

Marion exits and trips straight over him.




Chaos now ensues - the gang in the car run over the policeman and try to get away; Marion attempts to exit the shop again but ends up smacking the door into Spec who receives an ice cream cone to the nose.

Spec then attempts to knock the ice cream out of Marion's cones, but Marion is able to catch the scoops each time, until he kicks her backside and she drops them all! She goes to kick him, but he catches her leg and doesn't let go. 

By now, the trio are back outside the shop. Anita gets out to deal with Spec. She pinches his ear, saving Marion, and allowing Marion to plant a well-placed kick to the seat of Spec's pants.



Anita, pretty fed up, asks Marion to give her the money and she will get the cones herself.

Anita gets them and comes out of the store, only for Spec to take his revenge by throwing down a potted plant from above which hits Anita straight on the head! Once again the ice cream is ruined.

Anita lobs ice cream up at Spec, but hits his father. He comes down in a huff, but not before Spec throws another potted plant down at Anita.



Anita tweaks the nose of Spec's father, and he sends her to the ground with a leg-sweep. Now Edgar gets involved and all hell breaks loose!



Edgar takes a plant pot to the head, courtesy of Spec, so does his father (by mistake), then an epic game of leg-sweeping takes place which sees everyone end up on the floor, including lots of innocent bystanders...

...And then Marion appears with four ice creams...

...And she ends up on the floor as well!



Edgar, Anita, and Marion, eventually manage to crawl back into the car which is hastily driven away, with the cop still chasing them. He gets hold of the hood of the car, but no more!    

Review

"I'll get four ice cream cones if it takes all day!"

    
"A Pair of Tights", the last of the three short films to feature the comedy team of Marion Byron and Anita Garvin, is a hilarious, slapstick fest, showcasing the talents of the comediennes.



The film is interesting in terms of Byron and Garvin's pairing; in the first two Byron and Garvin shorts - "Feed 'Em and Weep" and "Going Ga-Ga", Marion Byron performs as a childlike innocent, simple to the point of excess. She wears a baggy skirt that is too big for her and sports an excessively large hat. Her hair is tied up, with a single lock hanging down in a curl visible upon her forehead. Her face is excessively white, often portraying a look of shocked innocence or unsuitability for the hostile, fast-paced life around her. In many ways, Byron's character in those first two shorts is essentially a mixing together of elements of Stan Laurel's character with elements of soon-to-be-Roach employee, Harry Langdon.

It makes for a really interesting - and funny - character.

But in "A Pair of Tights", the studio have turned Marion into a sexy flapper - the character type she performed in "Steamboat Bill, Jr", alongside Buster Keaton. Marion Byron's penchant for great slapstick is still visible in "A Pair of Tights", but it's interesting that the studio removed the 'weirdness' from the character she was in the first two shorts, and made her more 'accessible' in this final short.



I wonder why?

Anita Garvin's character in "A Pair of Tights" is essentially the same one from the first two short films that the pair made together, which makes you wonder why the studio decided to change the formula. This is especially interesting because, like in "Going Ga-Ga", I find that "A Pair of Tights" seems to centralise the action around Marion as the lead slapstick figure, with Anita Garvin a close second co-conspirator in the madness.

Like in "Going Ga-Ga", I also find myself laughing a plenty at Marion Byron; she really was a terrific silent actress - she just pulls the funniest faces!



So, first things first, we've established that there has been a slight character change in the Byron/Garvin pairing in this short, but is this film on a par with their first two starring shorts?

Well, yes, is the easy answer!



"A Pair of Tights" is a really great short. It's definitely a short that I've warmed to over re-watchings. I remember the first time that I saw all three Byron/Garvin shorts, "A Pair of Tights" was initially my least favourite. I don't really know why. I didn't dislike it; certainly not. Perhaps I thought it wasn't as quirky as the first two.



I don't know. But having watched it several times, I would say that it's certainly one of my favourite Roach shorts in terms of pure comedic action.

Why is this? Let's find out!  

I remember the first time I watched the short, I must have been having a slow day. I remember thinking for ages: "why on earth is it called 'A Pair of Tights'? Then it twigged...



"A Pair of Tights" as a name for the short might make you immediately think it's a reference to Anita and Marion (and Marion's tight trouble), but it is in fact more appropriate as a joke about the two tight-wads, Stuart and Edgar, who don't want to spend any money on the girls.




That's probably one of the first reasons why I rate this short so highly. You can see how I wax lyrical about Marion Byron and Anita Garvin in my reviews of "Going Ga-Ga" and "Feed 'Em and Weep", but this short is topped off by the fact that you have Spec O'Donnell, Charlie Hall, and Edgar Kennedy in it.

Edgar Kennedy, especially. He's brilliant to watch in this short as the tightwad boss who not only wants to keep his hard earned cash for himself, but also has to deal with an angry Anita Garvin!



Stuart Erwin was new to me, but, according to IMDB, he was new to film as well in late 1928 when this was filmed; this was only his second film appearance, and his first (and last?) at the Hal Roach Studios.



