Air Pockets (Educational, 1924)
Well that was a thing. I’m not too familiar with Lige Conley. In fact, to my knowledge, this is the first film of his that I’ve seen. I wonder if all of his work is this… well, I’m getting ahead of myself.
For a slapstick comedy, the plot of Air Pockets (1924) is surprisingly intricate. The foundation of the story involves a private detective, Uranius Holmes (Earl Montgomery), whose card tells us that he specializes in “Alimony, bombs, and secrecy – not responsible for lost property”. Holmes drums up business by committing the crimes he hopes to investigate.
No… no, I shouldn’t start with that. The plot really hinges on this committee of wealthy investors, led by Sanford Morgan (Otto Fries), who are being extorted by a mysterious person called Moscow Murphy under the threat of something unsavory happening to Morgan’s daughter (Olive Borden) – who does, in fact, turn up kidnapped later in the film.
Wait, back up. There’s this guy named Octavius Jones (Lige Conley), an inventor who fancies himself to be a real mover-and-shaker in the automotive industry. He’s invented a revolutionary “folding flivver” that will render the garage obsolete, if only he could get his hands on enough venture capital.
He’s also got a mother-in-law who’s fat (Sunshine Hart). That’s it. Her plotline, at least, is easy enough to follow.
With it all separated out, you might see how each story segues into the others, but understand that Air Pockets jumbles them together in an almost dreamlike manner. It has its fair share of standard slapstick gags, making much use of Octavius’s car and Uranius’s airplane (did I mention he has an airplane?), but it’s the confused, illogical-but-yet-unquestioned way that the story unfolds that really makes “dreamlike” the best way to describe it.
Also of note, the last act takes place mostly in the air and features some very good aerial photography and miniature work.
A word of warning, you will not like this film if you’re sensitive to racial comedy. It isn’t quite on the level of G. Howe Black in Wizard of Oz (1925), but Morgan’s valet and chauffeur and the mechanic at the airport speak in an exaggerated dialect (“Oh mammy – bring dat ground closer to mah feet”) and are the butt of many, many a joke.
That aside, I found Air Pockets mesmerizing to watch and will admit that it got a few laughs out of me. I think that counts as an endorsement.
My rating: I like it.