The Pip From Pittsburg (1931) ****


Thelma Todd, that most vivacious of stars (who died so terribly with so much potential unfulfilled in 1935), made an incredible 18 films in 1931. And all over the place: with the Marxes in Monkey Business, Clara Bow in No Limit and Joe E. Brown in Broadminded; in dramatic mode in the rarely seen, under-rated 1931 version of The Maltese Falcon and Corsair (in the latter trying out her proposed straight-role pseudonym Alison Lloyd), and in so many amazing shorts! In her own series with Zasu Pitts she clocked up five, including the classics On the Loose and Pajama Party; with Laurel & Hardy she made Chickens Come Home.

And then there's Charley Chase, perhaps the most criminally neglected of the great thirties comedians. Todd appeared many times with this delightful, multi-talented but now more or less forgotten star, including this treat, one of two from 1931 and probably my favourite Chase movie.
The premise is an odd one: Charley is grudgingly going on a double-date with a friend who always gets him uninspiring girls so he decides to deliberately spoil things by making himself as repulsive as possible. But when he gets there he finds he's been fixed up with the adorable Thelma, and spends the rest of the short attempting to wash, shave and change his suit, mostly while actually on the dance floor at a night club.

This is a fine example of the Hal Roach method, of which the Laurel & Hardy films are but one facet, combining as it does inventive sight gags, absurd slapstick, delightful touches of characterisation and sackloads of socio-historic detail. His directors and writers seem effortlessly to capture the mood and meaning of their times; the films (like those of Harold Lloyd the decade before) are genuinely valuable documents of their era. They are also extremely funny. And if you only know Charley from Sons of the Desert, start here.