Cissy’s Funnymoon (Cissy Fitzgerald, 1919)
Cecelia “Cissy” Fitzgerald was a successful stage actress in the 1880s and ‘90s. She was particularly famous for her signature wink, which landed Cissy her first screen credit in the 1896 Edison short See Cissy Wink. She left the stage in 1913 and signed with the Vitagraph Company, where she made several comedies, both shorts and features. The Win(k)some Widow (1914) is probably the best remembered of her Vitagraph films today.
There were many comedians working at Vitagraph – Wally Van, Hughie Mack, Lillian Walker, just to name a few – but the three biggies were John Bunny, Sidney Drew, and Larry Semon. Semon made rough-and-tumble slapstick films, whereas Bunny and Drew’s films were much slower-paced and the comedy was more situational than physical. When Bunny died in 1915 and Drew in 1919, Cissy saw a vacuum that she hoped to fill.
She formed her own production company, Cissy Fitzgerald Productions, and began pumping out a series of two-reel sitcoms. The first of these was Cissy’s Funnymoon in 1919. Just like Sidney Drew’s films, Cissy’s starred a husband and wife team: Cissy and Bertie. Exactly how many Cissy and Bertie shorts there were, I can’t tell. Cissy Fitzgerald Productions operated for a few years and made at the very least eight films and probably several times that number. I don’t believe anything survives of the series aside from what’s in my collection, which is the second reel of Funnymoon.
It seems that Cissy (Cissy Fitzgerald) and Bertie Sweet (Bertie Stanley?) are on their honeymoon at the Cupid Hotel. What I surmise must have happened in the missing first reel is that both intended on surprising the other by sneaking into the room by the fire escape, but accidentally got the wrong window. Bertie probably found a woman in bed who he took to be Cissy. When he realized his mistake, he tried to get out, but the woman, coquettishly, detained him.
Reel two begins with Cissy entering through the sitting-room window of an empty hotel suite. She’s surprised that Bertie isn’t there, but decides to make herself comfortable and wait for his return. She goes into the bedroom and starts to undress.
Meanwhile, one floor up, Bertie sits very uncomfortably as a woman in a nightgown hangs on his neck and whispers in his ear. Her husband is next door with another woman. As near as I can tell, he sees his wife’s coat draped on the chair and realizes she must be nearby. He crosses the fire escape into the neighboring room and finds her with Bertie. The scene begins with the suggestion of a jealous husband, but quickly turns into something else: “So! She’s ruined your life too!” he says, “you can have her!”
Back to Cissy, who’s now in her underwear. She begins putting her things away in the dresser when she notices the strange clothes already there. She’s examining them when another man enters the room, gun drawn. “Hands up! What are you doing here?”
It looks like a fight is about to break out when Bertie tells the other woman’s husband that he doesn’t want her – he’s sure his wife Cissy would object.
Cissy tries to explain, but the gunman will have none of it. He’s caught a burglar, probably none other than the infamous “Frisco Fannie”. He calls the police, who tell him they’re on their way and to make sure she doesn’t escape. Cissy, realizing that the man can’t be reasoned with, tries a different tack and attempts to seduce him.
The other woman cajoles her husband into dropping Bertie. As the two are distracted cozying up to one another, Bertie sees his chance and slips out the window and down the fire escape. One floor below and he hears a familiar voice…
“If Bertie could only see me now!” – a voice comes from behind the curtains: “Cissy!” – Cissy wheels around and sees Bertie’s comically disembodied head as he peers through the window: “Bertie!”
Just at that moment, the police, accompanied by the hotel manager, walk through the door. The gunman’s sure he has Frisco Fannie and her accomplice who was “waiting outside for the swag”, but the manager intervenes, identifies Mr. and Mrs. Sweet to the police, and both Cissy and Bertie’s respective disasters are averted.
It’s plain to see that Cissy’s Funnymoon is taking its cues from Sidney Drew’s Vitagraph shorts – the structure is very reminiscent as are the characters – but Funnymoon’s situations are far more risqué than anything Drew’s character ever found himself in. And I have to say, I like it. I thought this reel was hilarious and am only disappointed that I don’t have the other reel. One has to wonder why Cissy and Bertie weren’t more popular. I imagine they didn’t make a hit with the censors – there were censors in the U.S. back then, at the state and local levels; some locales were more permissive than others – but I just can’t believe how little contemporary publicity this series got.
My rating: I like it.