Silent Steve went rare and British when I asked for some ancient films about fatherhood. He pulled up a comedy short from 1921 that tells the classic (perhaps I mean hackneyed) tale of a rich family with a long-lost boy, and a pauper found by the daughter who has a very familiar birthmark on his arm…Walter Finds a Father.
As ever – history lesson time! Silent Steve waxed lyrical on Walter Forde, British actor, son of music hall, and star of a series of shorts about ‘Walter’ in the 1920s. Two years after this effort, he went to America and failed to catch on and came home. His Dad, however, stayed on and wrote for Laurel and Hardy. Walter went on to become a noted director of British comedies in the 1930s and ’40s, leading the likes of Jack Hulbert and Alastair Sim. Oh yes. First he made this sort of stuff. Hmm.
To the day he finds a father. The premise is quite sweet, but there aren’t many insights for folk of senior years. The film opens with the rich parents waxing silent on their long-lost son, the importance of fish to their wealth and – in posey mime – the pride the father takes in the fish he keeps in a posh box. It’s the brother of the first one he caught. The mum is sad, the sister (Marjorie Russell as, wait for it, Rose Fish) very 1920s…and the segue to the next scene endearingly clunky. Rome wasn’t built in a day, they intertitle, unlike modern villas! Ahahahahaha!
Cue building site scene. And Walter, a proto-Stan-Laurel, I guess, messing about in holes, up half-built villas, down ladders and pissing off the grouchy old foreman (subtly decked out in false fuzzy face hair). There’s a fascination in seeing the building of stuff in the 1920s: it’s exactly the same! Albeit, there are tangible health and safety issues, not least from the bunch of tossers tragic Walter has to work with. I guess the comedy value of middle-aged management is in there somewhere, but old Jack here felt he was sitting through the faintly exhausting slapstick to learn not laugh. At all.
Then Walter bumps into the rich folks’ daughter. She sees the shamrock on his arm and takes him home. Which is all well and good, but she keeps kissing him on the mouth. Which is weird. Anyway, he is nearly welcomed into the house, pissing off the rich old pompous Dad by cooking the brother-fish from the first scene. The loving father deals with this by throwing the plant pot at him. Familial love, eh?
Anyway, some stuff happens while I was hallucinating and – suddenly – Walter is running around a field in a deeply strange set of duels with a beardy bastard. There’s swordplay, gunfire and a terrifically strange game of hide and seek. Walter and the bastard each have a large stick of dynamite, with a very long fuse, stuck to their backs. Blindfolded, they have flambeaux, and chase each other round trees in comedy synchronicity. With the added fun of trying to murder one another which, entertainingly, results in quality camera angles and everyone with them running away like crap.
So, there you go. A British silent comedy of the 1920s, one of a series about a character long-forgotten (Walter), more interesting as a document of people larking about in a field than a source of actual, proper laughs.
The father’s a twat.