The Ultimate Charley Chase Film

A look at the classic Mighty Like a Moose

****

Review By Yair Solan

Many critics and aficionados consider Mighty Like a Moose to be the finest of Charley Chase's silent comedies. Sure, film historians have cited other contenders for this title -- His Wooden Wedding (1925), Limousine Love (1928), even the mediocre Movie Night (1929), which Walter Kerr and Gerald Mast (who both severely underrated the comedian's merits) regarded as Chase's best film. None of these comedies, however, match Mighty Like a Moose in terms of its premise, direction, and execution.

The plot of Mighty Like a Moose, though it features some of Chase's favorite comic devices, sets it apart from most of his other two-reelers. Even though Chase usually kept his name unchanged for his characters in his films, he is named Mr. Moose in this one (hence the title). Mr. Moose is unfortunately plagued by a set of buck teeth, which cause the neighborhood children (Our Gang clones, no doubt) to make fun of him -- reminiscent of a scene in Fraidy Cat (1924). As an intertitle, which is written with typical "Beanie" Walker wit, tells us, Mr. Moose has a face that can stop a clock and his wife (Vivien Oakland), who has a large nose, has a face that can start it up again. Mr. and Mrs. Moose, without telling one another, both get face-lifts to surprise each other. After taking a "before and after" picture at the doctor's and pocketing a false set of buck teeth so people can identify him, Mr. Moose encounters his wife, after her face lift, and neither recognizes one another. The two start to flirt and eventually plan to go to a party with each other, each thinking how they betrayed their spouse.

Both get home separately and don't notice one another, though they both try to change clothes very quietly, trying not to make their spouse suspicious. In a marvelously choreographed scene, in a way similar to a scene in Buster Keaton's The Navigator (1924) where both characters narrowly miss each other, Mr. and Mrs. Moose walk around the house getting ready for the big party. An especially funny and beautifully executed shot is the one where Mr. Moose is on the second level of the house directly above his wife, both characters not noticing each other and both moving around the estate as quietly as they can. They go to the party, and while talking, admit to each other that they're married. Mr. Moose spots some policemen on the premises, looking out for liquor in the days of Prohibition, and both turn around. The authorities take a picture of the couple and the party, and all the guests rush out in this raid.

Returning home, Mr. Moose spots his date entering the house too, first thinking how to get her out of the house, and then hearing her tell the maid that she's Mrs. Moose with "alterations". The husband does a take, and then thinks about how his wife betrayed him. He puts on his set of false teeth, walks up to her and takes out a newspaper with the picture the police officers took of her and her "boyfriend". He becomes angry at her and she rushes into her room with feelings of shame. Mr. Moose then hatches a plan -- he takes out the false teeth and dons a tuxedo, making him look like the wife's boyfriend. He dashes in the room and tells Mrs. Moose that he can't live without her, then knocks on the door without her looking making it look like her husband knocked on it, speeds off, comes back as her husbands, yells at her, leaves, and comes back again as her boyfriend. This scene eventually leads into a climactic fight between the two men in Mrs. Moose's life, the husband and her "boyfriend". The fight, lifted from the Max Linder feature Be My Wife (1920), is one of the highlights of a great film, and a very inventive brawl it is. While this is going on, Mrs. Moose spots a newspaper with the "Before and After" picture taken of her husband, the way he looked before the operation and then sans the buck teeth. She shows it to him, stopping him dead on his tracks, and he tries to explain, but she wallops him in anger as the film ends.

The film succeeds in every scene it attempts to execute with one notable, though forgivable, exception. The scene where Mr. Moose "fights" the boyfriend is not completely believable because in a segment where both men, who are obviously both played by Chase, run around swiftly, it is impossible for the scene to happen in reality. This effect is made by use of quick editing. Chase, who was more realistic than most of the film comedians of his era, couldn't make this scene plausible outside of this film. What saves the scene is the way it seems believable in the context of the film; the wife's reactions are genuine and Chase's performance is excellent, certainly good enough to make the viewer go along with the spirit of the film. In fact, even through the scene is quite ridiculous, it remains the funniest and most memorable scene in the film.

Mighty Like a Moose is hailed as Charley Chase's best silent film, or even his best film from any period in his career. It certainly deserves this distinction. The film is a virtually perfect Chase film, made at the apex of his popularity; Laurel & Hardy haven't officially teamed yet at Hal Roach Studios to eclipse Chase's popularity. Mighty Like a Moose was made with the director who arguably worked best with him, the talented Leo McCarey (not incidentally, he was the man credited with the idea of teaming up Laurel & Hardy).

Almost all of Chase's films from this period were consistently above average, in fact, his following film released a month after Moose, Crazy Like a Fox, is hailed as a classic as well. But the former film is far superior. Crazy Like a Fox has Chase pretending to be crazy in order to break up his arranged marriage, later discovering the girl he actually wanted to marry was his intended wife in the arranged marriage. Where the gags in Crazy chiefly arise from Charley's crazy actions, Moose is a more solid film, with the laughs mainly coming from the situations Charley gets into. Even though both films were directed by McCarey, with equal assistance from Chase behind the camera, Moose is better directed, and even, it can be said, more sophisticated. A ripe example of the innovative direction in the film is the scene where Mr. and Mrs. Moose are at the party, and Chase is confronted by a girl he wishes would leave him alone, played by comedienne Gale Henry. The shot where Gale walks up to him is recorded completely facing the floor, with the shot limited to only the performers' lower extremities, and in this shot, Charley does a take using only his feet!

Mighty Like a Moose is a high point in the Charley Chase series and the summit of Chase's celebrated collaboration with director Leo McCarey. Mighty Like a Moose is a film that places all of Charley Chase's talents on full display, a film whose merits remain unsurpassed in the Chase canon, and arguably, unsurpassed in the field of short film comedy.

Where To Purchase Mighty Like a Moose

If you are looking for videos/DVDs of Mighty Like a Moose, Kino On Video included the comedy in two different releases, on their Charley Chase Collection as well as on the third volume of their Slapstick Encyclopedia set. Incidentally, another short film included on Volume Three, The Detectress, stars Gale Henry, who has a plum supporting role in Mighty Like a Moose. Both of Kino's releases of the film are highly recommended. Moose is also available for purchase in less sterling versions, along with other Chase silents, from Grapevine Video and Videobrary.


Credits:

"Mighty Like a Moose". Directed by Leo McCarey. With Charley Chase, Vivien Oakland, Anne Howe, Charles Clary, Gale Henry, Malcolm Denny, Rolfe Sedan, Charlie Hall, Harry Bowen, Buddy the Dog. Supervised by F. Richard Jones. Photographed by Len Powers. Edited by Richard Currier. Titles by H.M. Walker. Produced by Hal Roach. Released on July 18, 1926.


Mighty Like a Moose lobby cards courtesy of Cole Johnson.
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