Program 2: McCarey & Hitchcock

Leo McCarey Dir: Mighty Like a Moose

Mighty Like a Moose (1926) is a Charley Chase short silent film, which was directed by Leo McCarey and released in1926.

It is a comedy in which a homely husband (Mr Moose) has too many teeth while his charming wife has a very large nose. They decide to improve their looks with the latest plastic surgery, but without telling each other. After their secret operations the two later accidentally meet in an elevator. Not recognizing each other, they begin to flirt, both thinking they are cheating on their spouse.

The film is representative of Chase’s adroit blend of farcesurrealism, and sight gags and is considered by many film scholars to be Chase’s finest silent film and is routinely listed among the greatest of all silent comedy short subjects.

The cast includes Charley Chase, Vivien Oakland, Gale Henry and Charles Clary. It was directed by Leo McCarey, one of Hollywood’s most successful directors whose career included such popular classics as the Marx brothers Duck Soup (1932), Going My Way (1944) and An Affair to Remember (1957)

Charley Chase and Vivien Oakland as Mr and Mrs Moose in Leo McCarey’s Mighty Like a Moose (1926)

Alfred Hitchcock Blackmail (1929)

Blackmail was the last of Hitchcock’s series of 8 silent films in the 1920s. It was made just before ‘talkies’ became a reality and Hitchcock decided to release the film in both talking and silent versions. In 1929, not all British cinemas had installed sound equipment, which allowed Hitchcock to ‘hedge his bets’ by releasing both versions simultaneously. The silent version is a little shorter, most critics agreeing that Blackmail as a silent film is tighter and better-crafted than its talking counterpart.

The Plot: Detective Frank Webber escorts his girlfriend Alice White to a tea house. They have an argument and Frank storms out. While reconsidering his action, he sees Alice leave with Mr. Crewe, an artist she had earlier agreed to meet.

Crewe persuades a reluctant Alice to see his upstairs studio. She admires a painting of a laughing clown and uses his palette and brushes to paint a cartoonish drawing of a face; he adds a few strokes of a naked feminine figure, and guiding her hand, they sign the picture with her name. He gives her a dancer’s outfit and Crewe sings and plays “Miss Up-to-Date” on the piano while Alice changes her clothes behind a screen.

Crewe steals a kiss, to Alice’s disapproval, but as she is changing back into the dress she arrived in and preparing to leave, he takes her dress from the changing area. He then attempts to rape her; her cries for help are not heard on the street below. In desperation, Alice grabs a nearby bread knife and kills him. She angrily tears a hole in the painting of the clown, then leaves after attempting to remove any evidence of her presence in the flat. But she accidentally leaves her gloves behind. She walks the streets of London all night in a daze.

When the body is found, Frank is assigned to the case and finds one of Alice’s gloves. He also recognizes the dead man but conceals this from his superior. Taking the glove, he goes to see Alice at her father’s shop, but she is too distraught to speak.

Later, they speak privately on the phone. Tracy, a local criminal, arrives. He had seen Alice going up to Crewe’s flat, and he has the other glove. When he sees Frank with the other one, he attempts to blackmail them. His first demands are petty, and they accede. But Frank learns that Tracy is wanted for questioning: he was last seen near the murder scene and has a criminal record. Frank sends for policemen and tells Tracy he will pay for the murder.

Alice is apprehensive, but still does not speak up. The tension mounts. When the police arrive, Tracy finally loses his nerve and runs away. The chase leads to the British Museum, where he clambers onto the domed roof of the Reading Room and slips, crashing through a skylight and falling to his death inside. The police assume he was the murderer.

Unaware of this, Alice feels compelled to give herself up and goes to talk to Scotland Yard. Before she can confess, the inspector receives the phone call to say that the murderer has been discovered and has died in an accident. He asks Frank to find out what Alice was wanting with the Police and asks him to deal with the matter himself. Alice finally tells Frank the truth—that it was self-defence against an attack she cannot bear to speak of—and they leave together. As they do, a policeman walks past, carrying the damaged painting of the laughing clown and the cartoon canvas where Alice painted over her name.

Anny Ondra as Alice White in Hitchcocks Blackmail (1929)

Saturday June 29th – An evening with Alfred Hitchcock

Venue: Kangaroo Valley Community Hall, Moss Vale Road, Kangaroo Valley 2577

Leo McCarey Mighty Like a Moose 22 mins
Alfred Hitchcock Blackmail 90 mins