14 March 2005 | F Gwynplaine MacIntyre
When you find out, tell the rest of us.
Englishman Reginald Denny had a hugely successful career in American silent films (in which his public-school English accent went unheard), playing brash young Americans who were firmly in the Harold Lloyd mould. In the sound era Denny's career tapered off into character roles, and he is now utterly forgotten. During the Los Angeles riots of 1992, an entirely different man named Reginald Denny was prominently mentioned in the news. At the time, I was intrigued that absolutely none of the news media called attention to the coincidence of these men's mutual name ... solid evidence of how completely the silent comedian Reginald Denny has now been forgotten.
The 1925 silent comedy 'Where Was I?' calls attention to its own antiquity more so than usual for a silent film, as the plot repeatedly cites a specific date -- the 9th of January, 1923 -- in the context of being a fairly recent date relative to the present (1925), yet far enough in the past that the hero could plausibly have forgotten where he was and what he did on that day.
Reginald Denny plays Thomas Bedford, a successful young businessman who is about to marry Alicia Stone despite the protests of her father. (Good performance by Tyrone Power, namesake father of the 1930s matinée idol.) Suddenly, Bedford's plans are scuppered by an exotic stranger, Claire, who blithely tells Bedford that he can't marry Alicia because he's already married to Claire: the wedding took place (she says) in Washington, on 9 January 1923. Bedford is dismayed to realise he can't recall where he was or what he did on that date. Claire, significantly, has no marriage licence and doesn't say where she's been for the past two years.
So far, the movie's plot is highly unlikely but unusual enough to be intriguing. Now it just gets stupid. While trying to retrace his whereabouts on the fateful date, Bedford mistakes another man's briefcase for his own and walks away with it. This briefcase contains $12,000. In a sensible movie, any honest man who made this error would return the briefcase, or give it to the police. But Bedford has to panic and go on the run, thus becoming a fugitive accused of theft.
At the film's implausible climax, Bedford has to meet Alicia and Claire both at the same go, without either woman being aware of the other's presence. So, we get that stupid slamming-doors routine ... where two people keep just missing each other. This is just barely plausible in a silent film, since the audience mightn't start wondering why neither woman hears the other door slamming.
An impressively physical comedian in other movies, Denny is so frenetic here that I found him wearying. 'Where Was I?' manages to be slightly funny in spite of itself, due to the unusual premise and despite the implausible plot twists. Chester Conklin, wearing his familiar walrus moustache, is funny as a flustered cab driver, Arthur Lake, who worked in support of Denny in a few films, is good here as Bedford's office boy. I'll rate this movie 4 out of 10.