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Lloyd Hamilton; “Ham”: The Lost Magic of Lloyd Hamilton
Topic Started: Jan 6 2008, 12:41 PM (501 Views)
igsjr
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kirgo's announcement about the Arbuckle-directed shorts that are to be shown on TCM reminds me that one of them, The Movies, stars one of the great (but unsung) silent clowns, Lloyd Hamilton. Since I didn't see the Hamilton DVD set released by Looser Than Loose mentioned in any threads I thought I'd post my review of the collection, originally featured at Thrilling Days of Yesteryear January 2, 2007:

A slice of Ham

I’ve mentioned this a couple of times before (and I can prove it, since I did a Google search on “walter kerr” and “silent comedy film festival” and apparently I’m the only one on the Internets who’s referenced the show) that even though I was a mere adolescent, I was a fan of a 1970s documentary series on our local PBS station in West Virginia entitled The Silent Comedy Film Festival. The program was hosted by theatre critic Walter Kerr, who had just written The Silent Clowns (Alfred A. Knopf, 1975)—considered by many of silent comedy fans to be one of the definitive works on the history of those talented funny men in the “days of thrills and laughter.”

Festival concentrated—much in the same way as Kerr’s book—on the bright lights of silent comedy cinema: Chaplin, Keaton, Lloyd, Langdon, etc. But occasionally it showcased the films of those whose work did not stand the test of time, whether due to neglect, obsolescence, etc. One comedian I remember very distinctly was Lloyd Hamilton, and I recall him for two reasons: a checkered “flat cap” that was a consistent accessory of his wardrobe, and a peculiar “duck-waddle” walk that comedy director Henry Lehrman once compared to someone wearing tight underwear. (Lehrman has taken credit for inspiring Hamilton’s “manufactured” gait, but silent film historian Steve Massa has opined that the walk was legit, and is said to have originated from a broken leg sustained from filming a one-reeler in the comedian’s salad days. A pin inserted into his leg tended to bother him, and caused him to walk gingerly.) In the dim recesses of my mind, the only thing I could recall about that segment of Festival was seeing Hamilton on the roof of his house (that’s just taken flight, due to a big honkin’ wind) and a marvelous sequence in which our hero is attempting to tie his shoelace with little success (particularly when he’s being harassed by a cop to “Move on!”). In a Keatonian bit of brilliance, Hamilton flags down a streetcar, ties his shoelace by resting the shoe on the entry stair, and waves the streetcar away once finishing the task.

After being entertained by a 1925 Hamilton short entitled The Movies while watching the DVD box set The Forgotten Films of Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, I vowed to myself that I would seek out more of Hamilton’s work…and Providence soon began knocking on my door when I learned that a New Hampshire concern entitled Looser Than Loose Publishing had just put out a five-DVD compilation entitled “Ham”: The Lost Magic of Lloyd Hamilton. (Well, in the interest of full disclosure it wasn’t really “Providence”—it was Aaron Neathery of The Third Banana who piqued my interest in the set. And to be honest, I went to Looser Than Loose that day to purchase another set (one that I’ll discuss later on this week) and I just happened to put the Hamilton collection in my basket…at a 10% discount, too.) A wonderful collections of shorts, stills and odds and ends from Hamilton’s 20+ career in Hollywood, it is literally the answer to a silent comedy fan’s prayers.

Lloyd Vernon Hamilton was born in California on August 19, 1891 and by 1913 had realized his dream to become an actor by making his film debut for the Lubin Company that year. His first flirting with fame came in the form of playing a character named “Pretzel” in a series entitled Frontier Comedies cranked out by the St. Louis Film Company. Later that year, he would be hired by the Kalem Company and teamed with a diminutive comic named Bud Duncan to act in support of stars Ruth Roland and Marshall Neilan. The two comics became so popular that they were spun-off into their own series of two-reelers (the Ham Comedies), of which more than 100 were made between 1914-17. When Kalem folded in 1917, Lloyd moved on to Fox, appearing in Henry Lehrman’s Sunshine Comedies—and it was here that he began to develop his “everyman” character. While at Fox, he made the acquaintance of a director named Jack White, who convinced Hamilton to strike out on their own in 1920. They formed their own company, with their shorts released by Educational Pictures. As described by film historian Massa: “Best described as a mama’s boy, he was prissy and courtly in a flat, checkered pancake cap, with a swishy duck-waddle walk that became his trademark…as he waddled along in his pancake cap he always seemed to be gently trying to sidestep the cruel fate that was forever nipping at his heels.”

From 1920 to 1928, the Lloyd Hamilton comedies were among the most popular two-reelers released in theaters. Hamilton himself had many characteristics associated with Buster Keaton (a sort of dry, deadpan facial expression) and Charley Chase (Robert Youngson once described Chase’s career on-screen as “one long embarrassing moment”—but the same could apply to Hamilton as well). Were it not for “the cruel fate that was forever nipping at his heels,” Lloyd might very well be considered among the pantheon of silent comedy greats. But several factors conspired against him: first, he was never able to make the leap into silent features like Chaplin, Keaton and Lloyd—his two 1924 attempts, His Darker Self (a two-reel version—the only extant evidence of Ham’s feature career, is included on the LNL set) and A Self-Made Failure, did dismal business at the box office. Hamilton also had a number of demons in his personal life that he was never quite able to overcome: he was an alcoholic, and was a continual presence in court due to sticky divorce matters and drunken brawls. Ham was even banned from the screen (1928-29), Arbuckle-style, when his close proximity to a boxer that was stabbed and killed raised more than a few eyebrows. By the 1930s, despite a renewed interest in Hamilton in talking pictures, his health was genuinely poor and he passed away in 1935 at the age of 44 from cirrhosis of the liver and bleeding caused by a ruptured ulcer. Two years later, the famed Fox Film warehouse fire destroyed all of the negatives from his Educational shorts, which meant the only extant prints were those collected by devotees or stored in archives.

