snapshot: Innocent Husbands (1925)

US / 25 minutes / bw silent / Hal Roach Studios, Pathé Exchange Dir: Leo McCarey Pr: Hal Roach Cine: Len Powers Cast: Charley Chase, Katherine Grant, Jane Sherman, Lucien Littlefield, Jimmie Finlayson, William Gillespie, Kay de Lys, Philip Sleeman, Martha Sleeper.

A delightful Hal Roach comedy that somehow got itself onto my list of items to view for this site.

Mame (Grant) constantly suspects her husband Melvin (Chase) of being unfaithful to her, even though he’s completely innocent—well, of infidelity at least.

Katherine Grant as Mame (right) and Jane Sherman as Mame’s best friend.

One day her best friend (Sherman) persuades the suspicious wife they should go along to a séance to see if the spirits can inform Mame of the truth about her supposedly erring spouse. After a while the two women persuade the medium (Sleeman) to come back to Mame and Melvin’s apartment.

In the meantime Melvin, seeking an innocent game of checkers with a neighbor, a roue bachelor (Gillespie), has been persuaded to join a party and assigned an amorous partner, Mitzi (de Lys). Hijinx ensue as Melvin tries to fend off Mitzi and then, with the help of the bachelor and a pretty party girl (Sleeper), get Mitzi’s unconscious form (don’t ask) out of the way before Mame can discover what would obviously be regarded as incriminating proof of his faithlessness.

Further comic relief is provided by the apartment block’s desk clerk (Finlayson)—“[H]e shot three men in one night for registering as ‘John Smith’“—and the peeping-tom house detective (Littlefield).

Charley Chase as Melvin (right) and Lucien Littlefield as the house dick.

There are some lovely set pieces here. The séance, as various of Melvin’s acquaintances disguised as ghosts pass through the room while the phony medium wonders what the hell is going on, is undoubtedly the high point, but earlier we have Melvin’s repeated (unsuccessful) attempts to evoke Mame’s sympathy by pretending to blow his brains out.

Philip Sleeman as the medium.

Charley Chase is one of those silent actors whom I recognize without normally being able to put a name to. He was born Charles Parrott—his younger brother James also achieved some cinematic fame—and worked for the Christie Company and Keystone before moving to the Hal Roach Studios, where his directorial excursions were as important as his onscreen work. He was widely known for the wild life he led; his drinking brought him to an early death, aged just 46.

The best visual gag here? The roue neighbor tells Melvin he knows a girl who’ll be his dance partner at the party: all Melvin has to do is go to the Hotel Hunt and whistle three times, and the girl will throw down her key. So Melvin goes to the Hotel Hunt, whistles three times . . . and finds himself in the midst of a downpour of keys.

Kay des Lys as Mitzi, Melvin’s “date.”

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