Scen.: Charley Chase, Leo McCarey. F.: Len Powers. M.: Richard C. Currier. Int.: Charlie Chase (Mr. Moose, il marito), Vivien Oakland (Mrs. Moose, la moglie), Ann Howe (la domestica), Charles Clary (il dentista), Charlie Hall (il lustrascarpe). Prod.: Hal Roach Studios · DCP. D.: 23’. Bn.
Leo McCarey, born in California in 1898, was the son of ‘Uncle Tom’ McCarey, a well-known boxing and sports promoter. After early and unsuccessful careers as an amateur boxer, mining investor, and lawyer, the young McCarey got a job through his high school friend (and future director) David Butler as an assistant to director Tod Browning. Having worked on The Virgin of Stamboul (1920) and Outside the Law (1921) with Browning, Universal gave McCarey the opportunity to direct his own feature. But when Society Secrets (1921) tanked at the boxoffice Leo found himself quickly back out of the film business. Luckily he had become friendly with Hal Roach at the Los Angeles Athletic Club, and the producer, amused by Leo’s quick wit, had told him to drop by his studio if ever looking for work. McCarey did just that in 1923 and was soon busy writing sight gags for Roach’s Our Gang comedies. This didn’t last long as Leo was quickly promoted to directing the recently inaugurated one-reelers starring comedian Charley Chase, who under his real name of Charles Parrott had been in films since 1914 where he acted, wrote and eventually directed at Keystone before moving on to direct comics such as Hank Mann, Billy West, and Mr. & Mrs. Carter DeHaven. In 1921 Parrott took up residence on the Roach lot and was put in charge of the anything-for-a-laugh Snub Pollard comedies, and was then made director-general of the entire studio where he supervised comedy production.
When Harold Lloyd left the organization in 1923 Roach gave his director-general a shot in a series, and McCarey joined the comic with the tenth entry Publicity Pays (1924). Making a great team, the pair took the studio’s signature theme – recognizable people in outlandish situations – and built upon it, combining wild slapstick with more situational comedy. Sittin’ Pretty was McCarey’s eleventh short with Charley Chase, and at this point they were still turning out one-reelers that followed the adventures of Jimmie Jump, their young comic everyman. The main feature of Sittin’ Pretty is the performance of the famous ‘mirror routine’ done by Chase and his brother James Parrott. The younger James is an overlooked silent comedy veteran who as ‘Paul Parrott’ had his own starring series for Hal Roach. By the time of this film he had moved behind the camera as a writer and director, and would later pilot many of the Chase and Laurel & Hardy shorts.
When McCarey and Chase graduated to two-reels, shorts such as His Wooden Wedding (1925) and Dog Shy (1926) became some of the most sophisticated farces put on the screen. Very adult and risque for the day, films like What Price Goofy?, The Uneasy Three (both 1925), and Crazy Like a Fox (1926), all build webs of misunderstanding and embarassments that drag Charley into deeper and deeper hot water. Getting rid of the usual whiteface and stylization of his contemporaries, Chase’s good looks were used to give a more realistic look at an average Joe trapped in an awful series of events. Among the most perfectly constructed of McCarey’s two reel comedies, Mighty Like a Moose plays with the emotional amplitude of a full length feature. Chase and Vivien Oakland play the Mooses, a prosperous but ‘homely’ couple – he’s cursed with buck teeth, she with a gigantic nose – whose looks are transformed by the miracles of modern medicine. Failing to recognize each other when they meet, they begin a flirtation, both in the thrilling belief that they are being unfaithful to their unattractive spouses. An early and hilarious iteration of one of McCarey’s eternal themes: that romantic love must be tested and validated by hard experience.
The two and a half years that they worked intensely together was a defining period in McCarey’s development that fine-tuned his comic outlook and set the working methods for the rest of his career. McCarey later remembered: “I received credit as director but it was really Chase who did most of the directing. Whatever success I have or may have, I owe to his help because he taught me all I know”.
Dave Kehr and Steve Massa