“Her Torpedoed Love”
Directed by Frank C. Griffin.
Cast: Louise Fazenda, Ford Sterling, Wayland Trask, Harry Booker, Glen Cavendar, Tom Kennedy, Frank Hayes, Harry McCoy, Al Kaufman, Wesley Ruggles, Grover Ligon, Edith Valk.
Released May 13, 1917. Running time: 21:08
One of the most fascinating two-reelers on the Mack Sennett blu ray collection is this brilliantly constructed gem that has several points of interest.
“Her Torpedoed Love” features an old wealthy man’s plans to leave his entire fortune to his maid (Louise Fazenda) and nothing to his butler (Ford Sterling). Ford arranges to have the man (Harry Booker) and Louise’s husband (Wayland Trask) on board a ship that has been targeted by German submarines, so he can marry the rich widow.
By the time this plot is established, there are already several factors worth discussing. First, Sennett’s former comedy star, Ford Sterling, is back at the studio after an absence of a few years. Next, the comic talents of Louise Fazenda are presented while Wayland Trask shows an ability beyond simply being a replacement for rotund comedian Mack Swain. Finally, director Frank C. Griffin’s choice of presentation is to structure the film’s narrative at a very relaxed pace, and punctuating it with slapstick gags, rather than engage in non-stop rowdiness. While the rowdy approach has its own substantial merit, this method also proves to be effective. The film carefully builds to the inevitable chase climax.
Wayland and the rich man do end up on the ship, it is torpedoed, but they somehow survive the shipwreck and make their way to an island. Wayland later makes it back home and discovers his wife is planning to marry Ford. This results in a slapstick brawl and a chase that involves the Keystone Kops. But the wild slapstick fighting and the ultimate chase scene come after the story is established and each character is examined. Wayland is considered something of a jobless goldbricker at first and, despite his imposing size, is introduced as rather delicate. However, after the harrowing experience of being torpedoed and shipwrecked, he returns home a frazzled, bearded fighter. The young Trask, who was adept at playing the overweight pansy or the imposing heavy, did not live long enough to develop his craft further, being a sad victim of the 1918 influenza pandemic. Griffin’s approach to the comedy being subtler allows for Trask to offer a more sensitive and layered portrayal of the comic heavy in this film.
Ford Sterling shows that he had not really adapted his style since 1914. But he is, as usual, quite brilliant at making his more blatant method fit director Griffin’s subtler approach. As the villain of the story, Ford’s blinking grimaces, darting glances, and broad gestures add a certain parody of melodrama that blends nicely within the proceedings. His return is welcome as he helps carry this film with his performance.
Louise Fazenda is a strong comic presence whose prowess in this area would continue to develop over her next several films for Sennett. She conveys here love for Wayland, her disdain for Ford, her naivety in being easily duped and her ability to engage in the knockabout slapstick with commendable skill.
As Griffin starts his film slowly and gradually builds the narrative, there are some punctuating slapstick sequences throughout: Ford sits on the rich man’s gout ridden foot, Wayland slips and breaks several dishes on the freshly scrubbed kitchen floor, etc. Griffin punctuates the narrative with these gags, which help build the film to its riotous conclusion.
The chase scene is very detailed and outrageous, Griffin taking advantage of as many cinematic effect as he cared to explore. A lot of long shots are used to show the narrow misses and crashing hits of the cars as they speed along. An explosion sends Ford flying into the air on a detached car hood, which glides through the sky while being shot at by the Keystone Kops. Finally, when the rich man returns in the midst of the melee and expects his inheritance be returned (seeing as how he is not dead), Wayland picks him up and spins him around. When the Kops see this, they haul the rich man, Wayland, and Louise into the car and speed away to sort it all out at the station.
“Her Torpedoed Love” opens disc 2 of the Mack Sennett Collection with proof that Sennett’s original Keystone structure was versatile enough to accommodate a director that had a far more subtle approach. The result is one of the best silent comedies of its time.
For more on Sennett, check out this book. For more on Ford Sterling, read this one.