Holy Smoke (Educational, 1921)
The first half of the film has an interesting set piece: It’s an elevator in hotel lobby with a manual counterweight — that is, a bellboy on the ground floor gauges how heavy the guest is and another bellboy upstairs piles on the enough weights to lift the guest without rocketing him through the ceiling. It serves for several decent gags, but after we see the thin guy, the fat guy, and the guy who of course gets crushed by the counterweight, it does start to get a bit repetitive.
The second half is improved by introducing an actual plot. The hotelier’s daughter (Elinor Lynn) has run up a big bill at the dressmaker’s and her father has to hand over his fire insurance policy to pay for it. Quite angry at this turn, he pulls out a caveman club and threatens to strike her. The bellboy (Jimmie Adams) steps forward: “If you must hit someone, hit me!” Father takes him up on that offer.
Fired, he takes a job at the blacksmith shop adjacent to the hotel. He does not get along well with the blacksmith, and after a fight, finds himself crashing through the wall of the hotel and into a guest room just as its occupant has left. The late occupant was the dressmaker, who, hoping to claim the insurance money, has left a bomb in the room. Jimmie throws the bomb out the window, but it lands in a chimney pot and roles down the pipe into the woodstove.
The fire fighters, naturally, are much too incompetent to get even a bucketful of water onto the blaze. The hotel is reduced to ashes. The hotelier is lamenting his ruin when Jimmie appears holding the insurance policy, which he found in the room just before the blast. All is forgiven and Jimmie wins the girl.
I must say, the film never slackened the pace of its jokes, even if I thought the elevator gags started to get stale. Like Lige Conley’s Educational two-reelers, the first half of Holy Smoke (1921) has precious little to do with the second and could have been cut entirely without much narrative damage. But just as cutting the pointless department store scenes from Fast and Furious (1924) would have meant losing the impressive stop-motion sequence, dropping the first reel here would mean no elevator — and it was an interesting enough physical comedy prop.
Slapstick isn’t really my style, but I’ll grant this was a pretty good, zany short comedy.
My rating: I like it.