It was good to Spec appear again, he feels like something of an old friend if you've seen many of the Max Davidson short comedies. He's at his brilliant, brattish self, fighting with Marion Byron.



And as for Charlie Hall, well, any film he pops up in is always made the better for his mischievous contribution!



So, this short features two great silent comediennes who are both marvellously funny to watch, a strong supporting cast who all get plenty of laughs. What else makes it funny? Ice cream!

The fact that a large amount of the film centres on Marion's attempts to purchase 4 ice cream cones and transport them safely to a parked car might make you turn your nose up and think, "well, that sounds a bit overdone/boring", but it certainly isn't! The film becomes remarkably creative - and hilarious - with every scoop of ice cream that ends up on the floor, as you begin to wonder how out of hands things can get for poor, little Marion.

Some of my favourite moments in this film include:

The early exchanges between hungry Marion and Anita, after Anita has burnt dinner in the frying pan. The girls are brilliant at expressing emotion through their comedic facial expressions and it's clear that they had a good chemistry onscreen.



It's also particularly funny to see Marion and Anita's reactions to the fact that Stuart and Edgar are a pair of tightwads! Look at the expressions on their faces!



How does Marion achieve such a pop-eyed look?!?



Once Edgar and Stuart appear in the girl's apartment, some great comedy moments occur. Marion and Stuart very much take a back seat in this part of the film, and it's Anita and Edgar who steal the show. I love Kennedy's embarrassed smirks and uncomfortable wriggling as he tries to think of something to say to Anita. When she does snap back at him that she's feeling "hungry", her look of boredom is brilliant!

Things get funnier when Edgar attempts to follow Stuart's lead and put his arm around his would-be girlfriend, Anita. It's great fun to see her bat him away with her hands!



And to top it off, it's hilarious to see Anita crash onto the floor off the piano stool, only for her to return the favour to Edgar minutes later. The look of anger on Edgar's face is superb; as is Anita's belittling laugh.

But it's once the couples set out in the car and Marion attempts to get ice cream that the comedy really notches up a gear (no pun intended).



It becomes terrific fun to watch in eagerness to see what is going to happen next in Marion's attempts to purchase ice cream. The ways in which she drops and spills the ice cream onto the floor become more and more creative as the film unfolds, whether it's being upset by a dog or putting them on the seat of a parked car, only for someone to come and sit on them, the slapstick never dwindles for one moment or becomes tedious.

And through it all, Marion's cheerfulness to get ice cream makes it all even funnier! And her reactions to the dropped ice cream leave the viewer laughing as well - whether it's bemused indifference or a look of shock.



Even the predictable gag of Kennedy getting hit in the face with ice cream doesn't become tedious, thanks to slight variations. Once he is the victim of Marion as she holds the ice cream right in front of a ventilator fan, and the other time he is one of Charlie Hall's victims. I think that both times, it's Anita Garvin's over-the-top laughter that really makes the moment!



And just when you think the comedy is starting to settle down, Spec O'Donnell enters and the ice cream spilling and tit-for-tat escalates to new eccentricities. My favourite moment is when poor Marion trips over Spec and ends up on the floor amongst the ice cream - her look of annoyance is priceless; until now she's been sweet, little, patient Marion, now she's angry!



The epic tit-for-tat battle involves nose tweaks, plant pots, more ice cream, and finally, a bizarre game of leg sweeping that sees loads of people end up on the floor outside the ice cream parlour. Edgar, Marion, and Anita's slow crawl through the carnage is one of the standout moments of the film.

An utterly bonkers short film is ended with the party never getting ice cream as they flee in Stuart's car, chased by the cop. This really is a funny short with lots of re-watchability (new word).


  
Overall, the film is once again a terrific showcase for the acting talents of Marion Byron and Anita Garvin. Both dominate the screen with their antics, whether it's slapping, tripping, fighting, scowling, or laughing at Edgar Kennedy. In all three films, the duo showcase what would have been a winning combination for a slapstick double-act. All things point towards a series that would have been very different in style to the Pitts and Todd series that would appear a couple of years later. What a pity that Marion Byron and Anita Garvin never had the chance to develop their partnership further.



I think I'll end with a couple of questions:

I've been straining my eyes but I can't make it out; can Max Davidson be seen lurking behind the counter in the ice cream parlour (you need a good shot of Marion Byron outside the doors to the shop to attempt to see Max inside)? And is Katherine Grant the lady who looks outside the shop at all the people on the floor towards the end of the film (see the last picture in the synopsis section above)?



What do you think of "A Pair of Tights"? Where does it rank in terms of the three short films that Byron and Garvin made? Why did their partnership end?


  

Watch it

"We don't have to spend any money on these Janes, do we?"



"A Pair of Tightsis available on DVD, beautifully restored by the German Filmmuseum as part of their "Female Comedy Teams" set.

Here's the link: Female Comedy Teams DVD