buster keaton, the frozen north, classic cinema

As the ‘polar vortex’ continues to cause temperatures through the Midwest (and now beyond to the East) to linger in the single digits of positive and/or negative Fahrenheit, I found a couple of films in FilmOn’s Demand section that will help pass the time when your flight is cancelled, and bring a little humor to alleviate the frost.

The initial sequence of The Frozen North (1922) of a man emerging from the ‘last stop’ of the Subway into a snow-covered wilderness is enough to set you on your way. A relatively unknown silent short from the great Buster Keaton, this film (and the story behind it) speaks volumes about his multi-layered talent. Keaton bought the script to the film from fellow silent-film comedian Fatty Arbuckle, who at the time was embroiled in the horrific Virginia Rappe rape/manslaughter scandal, at least partly out of a gesture of solidarity.  Furthermore, he chose to play much of his character as a parody of silent Western star William S. Hart, whom Keaton felt was hypocritically aiding in Arbuckle’s persecution.

The film, however, is far from a silent one-note comic diatribe. Filmed in the California Sierra near Truckee, made to look like the Canadian Klondike, Keaton crams in his usual enormous amounts of highly inventive sight gags. He also finds time to parody Erich von Stroheim’s continental charlatan from the contemporary hit, The Foolish Wives. Having recently watched Jimmy Fallon’s Late Night retrospective, I can see the parodic debt still needs to be paid.

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Now we turn to feature-length ice humor, Gainsborough Studios’ Canadian western farce The Frozen Limits (1939), starring ‘The Crazy Gang.’ The Crazy Gang were actually three sets of English comedy duos that were playing the same bills around the Music Hall circuit in London in the early ’30s, comic serendipity resulting in a joining of forces.

Bud Flanagan and Chesney Allen (also song writers/performers of humorous songs such as the iconic “Underneath The Arches” which the art duo Gilbert & George sang when they presented themselves as “Living Sculptures” in the 1960s, Jimmy Gold, Charlie Naughton, Jimmy Nervo, Teddy Knox and occasionally ‘Monsewer’ Eddie Gray became favorites of King George VI and were an obvious influence on later English comic troupes as the Goons, Monty Python and even the ska-and-beyond band, Madness. In Frozen Limits they bring a little of their American contemporaries the Marx Brothers (with dashes of Three Stooges) into the mix as well, as they follow an out-dated gold mining map to a seedy Klondike town, as ‘Craziness’ ensues. So give them a watch and remember, nothing warms the heart like laughter…

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Watch classic films and television on The Oldie Goldie Channel on FilmOn:

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