Douglas Fairbanks disc 2

The Matrimaniac (1916): I often talk about the economy of storytelling in older films, and how much less time they usually take to set themselves up and get going. This is a comparatively extreme example, though; clocking in at just 46 minutes (barely feature-length even by 1916 standards), it quite literally cuts to the chase. I’d almost swear it was missing an opening reel to establish the characters, but no, apparently it does just begin in apparent mid-story. Here, Doug is the young man eloping with the love of his life—in broad daylight through the front door of the house, no less—in the face of opposition from her father and another suitor. Quite what Doug has done to offend the old man (apart from merely existing, perhaps) is never explained; we simply begin kind of in medias res with Doug deflating the tyres on the old boy’s car so he can’t chase them once they begin their flight. Still, he’s not going to let a minor thing like that stop him from interfering in his daughter’s happiness. Fun (I particularly enjoyed the scenes where Doug and the hapless minister he’s roped in to perform the ceremonial duties are hamstrung by an unhelpful mule), although hard not to feel there wasn’t something missing. Like motivation for the plot.

Wild and Woolly (1917): Again, Fairbanks plays a part I could easily imagine Harold Lloyd having done in the following decade. He’s the son of a New York-based railroad magnate who’s grown rich off sending his railroads out west, and the son has accordingly grown up a fanatic for the old west. When a business opportunity in Arizona pops up, Doug finally gets his chance to actually head west for the first time in his life, and the folks running the place decide the best way to get him on side is to dress the place up like the 1880s frontier town it stopped being long ago so it lives up to his fantasy of the old west. Little do they all realise some real wild west business is about to go down. Given the film’s intention as a spoof of the “eastern westerner” story, and the way it’s about the distance between the old west and the “modern” world, it’s worth remembering just how far the early movie era overlapped with the old west; Buffalo Bill Cody, after all, died only a couple of months before this appeared, and he did a fair bit towards packaging the idea of the “wild west” as a performance of the sort the townsfolk stage here. By now Fairbanks himself had moved from Triangle, under the aegis of D.W. Griffith, to his own production company, but he obviously retained some lessons from Griffith; the climax of the film plays out not unlike one of his films (maybe if The Battle at Elderbush Gulch had been funnier. We’ll say nothing of how the two films treat their Indians). Apparently this was one of Fairbanks’ favourites, and I can see why; his character may be a bit of a buffoon living a bit of a fantasy, but he can turn on actual heroics when required.

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