A Tray Full of Trouble (1920)

  |  Short, Comedy

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21 November 2016 | kekseksa
What price Snooky?
It do not really share the squeamish views of the other two reviewers with regard to animals and children in films. It is perhaps true that they might have been rather usefully employed pulling carts or working down mines or climbing up chimneys but times had changed....

I suspect that animals in films had rather more fun than their counterparts in zoos, circus or in animal-acts that toured the fair circuits (and figure rather depressingly in several early films). Far more enjoyable to have the opportunity to occasionally devour a Christian (even if it was not usually for real) than spend one's days pacing up and won in a cage, far more fun to be the star of one's own series of films than spend the day sitting on top of a barrel-organ.

As for the kids, I think they probably had fun too. Of course I appreciate that in the world of political correctness, fun is now frowned upon but I am old enough and wise enough to believe it still has its place in the world. It is worth remembering too that this particular brood were experienced actors from a family of very seasoned vaudevillians. The little girl is Ida Mae McKenzie (note that she signs her letter "Ida" in the film) and the toddler is no doubt her youngest sister, Eunice Fay McKenzie, who first appeared on screen as a babe in arms in 1918.

Ida was more likely to be harmed riding a horse (may adult stars were) than playing with a chimpanzee (another seasoned professional in this case). As for Eunice Fay, we an be pretty certain that she came to no harm through this early encounter with the animal kingdom because she is (at the time of writing) still alive (now 98), although it is true that she has not appeared in a film since 1994 when she figured in a documentary about Gene Autrey, whose co-star she had regularly been in the forties.

The McKenzie kids appeared in nearly all of the Snooky films and the mother, Eva McKenzie, was usually not far away, although I don't think she actually appears in this film.

As for these films being only suitable for two-year-olds, there seems to be a curious double-standard operating here with regard to films including children and animals. There is in fact little sign that these films were intended for children and they frequently contain distinctly adult elements (alcohol in this film, a man flirting with dancing girls in The One Best Pet and so on), frequently contain titles comprehensible to an adult and contain almost exactly the same tropes and gags that one finds in the "adult" slapstick comedies of the time. Just in Time for instance is clearly based in part on Chaplin's A Dog's Life. Chaplin is in fact often a reference for the Snooky films. The "milking a cow by pumping its tail" gag in Ready to Serve had been used by Chaplin in The Tramp in 1915, but Larry Semon also made use of it in the Hick in 1921 (just the month before the Snooky film). "You'll eat so many pies" says Ida Mae to Snooky in You'll Be Su'prised "you'll think you're Charlie Chaplin"

They are, it is true, somewhat less violent because animals are less readily persuaded to hit, kick and generally fight each other than human beings. Some of the best and most original gags in the Snooky films in fact come from the combined use of children and animals. In You'll Be Su'prised (probably the best Snooky film), the thieves stick the babies' shoes on a duck to make the father think she has run off. It is bizarre (and not very respectful of the rights of ducks) but it is really a well executed variation on a "wild duck chase" if not and entirely original concept(see Harold Lloyd's The Kid Brother). In the same film, Ida Mae summons up Speedball the tortoise while Snooky send Rags the dog to dig a hole into the cabin where the crooks are holed up and then sends Speedball down the hole with a candle on top of his carapace to ignite the dynamite inside (escaping back through the hole, I hasten to add). It is bizarre (and not very respectful of the rights of tortoises) but it is a very well-delivered gag involving child, monkey, dog and tortoise.

As for Snooky himself, for all the pies he might eat, he is no Chaplin but he is on a par with a good many of the comics of the period and distinctly more talented than some of them.

If this is for two-year-olds (and I am not necessarily inclined to disagree), then so are the great majority of "adult" US comedy shorts and the reviewer, if he were to apply the same standards in both cases, would find himself making quite a startling statement about the generally puerile level of US humour during this period.


Release Date:

3 October 1920



Country of Origin


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