Tuesday, June 27, 2017

FILMBAY 2000 Greatest Films of All-Time (1888-2016) by Year - 0152 - WILD AND WOOLLY (John Emerson, 1917, USA, 47m, BW)



 

WILD AND WOOLLY 

(John Emerson, 1917, USA, 47m, BW)




Introduction

WILD AND WOOLLY (John Emerson, 1917, USA, 47m, BW)


Cast: Douglas Fairbanks, Eileen Percy, Walter Bytell, Joseph Singleton, Calvert Carter, Charles Stevens, Ruth Allen, Forrest Seabury, Monte Blue, J.W. Jones, Sam Grasse, Tom Wilson
Director: John Emerson
Writer: Horace B. Carpenter, John Emerson, Anita Loos
Rating: NR
Running Time: 72 min.


Overview

Wild and Woolly is a 1917 American silent Western comedy film which tells the story of one man's personal odyssey from cowboy-obsessed Easterner to Western tough guy. It stars Douglas Fairbanks, Eileen Percy, Walter Bytell and Sam De Grasse. The film was adapted by Anita Loos from a story by Horace B. Carpenter and was directed by John Emerson. Not to be confused with the 1932 short film, Wild and Woolly, or the 1978 television film, Wild and Wooly.


Plot

As described in a film magazine review,[1] Jeff Hillington (Fairbanks), son of railroad magnate Collis J. Hillington (Bytell), tires of the East and longs for the wild and woolly West. He has his apartment and office fixed up in his understanding of the accepted Western style, which he has gleaned from dime novels. A delegation from Bitter Creek comes to New York City seeking financial backing for the construction of a spur line, and go to Collis to explain their proposition. Collis sends Jeff to investigate. The citizens of Bitter Creek, Arizona, realizing that a favorable report from Jeff is necessary, decide to live up to Jeff's idea of a Western town. 

They set up a program with a wild reception for Jeff, a barroom dance, and a train holdup. Steve Shelby (De Grasse), a grafting Indian agent, knowing that he is about to be caught by the government, decides to do "one more trick" and enters into the plan to rob the train, turning it into a real scheme. Events turn earnest and Shelby kidnaps Nell Larabee (Percy), with whom Jeff has fallen in love. The entire crowd has been trapped in the dance hall, which is surrounded by Indians, and Jeff's revolver loaded with blanks. When the situation is finally explained to Jeff, by superhuman efforts (and typical Fairbanks surprises) he rounds up the Indians, rescues the girl, completely foils the scheme of Steve, and becomes the hero of the hour, getting to marry Nell.


Cast

Douglas Fairbanks as Jeff Hillington
Eileen Percy as Nell Larabee
Walter Bytell as Collis J. Hillington
Joseph Singleton as Judson, the Butler
Calvert Carter as Tom Larabee, the Hotel Keeper
Forrest Seabury as Banker
J. W. Jones as Lawyer
Charles Stevens as Pedro
Sam De Grasse as Steve Shelby, the Indian Agent
Tom Wilson as Casey the Engineer





Review

Douglas Fairbanks is back with a parody of the Western genre that takes full advantage of his good-natured American good looks and propensity for athleticism. By this point, the Fairbanks comedy “brand” was clearly established and he was milking it for all it was worth. Wild and Woolly (1917), which was selected for inclusion in the Library of Congress' National Film Registry. In it, Fairbanks stars as Jeff Hillington, a Wild West nut who works for his father's corporation in a big city. He gets the chance to go west to work on a business deal, and the townspeople, learning of his fetish, disguise their entire town as a throwback to cowboy days. Of course, everything goes wrong, and Doug must use his heroism to save the day in real life. It's predictable, but fun and fast.

This movie captures a lot of the fun of Douglas Fairbanks in a simple package. It also reminds me of the kind of thing Harold Lloyd would later do: the good-natured nebbish who doesn’t quite live in reality, but makes good and gets the girl in the end. I think it’s actually a bit funnier when skinny Lloyd does this than buff Fairbanks, but Fairbanks did it first. This movie definitely has its funny moments. I particularly enjoy the early sequences in New York with the butler, but Jeff’s efforts to “fit in” to the Western town are also quite good. That said, I wouldn’t call it perfect. In terms of comedy, a lot of the humor is dependent upon funny Intertitles, which I find distracts from the visual action. Most silent movies tried to minimize the use of titles and show as much as possible visually, but, perhaps because they wanted to preserve the witty writing of Anita Loos, they overdid it a bit here. The other “not funny” part of this movie is the stereotypical portrayal of Native Americans. 

The pacing in the movie is a nice compliment to Fairbanks's restless, exuberant performance; the editing is as energetic and frantic as he is. It's congruity is also similar to Mack Sennett's Keystone comedies and, as William K. Everson ("American Silent Film") pointed out, is indicative of the fast pace of pictures post "The Birth of a Nation" (1915). Everson claimed that some shots in "Wild and Woolly" lasted no more than five frames. Additionally, Fairbanks's acrobatics are perfectly suited to the genre, which he'd carry into his adventure spectacles. Today, Fairbanks remains one of the better-known silent film stars, but mostly for his swashbucklers. Yet, he should be recognized as an early American screen comedian alongside Sennett, Arbuckle, Chaplin, Keaton and Lloyd, as well, even though his films aren't slapstick and he couldn't be considered a clown of the same order. Like some of the films of Sennett, Chaplin and Keaton especially, "Wild and Woolly" is, however, a comedy that in reflecting itself finds much of its humor.


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