So Dave and Ali Stevenson—the proprietors of Looser Than Loose—have valiantly attempted to resurrect interest in the career of Lloyd Hamilton…and in my opinion, they have succeeded beyond anyone’s wildest dreams. First…the bad news. This five-disc collection contains more “Ham and Bud” one-reelers than you would ever want to own; not only is the first disc devoted to the team (appropriately titled Ham and Bud Beyond Redemption [and deodorant]) but several other of their shorts are sprinkled throughout the collection in the form of “bonuses” and “extras.” (Massa succinctly sums up the appeal of the Ham and Bud shorts by observing that their “only distinguishing characteristic was that one was a big skuzzy bum and the other a little skuzzy bum.”) Please do not let this keep you from buying the set, however—there’s more than enough prime Lloyd Hamilton to keep you entertained, particularly fine shorts like Jonah Jones (1924) and Crushed (1924, this is the one that features Hamilton on the flying roof). The standout shorts include Careful Please (1926, with its “cat” sequence and “high and dizzy” climax) and Nobody’s Business (1926), which has a funny first half with Hamilton experiencing no end of annoyances on a streetcar…and then tops this with an eye-popping sequence that sets Ham’s lunch wagon loose on a roller coaster track. The pizza de resistance, however, is Hamilton’s classic Move Along (1926), considered by many fans to be one of his all-time best. When I first watched this short on the Silent Comedy Film Festival, only the first half was extant—so seeing the second half thirty-some years later was like finally hearing the other shoe drop. Unfortunately, there are so many other shorts in this collection that are incomplete, including April Fool (1920, a fragment from a short directed by Charles Parrott, a.k.a. Charley Chase), Hooked (1925; I remember seeing this fragment on the Festival—you wouldn’t believe the rush of memories that came back after I sat down with these discs) and Nothing Matters (1926).

The price for “Ham”: The Lost Magic of Lloyd Hamilton is $65 for the five-DVD set…and I’ll admit, it’s a pretty steep price tag for some. You can purchase each disc separately for $19.95, which means you could skip the first “Ham and Bud” disc and just get the primo solo Hamilton stuff on discs 2 and 3 for $40. But then you’d miss out on disc 4, which features some of Lloyd’s talking shorts—and I have to admit Hamilton acquitted himself quite nicely in the talkies; his speaking voice matched his character and the leisurely pace of his silent comedies weren’t out of step with the just-learning-to-crawl sound efforts. Of the three on this disc, my favorite is Toot Sweet (1929), in which Ham takes his girl (Lena Malena) to a fancy restaurant—and where, in a fit of anger, she runs up a large tab smashing most of the place’s crockery. (So if you purchase all three discs…well, you’re already at $60 anyway.) Besides, Disc 5 contains some interesting extras (as well as more Ham and Bud one-reelers), but the one I enjoyed the most answers the probing question: “What happened to Bud Duncan?” Bud is featured in a 1928 F.B.O. comedy two-reeler, Casper’s Weekend, opposite Thelma Hill; this short and several others were an attempt to bring Jimmy Murphy’s popular strip Toots and Casper to the silver screen. Weekend is an entertaining outing (and has made me curious to see more work from the vivacious Hill) that telegraphs its denouement well in advance…but half of the fun is getting there. (Duncan would go on to play another hero of the “funny papers” in two Monogram features from 1942, essaying the role of comic strip hillbilly Snuffy Smith in Private Snuffy Smith and Hillbilly Blitzkrieg.)

Buster Keaton was once quoted as being an admirer of Lloyd Hamilton’s, and in his foreword to Leonard Maltin’s The Great Movie Comedians, second banana Billy Gilbert noted that “Ham” was an inspiration to Charley Chase (Chase would often approach a scene by asking “How would ‘Ham’ play this?”) as well. Had fate decided on a different path for this forgotten clown, Lloyd Hamilton could very well have been a “contendah”—and with this collection from Looser Than Loose, you can see for yourself how delightful a proposition like that would have been.
"Life is in color--but black-and-white is more realistic..." -- Samuel Fuller, director

So many DVDs...so little time...
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Inspector Carr
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Thank you for your great history of Lloyd Hamilton Squire........your knowledge, insight and most of all direction to sales and rarities that always keeps me teetering on bankruptcy will always be welcome. :D
"Life is a Crapshoot however you need a pair of dice to participate"
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The Batman
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You boys might be interested in this. The Kickstarter campaign is finished, but you could contact the creator to see if there is a retail release planned.

Looking forward to my copy.


Lloyd Hamilton - silent comedian

Always be yourself! Unless you can be Batman...then always be Batman!
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