11 March 2006 | wmorrow59
Shaking Shakespeare like he's never been shook
In the first scene of this short comedy our lead player Charley Chase is introduced as "a successful young business man of rare judgment and great dignity," at which point you might guess that before the show's over he will exercise poor judgment and lose every last shred of his dignity. And you'd be right, for this is the sort of escapade where our hero makes a mess of everything and becomes a public laughing stock, yet somehow comes out on top in the end. Bromo and Juliet was made when Charley Chase was turning out some of his best work for the Hal Roach Studio, but while it's enjoyable I wouldn't rank it with his best comedies; I happened to see it back-to-back with another 1926 release, Mighty Like a Moose, which is considerably funnier and more original. Still, this is a pleasant comedy with a fair number of clever gags, and film buffs who enjoy period detail will dig the cars, clothing, and other trappings of the 1920's on display here.
The premise is that Charley's strong-willed girlfriend Madge will marry him only if he agrees to take part in an upcoming benefit performance, a vaudeville-style event featuring scenes from Shakespeare interspersed with dancers, a magician, and other acts. In a bit that would be echoed in many a TV sitcom later on, Charley adamantly refuses to play the role of Romeo in the show, shaking his head and insisting: Nope, No way, Never, Not a chance . . . Fade-out, and fade-in as we see him sheepishly trying on his costume. The tights Charley must wear emphasize his skinny legs (and underscore his resemblance to John Cleese), so our leading man decides to stuff his costume with strategically-located pieces of sponge, to give himself a more buff appearance. One of my favorite moments comes when Charley, awkwardly striding about in his Romeo costume, attempts to get comfortable by suddenly dancing a brisk Charleston. Skinny he was, yet Charley could dance up a storm! At any rate, Madge's father is also taking part in the show, but unfortunately the old guy is a lush who is completely blotto on the day of the show, and it becomes Charley's duty to corral the old man and get them both to the show on time. Along the way, Charley finds that the old man has run up a substantial debt with a beefy cab driver who demands payment. The cabbie is played by Oliver Hardy (wearing curiously heavy eye makeup), but unfortunately Ollie isn't given much comic business to perform. His best moment comes early, when he first encounters Charley in his Romeo outfit, checks him out, grins, and pats his hand in an unmistakable "Aren't you sweet!" gesture implying that Charley is, well, a sissy.
Eventually our hero reaches the theater with the old man in tow, but by that point Charley himself --apparently a teetotaler until now-- has been forced to imbibe some whiskey and is as drunk as the old man, and is being pursued by a determined cop as well as the angry cabbie. This leads to that familiar comic staple: the drunk (or inept) performer who messes up a performance to the immediate and resounding delight of the audience, who weren't enjoying the show all that much until this guy came along. Some viewers may have the same problem with this sequence I had, and which I tend to have with similar sequences: that is, the supposedly hilarious ineptitude on stage just doesn't seem all that riotously funny, not funny enough to rock the house the way it does. Still, it's a cute finale that offers some amusing moments, and those sponges come in handy for a couple of startling sight gags.
Bromo and Juliet is fun for silent comedy buffs, but I wouldn't use it to introduce a newcomer to Charley Chase; I'd vote for Mighty Like a Moose, Innocent Husbands or Long Fliv the King over this one, for any viewer who wants to find out just how funny this charming comedian could be during his heyday.