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  • This lightweight vehicle proved to be the last comedy Douglas Fairbanks would produce before turning exclusively to swashbuckler roles. Viewers familiar with Doug only as Zorro or D'Artagnan may be surprised to find him in a contemporary farce, playing the sort of zany young millionaire we associate more strongly with Harold Lloyd or Buster Keaton. And indeed, the opening sequence of this movie is right out of a Keaton comedy, as Doug, playing wealthy inventor Charlie Jackson, goes through his morning ritual of awakening, bathing, and dressing with the help of several bizarre gadgets of his own devising. This is pure silent comedy and a fun intro, amusingly summed up with a title reading: "Maybe necessity is the mother of invention -- but the father of these is a nut." And Charlie Jackson is definitely eccentric and woefully accident prone, but basically a good sort. The object of Charlie's affection is Estrell, a well-meaning young lady who has taken an interest in slum children. Estrell believes that taking poor kids into "refined" homes for an hour or two of play each day will make them better citizens. (The filmmakers express reservations about Estrell's theory in a mildly sarcastic title card, but however naive she may be, we're given to understand that Estrell, like Charlie, has a good heart.) The plot revolves around Charlie's increasingly desperate attempts to interest wealthy patrons in Estrell's idea, while also thwarting the attentions of a villainous gambler who feigns interest in order to have his way with the girl.

    There are a number of comic high points, including another Keatonesque moment when Doug, who has lost his clothes in public and is stripped down to his underwear, manages to cover himself with a "suit" sliced out of a billboard advertising a men's clothing store. There are also some amusing moments involving wax dummies stolen from a museum, a suspenseful sequence in which Doug crawls through the pipes of a building's heating system, and a funny gag during a fistfight in the lobby of a movie theater. But perhaps the most memorable bit is one that occurs during a party sequence, early on. Doug gives a performance for his guests which consists of ducking behind a screen and re-emerging dressed as various famous historical personalities such as Napoleon, Abraham Lincoln, General Grant, etc. Actually the stunt is faked, and this is revealed when the screen is accidentally knocked over and we see several startled actors standing by, already in costume for their roles. But there's one we haven't seen before, a Charlie Chaplin impersonator who goes into a brief imitation of the comedian before he is hustled off the stage. There has been some controversy over whether this impersonator might actually have been played by Chaplin (a close friend of Doug's off-camera), cleverly disguised in a Tramp outfit that doesn't look quite right; that is, the man himself playing a second-rate imitator. Several film historians have questioned whether this really is Chaplin, and it would seem that it is not, though the very notion of such a gag is an appealing one.

    Over all I'd say The Nut is a pleasant and amusing light comedy, well worth a look for silent film buffs. For me, the main drawback is the personality of Doug's character: with his combination of high enthusiasm and ineptitude, Charlie Jackson gets a little exasperating after a while, and requires more patience from the viewer than similar characters played by Keaton or Lloyd. Even so, he redeems himself in the finale, ties up all the loose plot strands, wins the girl, and leaves us satisfied at the fade-out. What more can we ask of a movie hero?
  • Cineanalyst31 December 2009
    Douglas Fairbanks had already begun his transition to more prestigious, historical costume swashbucklers, for which he is best remembered, with his previous film, "The Mark of Zorro" (1920), but, apparently, unsure as to the success of that transition, he made one last modern comedy, this film, "The Nut". Reportedly, the success of "The Mark of Zorro" and the comparable failure of "The Nut" solidified the transition. Indeed, I agree that "The Nut" is one of the lesser Fairbanks comedies I've seen; certainly, it suffers in comparison to his earlier ones, including "The Matrimaniac" (1916), "Wild and Woolly" (1917), "His Majesty, the American", "When the Clouds Roll by" (both 1919) and "The Mystery of the Leaping Fish" (1916), which are among my favorites and seem to be considered among his best by others, as well.

