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Fast and Furious (Educational, 1924)

Fast and Furious screenshotFast and Furious (Educational, 1924)
Directed by Norman Taurog
Starring Lige Conley

When I reviewed Air Pockets (1924) back in February, I had never seen a Lige Conley film before. I was very impressed by it and began wondering whether Conley was an overlooked genius or if Air Pockets was just a fluke. Now that I’ve seen Fast and Furious (1924), I suspect it’s the latter.

The film is rather starkly divided into two acts. In the first act, we meet Lige Conley, who plays a nameless department store clerk. We also meet his boss (Otto Fries) and the big boss (John Rand). The big boss has a daughter (Ruth Hiatt) that the film hints may be Conley’s love interest, but that plot thread doesn’t really go anywhere. Truth be told, the same can be said for all of the plot threads in the first act. Something will be abruptly introduced, there will be exactly one gag related to it, then, just as abruptly, it will be dropped forever. The only event that actually leads to anything is the last bit: robbers appear and make off with the store’s money, which takes us to act two.

In the second act, Conley and his black caricature assistant (uncredited, but it’s Spencer Bell) give chase and try to recover the stolen money. Whether they travel by car, motorcycle, horse, train, or railroad handcar, everything that can go wrong for Conley does. It’s still little more than a series of one-off gags, but at least the vague “chase” framework gives it some of the focus that the first act was sorely lacking.

Lige Conley is channeling Larry Semon something hard in his performance, and it doesn’t help that his partner in the film, Spencer Bell, was Semon’s long-time sidekick – although in Semon’s films, Bell is better known by the pseudonym G. Howe Black.

The first act of Fast and Furious is pointless. There was literally no plot, few of the gags worked, and nearly all of the situations were lifted wholesale from much more effective films. I would say you could cut it entirely, but then you’d lose the only decent scene in the movie: a heat lamp is turned on some eggs, and in a great stop-motion sequence, they sprout legs, dance around the counter, and then hatch into chicks. The second act had some impressive stunts and special effects, but stunts and special effects alone don’t make for a good comedy.

I did not like Fast and Furious. I do not recommend it. I don’t think there’s anything more to say.

My rating: I don’t like it.

Air Pockets (Educational, 1924)

Lige ConleyAir Pockets (Educational, 1924)
Directed by Fred Hibbard
Starring Lige Conley

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.