Saturday, April 21, 2018

It's a wild bike ride to save Benecia!

Stolen by Gypsies, or Beer and Bicycles (1933)
Starring: John Sheehan, Sam Hardy, Barbara Sheldon, Charles Ray, William Farnum, June Brewster, and Eddie Borden
Director: Albert Ray
Rating: Nine of Ten Stars

When his romantic advances toward the beautiful Benecia Beamish (Sheldon) are rejected, the fiendish Sinclair Sable (Hardy) hires Gypsy Joe (Sheehan) to kidnap her. Now only  her true love, Elmer Updike (Ray), aided by the members of the Beer and Bicycle Club, can save her!

"Stolen by Gypsies, or Beer and Bicycles" pokes fun at the melodramas that were once mainstays of the stage and silent movies, complete with asides to the audience, mustache-twirling villains, and intertitles (the latter of which are completely unnecssary, given that this isn't a silent film, but they add to the ambiance and comedy).

Although there's a gag-a-minute during the first half of the film, it's the long bicylces vs. horse-drawn gypsy wagon that makes this film worthwhile. From the special effects (Elmer bouncing into the air after riding over explosives thrown at him by Sinclair) to the stunts (the bicyclists colliding with a fallen tree, riding/tumbling down a cliffside, and more) to some bizarre asides (one of which includes a very strange portrayal of Atlantic City as an African village where the citizens try to knock the bicyclists down using clubs... this may be a joke that's muted due to the passage of time?) it's a hilarious and impressive affair that puts some modern chases to shame.

This is one of a thirteen shorts produced by the Masquers Club--a social club for comedians--in the early 1930s with the intent of raising funds for various charities and a new building for the club to have its meetings. It is also one of five included on a DVD release from Alpha Video, but it may also be available for viewing online. I think fans of Monte Python's Flying Circus may find it particularly enjoyable, because it draws from some of the same wells as a number of their skits., despite the 30+ year gap between them.

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