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Silent Sunday Nights - June 2019
Remind Me

The Better 'Ole

Although now largely forgotten, Syd Chaplin (his birth name was Sydney Hawkes), the older half-brother of superstar silent clown Charlie Chaplin, was once considered the more talented of the two. After growing up like Charlie in poverty in London, Syd joined the famous Fred Karno company and paved the way for Charlie's springboard to fame with the same comedy troupe. Charlie returned the favor by getting Syd into Keystone film comedies in Hollywood. Syd, who appeared in several of his brother's films and worked for a time as his business manager, hit his stride as a performer with the advent of sound films.

The Better 'Ole (1926), an early experiment with Warner Bros.' sound-on-disc Vitaphone system, was one of Syd Chaplin's most successful vehicles. This World War I farce is based on a British stage play that in turn was inspired by a series of cartoon sketches created by Capt. Bruce Bairnsfather as he served at the front. (An earlier film version was made in England in 1919.) Chaplin plays Old Bill, a happy-go-lucky British Army sergeant who suspects that an officer in his regiment is actually a German spy. The comic complications that ensue include Bill's posing as a German soldier and facing a firing squad when it's thought that he is himself a spy. The movie's title comes from Bill's pet saying, "If you know of a better 'ole (foxhole), go find it!"

Syd Chaplin, whose other American film successes include a version of Charley's Aunt (1925), never acquired American citizenship and returned to his native land in 1925 after problems with the Internal Revenue Service. He made only one movie, A Little Bit of Fluff (1928) in England before retiring from the screen.

Director: Charles Reisner
Screenplay: Charles Reisner, Darryl F. Zanuck, Robert E. Hopkins (titles) from comics by Bruce Bairnsfather, play by Bairnsfather and Arthur Eliot
Cinematography: Ed Du Par
Original Music: Maurice Baron
Cast: Sydney Chaplin (Old Bill), Doris Hill (Joan), Harold Goodwin (Bert), Theodore Lorch (Gaspard), Ed Kennedy (Corporal Quint), Charles K. Gerrard (The Major).

by Roger Fristoe



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