Eccentric inventor Charlie Jackson tries to interest wealthy investors in his girlfriend's plan to help children from poor neighborhoods.Eccentric inventor Charlie Jackson tries to interest wealthy investors in his girlfriend's plan to help children from poor neighborhoods.Eccentric inventor Charlie Jackson tries to interest wealthy investors in his girlfriend's plan to help children from poor neighborhoods.
Unfortunately, 'The Nut' can't quite figure out what sort of film it wants to be. In the opening, Fairbanks is a crackpot inventor. We see him rousted out of bed by his own inventions: a series of Heath Robinson contraptions that end with Fairbanks bathed, showered and fully dressed. I was impressed by a strategic title card at the crucial moment when Fairbanks would have been seen naked. But what's all this cleverness in aid of? Parts of 'The Nut' are quite realistic; other parts are unrealistic but have some good screwball humour ... whilst other sections are neither realistic nor funny.
De La Motte plays a socialite who has some weird theory about letting slum children spend a few minutes each day in posh houses ... so that they'll be better citizens when they're whisked back to the slums afterwards, apparently. As the chief villain, William Lowery gives a good performance in a badly-written role. This is one of those movies in which the villain is willing to break a whole bunch of laws in order to seduce one particular woman (even though he has access to other women) for no discernible reason except to provide a conflict for the hero. There's also a supernatural running gag here, with villain Lowery phoning the heroine via a switchboard operated by the Devil in Hell, whilst Fairbanks phones the same lady via a switchboard staffed by Cupid. The heroine favours a white candlestick telephone which she keeps in its own weird little table kiosk: were ladies in 1921 unwilling to display their telephones?
The notorious Barbara La Marr is on screen briefly, but is given little to do. In a title card, she describes De La Motte as having 'yellow hair', but De La Motte photographs as brunette here. Mary Pickford turns up as a dress extra during the charity party sequence, yet her presence is so strong that I spotted her instantly. In the same sequence, aye, that's the real Charlie Chaplin briefly seen as a Chaplin impersonator.
In addition to his acrobatics, Fairbanks has a funny bit after he's stripped to his underwear in the street. Using a knife that he apparently keeps in his BVDs, Doug slices the two- dimensional pasteboard clothing off a conveniently life-sized male figure on a nearby billboard, then he 'wears' this back to his Greenwich Village home. (Not that this movie's exterior sets remotely resemble Greenwich Village of the 1920s, mind you.) I laughed heartily at a gag sequence in which Fairbanks pretends to be a corpse on a gurney. My rating: 7 out of 10.
- F Gwynplaine MacIntyre
- Jan 4, 2009