6 December 2009 | wmorrow59
Those funny, funny spinster ladies
When this short was released the anonymous critic of Moving Picture World said that the film offered "quite a few laughs" and that it was up to Will Rogers' usual standard in entertainment value. Sorry, but I must disagree: I found very little to laugh at here. I've seen most of the two-reel comedies Rogers made for the Hal Roach Studio, and believe The Cake Eater must be the weakest of the series. It feels like a half-hearted effort that was cranked out to fulfill a contractual obligation. As it happens, Will signed with the studio because he was in financial difficulty and needed to earn some ready cash, but the other shorts are livelier, funnier, and more inspired. This one could give a viewer unfamiliar with Rogers a negative impression of his abilities.
The Cake Eater is set on a ranch, where Will and his fellow hands spend their time loafing and playing pranks on each other. One of Will's characteristically amusing title cards informs us that some day he'll make a picture about hard-working cowboys "but the theatergoer is not ready for it yet." The ranch has been inherited by a pair of aging, unmarried ladies who take an instant shine to Will and compete with each other for his attention, much to the amusement of the other ranch hands. The ladies are accompanied by a young woman, a "poor relation" (played by the strikingly pretty Marie Mosquini,) who immediately attracts the interest of the guys, including Will. Nevertheless, due to a misunderstanding the older ladies believe that Will has proposed marriage to each of them in turn. When he pretends to take sick they compete with each other to nurse him back to health.
That's the gist of it. The main problem I have with this comedy, aside from the paucity of decent gags, is the treatment of the two ladies who inherit the ranch. A title card identifies them as a pair of "romantic spinsters," and they're presented as comically homely and foolish. The character actresses playing these roles wear unflattering costumes and fuss over Will in a silly fashion as he squirms with discomfort. That's supposed to be the central joke, but it's one I find embarrassing to watch. On top of that, the treatment of Marie Mosquini isn't much better. At one point she gives Will a photo of herself as a gift, but when he boasts to the other cowboys about it he learns that they all have identical photos of her. The implication about her character is rather ugly. I don't expect comedies made in the 1920s to be Politically Correct about gender relations, body image, or anything else, but this one has an oddly sour misogynistic tone, and to top it off, it simply isn't very funny. When the highlight is the lead comic sitting on a cake you know somebody's not trying very hard.
Will Rogers made some decent comedies for Hal Roach, especially his movie parodies and his Alfalfa Doolittle political series, but The Cake Eater does not represent this legendary humorist at his best, or anywhere close to it.