    This is not a bad film, though; after all, Fairbanks, it seemed, was effortlessly charming and amusing, although he admitted this was one of his more lackluster performances. In this one, he plays a foolhardy inventor who is desperate to win the affections of the leading lady. There's an opening sequence where his inventions carry him out of bed, help him bathe and dress, which is similar to the use of absurd inventions for comedic effect in some of Buster Keaton's films and in some other slapstick comedies by others. This use of inventions isn't used throughout the picture, though. As with much of this film, it seems the gags and story lines are quickly dispensed with as soon as they've served their comedic purpose. Consequently, "The Nut" seems sketchy. The episodes with the stolen wax figures and the tiresome joke of having cupid and the devil as telephone operators are further demonstrations of this flaw. As Jeffrey Vance said (in the biography "Douglas Fairbanks", excerpts of which are included in the Flicker Alley booklet), "The picture is like a chaotic funhouse, filled with magical masquerades, illusions, and gimmicks of great momentary amusement. However, the material is in dire need of a cohesive plot—or at least a clear perspective—to make it truly enjoyable." Additionally, there are some funny intertitles, especially near the beginning, which directly address or talk directly to viewers; this sort of title writing had been one of the more clever aspects of Fairbanks's comedies since his teaming with Anita Loos on "His Picture in the Papers" (1916). And, there's some multiple-exposure trick photography for the "X-Ray", see-through-view of Doug climbing through a vent during the climax. Regardless, most of Fairbanks's films seem to have been better than this.

    (Note: Charlie Chaplin doesn't play the Chaplin imitator here, which should be obvious to viewers familiar with Chaplin. According to Vance, Chaplin, however, did have an extra role as a passerby, minus the tramp attire, but, apparently, that scene was edited out. Mary Pickford also had an extra part as a party guest.)
  • The Nut was a mildly fun, meandering and overly long movie. It starts very strong with clever title cards, some unusual situations, and lots of the Fairbanks personality. Doug is a wealthy inventor whose sometimes clever and sometimes odd devices get plenty of attention. He loves Estrell (Marguerite De La Motte), a wealthy woman who wants to save all of the poor slum children from poverty by placing them with wealthy families.

    When it starts to wander away from the main story, and I lost interest in this film. If you're a big fan of the Fairbanks personality, it might see you through but I found it to be tedious. When the story finds its way back to the fold, it is almost too late, but there are a few laughs in between and a sufficient ending.
  • This film is about an eccentric inventor Charlie Johnson (Douglas Fairbanks) who is constantly trying to win the heart of his beloved, Estrell Wynn (Marguerite De La Motte). The film is set in Greenwich Village. This movie should be seen not only because of Fairbanks' funny antics, but also because it conveys a deep sense of chivalry on his part. He will do anything for Estrell's love.
  • You cannot compare this silent comedy to later films, as they are so different artistically. However, watchability is something I think that is a must for all films--even silent ones. And, by this standard, this is a very good film.

    Douglas Fairbanks plays a very eccentric inventor who is in love with a girl. He tries to hard to help her with her little social crusade because he wants to impress her. Exactly how and what occurs, I'll leave it to you.

    Mr. Fairbanks has long been associated with silent action pictures involving swashbucklers, adventure and romance. So I was very surprised to see that he actually made a comedy--and a good one to boot. However, if you expect to see "slapstick" with kicking, pratfalls and lots of insane action, this will be a surprise. There are only a few such elements in the film (particularly at the beginning) and the movie really is more plot-based than most silent comedies. Fairbanks shows that he COULD handle such a film and I was engaged from start to finish.

    ONE CUTE NOTE ABOUT THE MOVIE--during one segment, Douglas is trying to entertain his guests with impersonations of celebrities. The Charlie Chaplin impersonation REALLY IS CHAPLIN according to IMDb! When I saw him, I thought to myself "hmm,..that guy is obviously NOT Chaplin". Ha--guess I was wrong! Chaplin and Fairbanks were friends and business partners, so I guess it's easy to understand how he got Charlie for this unbilled cameo.
  • 'The Nut' is entertaining enough, yet the elements never cohere. First, the good news: we get quite a bit of Douglas Fairbanks's trademark acrobatics. During the climactic sequence, he and Marguerite De La Motte (the latter partly stunt-doubled) clamber about inside a furnace boiler and its heating ducts -- good job this movie seems to take place in summer! -- and there's some clever double-exposure photography to give us a cutaway view of the two of them inside the ducts.

