15 October 2009 | hte-trasme
Not the yeast of all comedies
"The Bakery," I am led to believe, is a fairly typical film of the once-popular comedian Larry Semon, and I am beginning to get the impression that one has to be in a very particular frame of mind to enjoy a Larry Semon film. You can expect a plot (or even a sequence of events, really), you can't expect to get an impression of the character of anyone you see, and you can't expect anything subtle or sophisticated. Larry Semon was brilliant in a very narrow field -- creating and executing wacky sight gags.
So "The Bakery" exclusively makes use of that talent, and it's full of wacky sight gags, and pretty much nothing else. They are united only by the fact that most of them are generally connected to the setting of a bakery. Those sight gags are certainly well done, though -- many of them involve huge set-piece stunts, elaborate props such as the spinning pie display here, or seemingly impossible tasks such as training a monkey methodically to unravel a scarf on camera.
Of course, Semon was notorious for racist humor, and we don't get through the film without a joke based solely around the fact that white people have been covered in soot. The pre-Stan Laurel Oliver Hardy, often Semon's second banana, is hidden somewhere this film beneath a huge moustache, playing a shifty bakery employee who steals money. He plays the slapstick well, and mixes his villain persona with some of the put-on chivalrous gestures that were his specialty. Semon himself, when not mid-stunt, projects the impression of the classic whiteface clown.
An audience who meets this on its own terms and is prepared to enjoy some big, crazy, creative stunts will get a lot of smiles from this -- as long as they don't look for any of those extra elements that sometimes make other comedies good.