Sunday, 20 January 2013

Super-Hooper-Dyne Lizzies

Director: Del Lord
Writers: Jefferson Moffitt, Frank Capra
Producer: Mack Sennett
Cast: Billy Bevan, Andy Clyde, Lillian Knight, John J Richardson
Year of release: 1925
Country: USA
Reviewed from: UK video (Artsmagic) 

Wow - here’s an almost completely forgotten Mack Sennett comedy which manages to cram both science fiction and a haunted house scenario into 15 minutes! Billy Bevan stars as Hiram Case, assistant to inventor Burbank Watts (Andy Clyde) who has invented a method of powering automobiles (the ‘lizzies’ of the title) via radio waves.

Watts’ daughter Winnie (Lillian Knight) is wooed by gasoline magnate T Potter Doam (John J Richardson) who becomes furious when he is put out of business by Watts and Case refitting all the town’s cars for radio power. Of course, this is all an excuse for lots of high-jinks as apparently driverless cars career around the street, knocking people and things over in typical Mack Sennett fashion.

Interestingly, Watts also has a ‘radioscope’ - a sort of remote viewing proto-TV on which he can view this distant destruction of property.

Halfway through, we find Watts and daughter living it up at a celebratory fancy dress party, while a sound-asleep Case ‘guards’ the lab. Doam and a black assistant named Dabney White break in to cause trouble but instead find themselves ‘haunted’ by a variety of ‘ghosts’, including partygoers dressed as a devil, a skeleton, a gorilla and some big-headed monsters. Further confusion arises with Case struggling under a sheet, a parrot (also under a sheet) and Doam covered in flour. When ‘Dabney White’ gets held at gunpoint by the ‘skeleton’, he gets so frightened he collapses into a pile of soot!

The radio waves and some sound effects are animated onto the image, and a throbbing toe (when Case shoots his own foot, mistaking it for an intruder) is represented with what must be the first ever bladder prosthetic - fifty years before Rob Bottin reinvented the technique for The Howling!

Super-Hooper-Dyne Lizzies is also known as Bedtime Stories and was released in 1978 (presumably on super-8) as Super Power Automobiles. It was released on VHS in the UK in 1995 by Artsmagic, along with two other Sennett/Bevan/Clyde comedies, Wandering Willies and Ice Cold Cocos. The print quality is watchable, given its ancient nature, but the music is just a random selection of generic silent movie accompaniment. The film is also available, with different music and possibly a better print, on the DVD collection Slapstick Encyclopedia.

Apart from the four principal cast, there are no credits (on this print at least). However, director Del Lord later worked with the Three Stooges, including many more ‘ghost’/’horror’ comedies, while this film’s ‘scenario’ was co-written by no less than Frank Capra, who worked extensively with Sennett in the silent era. Although various sources mention the radio controlled cars, the ‘fake haunting’ section of this fun comedy seems to have escaped most people’s attention, which is a shame as it is an early example of both the SF and horror genres.

MJS rating: B+

Review originally published before November 2004

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