Friday, June 29, 2018

'Ticklish Business' is a snappy early talkie

Ticklish Business (1929)
Starring: Monte Collins, Vernon Dent, Addie McPhail, Phyllis Crane, and William Irving
Director: Stephen Roberts
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

The psychotically jealous wife (Crane? McPhail?) of a would-be professional songwriter (Collins) would rather squash his career before it starts than risk him being around sexy chorus girls. Even if she has to kill him and the buddy (Dent) who's always encouraging him.

Phyllis Crane played the psycho wife in "Ticklish Business". Or did she?
"Ticklish Business" is a nearly forgotten film that was in the first wave of pictures made with sound in mind from start to finish. In it's ca. 20-minute running-time, it's got two songs, a musical number, a gag involving a piano, and lots of snappy dialogue. It also features remarkably naturalistic performances. I'm used to films from this period featuring a combination of the exaggerated physical acting of a silent picture and overly stilted, stagy delivery of the spoken lines, but with the exception of a couple reaction shots, neither is present here. In fact, the performances here would have been right at home in a sit-com from the 1970s or 1980s.

I think the only weak spot of "Ticklish Business" is that every attempt it tries at physical humor falls completely flat. While the physical routines weren't good to begin with, I suspect I may have viewed them in an even dimmer light, because during them, Collins and Dent reminded me of Laurel & Hardy, and they come up short by comparison.

"Ticklish Business" is one of six comedy short films found on the "Ultra-Rare Pre-Code Comedies Vol. 4" DVD from Alpha Video. Sadly, while it has a near crystal-clear soundtrack, the film from which the DVD transfer was made was degraded and blurry to the point where most faces of the actors are impossible to make out. This is why I am unsure of who played the jealous wife and who played the flapper chorus girl who rouses her wrath; they're both brunettes and their facial features are mostly blurred in the film. (I went looking online for a better copy of the film to view, but was unable to locate one. It appears that Alpha Video may well have made this film widely available for the first time in several decades.)

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