The Wrong Mr. Fox (1917)
This short is a classic mix-up comedy based on the fact of two very similarly-named towns: Canaan, Vermont, and Canaan, New Hampshire, on the same train line. The thin plot does offer some good opportunities for situational comedy.
An out-of-work actor named Jimmy Fox (Victor Moore) is on the verge of committing suicide by breathing in gas from his light, when he is contacted by his agent and told to go to one of these metropoli in order to join a theater troupe. He boards the train with 3 donuts (one for every 100 miles) and a bottle of milk, stolen from his landlady. At the same time, the reverend John Fox boards the train for the other Canaan, where he is being sent to take over ministerial duties. Of course, they each get off at the wrong station, and, of course, each is mistaken for the other Mr. Fox. Of course, hilarity ensues. The reverend fairly quickly flees his Canaan community (apparently running home to his mother), when an actor in rehearsal pulls out a knife. But our actor figures out his situation fairly quickly and comes up with a plan. He begins his sermon by passing out the collection plates. Then, imitating Billy Sunday, he gives a dramatic series of gestures that cause the congregation to look into the distance while he fills his pockets. Then, he does a kind of strip show, pulling off his jacket, tie, and shirt, finishing with a flourish that makes the crowd look up while he bicycles out the door. However, he’s forgotten that by removing his clothes, he left all the money in his pockets behind.
The now-obscure star of this movie was Victor Moore, who was the principle star of the Jacksonville, Florida-based Klever Komedies studio, a subsidiary of Jesse Lasky’s Feature Play Company, and therefore part of Paramount. Judging by this film, Moore wasn’t a genius of physical comedy, like Chaplin or Keaton, he seems to be more in the tradition of situational humor like John Bunny or Sidney Drew, with just a hint of Roscoe Arbuckle’s charisma. A lot of this film is shot quite conventionally, but there are some interesting bits. The sequence in which he tries to commit suicide with gas includes several bits where he breathes fire after someone lights a match. There are several dramatic close-ups during his sermon, and I was surprised that his parishioners seem to include at least a few Asian Americans. Honestly, the funniest moment for me didn’t involve Moore at all – I laughed loudest when the preacher runs away from the actor with a knife.
Starring: Victor Moore, William Slade
Run Time: 13 Min
You can watch it for free: here.
Victor Moore may be obscure to you, but to anyone who watches films from the first half of the Twentieth Century, he’s far from obscure, he had a sixty-plus year career as a major Broadway and Film Comedian, and he’s in a number of classics from SWING TIME (1936) to THE SEVEN YEAR ITCH (1955) with Marilyn Monroe. He delivers a heartbreaking performance in Leo McCarey’s MAKE WAY FOR TOMORROW (1937).
RICHARD M ROBERTS.
New information is always welcome in comments on this blog, so I thank you for that. Rudeness, however, is not, so let’s talk about your rudeness.
“Victor Moore may be obscure to you, but to anyone who watches films from the first half of the Twentieth Century, he’s far from obscure”
You have opened your comment by asserting (not merely implying) that I do not watch films from the first half of the twentieth century. This is despite the bulk of evidence of a blog which I have put literally hundreds of hours into, discussing movies between 1889 and 1917, sacrificing nearly all other leisure-time activities for the last three years. I do not do this work to give you a place to show off your superiority, nor have I solicited your insults. If you don’t learn how to behave yourself, you will not be a welcome commenter on this blog.
That you have chosen to behave this way is unfortunate for two reasons: first, because it robs you of the opportunity to have a useful and interesting discussion with me about something we are both interested in and knowledgeable about: the history of film. I suspect that if we spoke to one another cordially, we could both benefit from the exchange. The second reason is that you have actually damaged your cause with this comment. The next time I see Victor Moore’s name in the credits for a movie, I will immediately think of that jerk who insulted me on the Internet, and my response to his performance will be colored by this comment. He is an innocent bystander who has been damaged, not helped, by your attitude. Over-zealous fans have done similar “friendly fire” damage to many worthwhile artists over the years, and often find themselves wondering why no one agrees with them.
I hope you will take my words to heart.
I said nothing that was insulting to you in any form and you go off on a rant that includes name-calling and shows nothing but a fragile ego that makes you incapable of learning much new about old films and the people that made them. Perhaps you have been sacrificing a few too many other leisure-time activities, more relaxation seems to be in order.
I’ll waste no more time in talking to you.
RICHARD M ROBERTS