8 April 2006 | wmorrow59
A forgotten treat from the Hal Roach Studio
Here's an obscure two-reel comedy that deserves to be better known. Two-Time Mama was produced by Hal Roach around the time his studio was reaching its heyday, i.e. the late silent and early talkie period. In 1926 the Our Gang kids and Charley Chase were the stars of the lot, but Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy -- not yet a team -- were both under contract and hard at work. Perhaps this film hasn't received much attention because it doesn't feature any of the Roach Studio's biggest names (Hardy has a very modest bit as a cop but is on screen for all of about 15 seconds), and yet it's a brisk and funny marital farce that offers the viewer a good sample of the Roach Studio's house style.
The story involves various misunderstandings and entanglements that occur between two married couples, the Browns (Glenn Tryon & Vivien Oakland) and the Dazzles (Tyler Brooke & Anita Garvin). The two couples have apartments across the hall from one another, and all four plan to attend a costume ball together. But after each husband expresses unhappiness with his wife's costume the women angrily refuse to go to the party. The two husbands decide to go "stag" and pick up dates, but when Mrs. Brown changes her mind about attending, and Mr. Dazzle and Mr. Brown switch costumes, mix-ups result. Mr. Dazzle and Mrs. Brown wind up in a romantic assignation together, each believing the other is someone else. The story builds to much frantic activity and slapstick violence, and where extra-marital dalliance is concerned Mr. Dazzle -- who is dressed as a devil -- finds there is hell to pay.
The convoluted plot doesn't really matter in this sort of farce, although some viewers may enjoy seeing just how convoluted (and unlikely) the situation can get. What makes this experience worthwhile is the skill of the players and the quality of the gags, and that's where Two-Time Mama scores. Film buffs will be familiar with Vivien Oakland and Anita Garvin from their memorable performances in a number of later Laurel & Hardy comedies; both ladies are terrific here, and Anita is especially sexy in her off-the-shoulder Spanish dancer costume. She also demonstrates that she's a game gal where slapstick is concerned, taking an impressive backward fall during the party sequence. The gentlemen are enjoyable too. Tyler Brooke pops his eyes with vigor and shows off his dancing skill; Glenn Tryon, who I hadn't much cared for in other appearances, comes off well here and is no slouch in taking falls himself. The gags and funny title cards perk things along. Some viewers may be startled by a risqué bit during the party sequence, when Mr. Brown and Mr. Dazzle go to the bathroom to switch costumes and are surprised when a woman walks in -- and still more surprised when "she" proves to be a female impersonator who takes much pleasure in grooming! Connoisseurs of silent comedy will certainly want to seek it out, but even non-specialists who are open to watching vintage movies may well get a kick out of Two-Time Mama. This film is a pleasant treat from the Roaring 'Twenties that's just waiting to be rediscovered.