Are you familiar with the stereotype that the Scottish are stingy? That’s Hoot Mon! (1926).
To elaborate a bit more, Bobby (Bobby Vernon) is a car salesman in Scotland — or rather, he’s an attempted car salesman, given that he’s yet to sell a single car.
While driving down the road, he upsets Sandy McTarnish’s (Jack Duffy) horse, knocking the Scotsman off his buggy and into an open well. Thus begins the undying feud between Bobby and Clan McTarnish.
Later, he incurs the wrath of McRuff (William Irving) by flirting with McTarnish’s daughter (Frances Lee) — who we’re told is a prime example of “what a fine Scotch should look like” (like Broken China (1926), Hoot Mon! is very punny with its titles). McRuff fixes him for stealing his lassie by cutting both the brakes and steering of his car. Bobby careens through the countryside until he crashes into McTarnish’s castle — knocking McTarnish into the fireplace in the process. Ever the optimist, Bobby then tries to sell him the car, but is chased out.
The McRuffs and the McTarnishes are also feuding, which gives McRuff an idea for getting rid of Bobby. He gives Bobby a set of McRuff plaid and a bagpipe, telling him that McTarnish will “fall right on [his] neck” when he sees him. Bobby returns to the castle and blows into the bagpipe, which McRuff has loaded with ash. The soot shoots straight into McTarnish’s eyes.
“The McRuff Clan has blackened the McTarnish Clan’s honor — I mean face!” Sandy cries to his fellow McTarnishes, who take up their swords in revenge. The McRuffs are ready to meet the challenge and a pitched battle ensues, much to Bobby’s chagrin, as he’s sure this will hamper the sale of his car. Then a sure-fire way to settle the matter dawns on him: he pulls out a nickel and tosses it on the floor. The McRuffs all drop their swords and scramble for it. McRuff himself takes the bait, and as he leans over, Bobby knocks him out with the hilt of his sword.
“That sight is worth a thousand dollars to me!” McTarnish says. $500 will do, Bobby replies, handing him the contract for the car. Daughter McTarnish reappears and Bobby resumes flirting with her. McTarnish tears up the contract: “Now that it looks like you’re going to be in the family, I won’t need a car — we can use yours!”
There are actually a great deal more cheapskate Scottish jokes — they make up the majority of the film, I’ve just glossed over most of them. I’ll grant that it’s nowhere near Broken China’s level of offensiveness and that it could have been much, much worse. Some of the jokes are even a bit funny, like when Bobby declares to a group of Scotsmen that all the car’s accessories are free and then they push him aside and proceed to take them. Also, despite being half the length of Broken China, Hoot Mon! manages to present a story that’s more than just an extended chase sequence. But I think Hoot Mon! only shines in comparison; I don’t think it’s that I like Hoot Mon! so much as it is that I hate Broken China. That’s reinforced by All Jazzed Up (1920), the third Bobby Vernon film I watched that night, which I found to be a quite good, if dark, short comedy. I can’t help but like Bobby Vernon, though. He plays nebbish so well — I would even venture to say that he plays it better than Harold Lloyd.
My rating: Meh.
Bobby (Bobby Vernon) wants to marry Betty (Frances Lee), but Betty comes from a long line of cops and her father forbids her from marrying anyone not on the force. The policeman’s ball is a costume party and Bobby decides to go dressed as a cop in the hopes of melting Betty’s father’s hard heart.
News arrives that Won Lung (Bill Blaisdell), the infamous smuggler, is back in operation in Chinatown. The whole force is called out for a raid. Bobby, in costume, is confused for a real cop and taken along. He finds himself separated from the others and, after some antics, falls quite accidentally into Won Lung’s secret underground hideout. Bobby, again quite accidentally, offends Won Lung and he and his henchmen pursue Bobby around the hideout for ten or twelve minutes. They catch him several times in traps both mechanical and supernatural (their god “Boola Boola” doesn’t much like Bobby either) only to keep losing him.
Eventually, Bobby figures out how to turn their own traps against them. One by one, he delivers the Chinese smugglers into the waiting hands of the police before escorting Won Lung to the back of the police wagon himself. Betty’s father congratulates him and she and Bobby kiss as the film ends.
I first became aware of this film from the TV series The Secret Life of Machines (1988-1993). It pretty frequently used clips from silent films, and a clip from Broken China (1926) was used to illustrate pneumatic elevators (one of the contraptions in Won Lung’s hideout). I had my eye out for it pretty much ever since and finally got my hands on a print several weeks ago.
Now, I don’t normally point out casual racism in films from this era. It comes with the territory, especially in comedy, and you’ve got to look beyond it. But holy good goddamn is this a racist film. Aside from the horrendous Chinese jokes, most of the humor is height-based. Bill Blaisdell is about a foot and a half taller than Bobby Vernon and much of the second half of the picture revolves around watching a shrimp trying and failing to fight a towering giant. The situation is briefly reversed when Blaisdell is crushed into a dwarf by a descending elevator. Bobby is quite cocky until his foe inflates back to his normal proportions. Also, if you dislike puns or double entendre, you will hate this film as almost every title includes one if not both.
Offensiveness aside, most of the film’s attempts at comedy are groan inducing. Some of the wordplay’s not bad (the policeman’s ball, held “in honor of the cop who pinched an old maid in the dark”) and the stick-figure illustrations on the intertitles are cute, but that’s about all I can say to its favor.
My rating: I don’t like it.