28 July 2013 | wmorrow59
Can you imagine his embarrassment?
Snappy Sneezer was one of the first talkie shorts made by Charley Chase, who learned and polished his comic art during the silent era. What a pleasant surprise to discover that it's also one of Charley's very best comedies, crafted with such offhand skill you would think he'd been dealing with sound for ages, as well paced and funny as anything from his mid-'20s peak. Like a lot of early talkies Snappy Sneezer was also released in the silent format, to accommodate theaters that hadn't yet been wired for sound. But unlike most hybrids of the era this short lends itself well to a silent version, since so much of the comedy is visual. However, the new technology permits us to enjoy the nicely delivered banter between Charley and leading lady Thelma Todd, as well as the grunts and growls uttered by Anders Randolph as a sourpuss Charley encounters on a streetcar. As a silent short Snappy Sneezer is fun, but with sound it's a gem.
The premise is simple. Charley and Thelma meet during a train trip, and their flirtation quickly develops into a romance. (Their first scene together, chatting and giggling at the train station, looks improvised and is absolutely charming.) In a happy coincidence they find they live in the same city, so their romance is destined to continue. Thelma, or Mary White as her character is named, invites the young man to her home, so they agree to meet that afternoon. But this wouldn't be a Charley Chase comedy if he didn't suffer some form of public embarrassment. Before he leaves the station Charley must deal with an unfortunate wardrobe malfunction -- which he does, on this occasion, with admirable cleverness.
Next, Charley must board a streetcar to go home. What follows is a priceless routine, excerpted as a stand-alone sequence in Robert Youngson's compilation feature Laurel & Hardy's Laughing '20s. On the crowded streetcar, Charley's hay fever kicks in. Despite his best intentions, and no matter what he does, he repeatedly and violently sneezes on a fellow passenger, a grim looking middle-aged man who is not at all pleased about the situation. Admittedly, this gag is kind of gross, but we laugh because it's the sort of thing that happens in the real world, only exaggerated to a nightmare level. What's funny here is that Charley is really trying to be civil and leave the man alone, but no matter where he moves within the car, or what measures he takes to prevent it, he keeps sneezing on the same guy. But wait, there's more! The furious recipient of the sneezes is so angry he retaliates by mutilating Charley's straw boater. Then, both men get off at the same stop. Now the conflict escalates, because the man, who is understandably rattled, narrowly misses getting hurt, not once but twice. First he's almost hit by a speeding car, then nearly flattened by a heavy object, dropped off a building by careless workers. Charley tries to atone for his unfortunate sneezing episode by saving the man from peril, but only makes matters worse.
At last it's time for Charley to go to Mary White's home and meet her father. Guess who her father turns out to be? We're only half-way through the story, and Snappy Sneezer is already a great short. In the second reel, Charley desperately tries to make good with Mary's dad after getting off to this rather awkward start. Mr. White has just purchased a new car, but doesn't know how to drive, and neither does Mary. Charley offers to show them how. As you'd imagine, things do not go well. There are some great gags in this sequence, one of which involves the imaginative use of a rubber band; here, Chase demonstrates how a gifted comic can get big laughs with a very simple prop. There's also a startling gag involving a mule, a routine better seen than described.
The only problem with Snappy Sneezer is that it's not readily available for home viewing. On the bright side, many of Charley Chase's silent shorts have made their way to DVD in recent years, and so too have some of the sound shorts he produced for Columbia late in his career, but the Hal Roach talkies remain in limbo at this writing. I hope the situation changes for the better. Snappy Sneezer deserves pride of place in any collection of Chase's best comedies.