    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.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    A typically droll Douglas Fairbanks outing with a fine support cast led by the lovely Marguerite De La Motte, villainous Philip Feeney, villainess Barbara La Marr and Fairbanks' pal, Charlie Chaplin as a Chaplin impersonator, this movie was formerly available in its complete 77 minutes version (and when I say complete, I mean complete with white flashes and other odd print quirks in the opening reel) by Grapevine Video. Fortunately, this print looks much better on IMDb. However, if you actually hanker for a really good DVD and don't mind that it has been condensed to 62 minutes ("to make the laughs come faster"), then Grapevine Video again comes to the rescue. Mind you, some of the cuts are rather odd. The devil at the switchboard gag is missing, although Cupid (played by 5-year-old Jeanne Carpenter, who rather cleverly made her farewell to the screen in the role of a telephone operator in 1945's Week-End at the Waldorf – "How could I resist such an opportunity?" she told me) is still connecting Fairbanks' Charlie and De La Motte's Estrell. The movie is extremely well directed by Ted Reed whose timing could not be bettered. But oddly, this turned out to be his only hitch as a director for the entire silent period, although he is billed as "assistant director" on three other Fairbanks' silents and as "production manager" on yet four others and as one of the writers for Fairbanks' The Knickerbocker Buckaroo! Maybe producer Fairbanks thought that as a director, Reed worked too slowly, although he himself was nothing if not extremely meticulous. Or maybe Fairbanks simply didn't like to be directed by Reed, although he retained him in other capacities. In any event, Reed didn't direct another movie until 1936 when he turned up at Paramount as the director of Lady Be Careful with Sidney Salkow assisting as dialogue director! (This movie seems to have disappeared, despite the fact that it has a screenplay by Dorothy Parker, Alan Campbell and Harry Ruskin).
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Douglas Fairbanks, one of the four founders of United Artists Pictures, was primarily known for his adventure/romance/swashbucklers from 1920 and after. This rare, contemporary comedy film showcases Fairbanks as a swell guy who's just trying to impress a girl he loves. He upsets her by not taking her social cause seriously, and then she is pursued by a well-heeled playboy. Fairbanks spends the balance of the film attempting to recapture her interest and make amends but to no avail. He finally ends up rescuing her from the clutches of the playboy at the time his underhandedness becomes known to the girl. Fairbanks, as always, brings a lot of energy and enthusiasm to his roles, and this one is no exception. The plot is a bit uneven, as the bit about Fairbanks being an eccentric inventor seems to disappear after the opening scenario with Fairbanks getting up and getting ready for his day assisted by a host of peculiar devices. Fairbanks enlists a group of children, stolen wax figures, and his own athleticism in eventually winning back his girl. The highlight of the film has Fairbanks climbing and crawling through heating system ductwork to evade police and rescue his girl. On an interesting note, Barbara La Marr plays the second female lead who later died before age 30, her troubled life wrecked by drugs and several failed marriages. This was her third film. Mary Pickford and Charles Chaplin have brief cameos as party guests early in the film. There is some dispute about whether Chaplin does indeed play the look-a-like in the film. It does not look like him, but he's so animated with gesticulations that it's difficult to rule out entirely. **1/2 of 4 stars.
  • marcslope12 January 2009
    Douglas Fairbanks so embodied the ideal young American male of his day: honest, gallant, athletic, charming, and perhaps anti-intellectual. Ideas didn't propel him in the movies (though he's a clever inventor in this one), action did. In this transitional silent feature, he still has the light-comedian identity that made him a star in the 1910s, but he's doing more stunts and working his way toward the action-hero persona that propelled him through the 1920s. The trouble here is, in the title role, he really is a nut--callous and deceptive toward his girlfriend, impractical in all things, and incapable of learning anything. The villain, William Lowery, is a good one, a handsome charmer whose perfidy is convincing, and there are also glimpses of United Artists allies Charlie Chaplin and Mary Pickford in a party sequence. But, as another poster notes, it's never certain whether it's an actioner or a comedy, and Fairbanks doesn't even look his best. And I know we have to suspend a lot of disbelief with these silent comedies, but I'm surprised to learn from this film that 1) wax dummies can persuasively impersonate real human beings for extended periods, 2) cops can arrest you with no evidence, and 3) all it takes to be married is a judge, never mind the license or blood test.