I first saw this film in 1972 in London, shortly after the only extant copy was found. Even this print was incomplete, missing the final reel. As it stands the film ends with Compson and Griffith crossing the border into Mexico, beyond the reach of the gaggle of police who've been chasing them. But the missing reel has Compson having second thoughts about the heist of the necklace--it was, after all, intended to go to the daughter of the necklace's owner on her wedding day. So Compson convinces Griffith to cross back over the border again and on into California and return the necklace to its owners. Which they do, pursued by police cars and motorcycles.
True, the film is not gag driven; most of the humor comes from the dramatic irony of two rival jewel thieves, Griffith and Compson, making their way into the home where the necklace is kept locked away in a safe, Griffith posing as a police detective who says he's there to make sure the necklace is safe; Compson pretends to be a servant. Griffith and Compson make repeated and often hilarious attempts to steal the necklace while the wedding party is on and the house is full of guests and two bonafide plainclothes police. In one scene Griffith delights the guests by having them hide an item for him to find, while he waits in the next room where the safe is kept, desperately trying to break into it and steal the necklace before he's called back.
A lot of the humor lies in the tension generated by the thieves' masquerade and by the tension between the two (in an earlier scene Griffith, posing again as a detective, had conned Compson and her gang in San Francisco and made off with a huge sum of their money). One of the funniest scenes in the film takes place while the house is dark and everyone is asleep. Griffith sneaks into the darkened room where the safe is kept. The two cops decide to see if everything's safe and sound and make their way through the rooms of the house with a flashlight. At one point they decide to light a cigarette; the cop with the long-handled flashlight sticks it under his arm, pointing it behind him and illuminating Griffith in the next room, frozen in place and holding the safe in his arms. Neither cop sees him, though one apparently sees something out of the corner of his eye right before the other cop removes the flashlight from under his arm, so that the light no longer shines on Griffith. When they turn to shine the light back into the other room, Griffith is gone. They go into the other room to check it out; but the family dog grabs the flashlight away from the detective, who chases the dog back and forth across the room in a futile attempt to take the light back. While the dog is running around with the flashlight, the light shines on Griffith who is behind the cops and against the opposite wall, holding the safe. The cops, intent on retrieving the flashlight don't see Griffith. Griffith tries desperately to avoid the light, scampering back and forth and onto a couch, only to have the dog follow his every move and constantly illuminating him. Griffith finally sits on the couch with the safe, sighs, holds his hands up in defeat, convinced that it's only a matter of time before he's discovered. But the cops retrieve the light, they never see Griffith, and he escapes from the room.
Charlie Chaplin used this same gag in THE GOLD RUSH. When Charlie and the other prospector, Big Jim, are in their cabin in the middle of nowhere, starving, they're threatened by another prospector who's entered their cabin with a rifle. Big Jim and the intruder wrestle over the rifle, which is always pointed at Charlie during the struggle; no matter where he runs in the cabin, he can't escape being in the crosshairs of a weapon about to fire and kill him. A very funny sequence, but lifted from PATHS TO PARADISE (just as the 'Dance of the Rolls' in THE GOLD RUSH was lifted from an early Fatty Arbuckle and Buster Keaton silent one-reeler).
I love this film. When I saw it in London, my stomach ached from laughing so hard. This film IS available on tape; the owner of the one extant copy has them for sale at Grapevine Video.
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