Silent Comedy’s Crazy Corner

Quick – what are some essential elements for a silent comedy? A park bench? An angry cop? A banana peel? If you think about it, one absolutely essential geographic element is the humble street corner. It doesn’t matter what the corner looks like. It simply has to hide the cop lurking around the other side, so both the film comic and audience will be startled when he jumps into view. Other times a broad point of view reveals both sides of the corner, allowing the audience to anticipate the cop grabbing the unsuspecting comic, or showing two dashing figures on a collision course.

Perhaps the most frequently depicted cinematic corner is the NE corner of Motor and Woodbine in Palms, California. Located a mile or two from the former Hal Roach Studios in Culver City, the extant corner seems to appear in nearly every Roach production ever made, including early Harold Lloyd, Snub Pollard, and Charley Chase comedies, and numerous Our Gang films. Facing to the south and to the west, the corner remains fully illuminated nearly all day, perfect for filming.

Here above, from the early Our Gang talkie comedy Boxing Gloves (1929), Joe Cobb and Norman “Chubby” Chaney repeatedly bump into each other running around this blind corner, spilling the soft drinks they vainly keep purchasing as a treat for Jean Darling whom they hope to impress. This corner even appears in the debut Our Gang film. The same view today, appears at right.

But we’re going to study a far more eccentric corner, located just off the Plaza de Los Angeles in downtown. The narrow corner of Alameda Street and Los Angeles Street witnessed many of the silent comedy greats, and was used by Harold Lloyd at least three times.

While Buster Keaton did not film at the corner per se, above here are matching views from Alameda looking down Los Angeles Street towards the Plaza, as seen in this vintage photo, above left (El Pueblo Monument Photo Collection), and matching view from Keaton’s The Goat (1921). The two story brick building to the right of Buster, the former electric yellow car Los Angeles Railway substation, still stands (see today view on Google Maps below). As I report in this prior post HERE, the fire station appearing behind Buster, facing the Plaza, survives today as a fire house museum, and appears incongruously as a Washington D.C. locale during the premiere episode of the Fox Network crime drama Bones, see matching views to the left.

The crazy corner stood just a few blocks away from the Bradbury Mansion – Rolin film studio on Court Hill, where Hal Roach and Harold Lloyd launched their film careers.

Above, a closer view of the narrow corner, and its appearance in the Harold Lloyd short That’s Him (1918), restored by archivist Dino Everett at USC, and released as a bonus feature to the Criterion Collection Blu-ray release of Lloyd’s The Kid Brother (1927). (I prepared a special visual essay for this release – Close to Home, read more HERE.)

Above, two more Harold Lloyd shorts filmed at this same corner, Off the Trolley (1919) upper right, and Hand to Mouth (1919) lower right. Given the number of early Lloyd films produced from the Bradbury Mansion studio nearby, now lost, he likely staged scenes from other movies here as well.

But this crazy corner was too good for the other comedians to pass up, so above left, appears the Roach-produced Snub Pollard short Fifteen Minutes (1921), part of Ben Model’s Undercrank Productions’ Found at Mostly Lost DVD release, while Larry Semon appears upper right in Frauds and Frenzies (1918), and Hank Mann appears lower right in The Janitor (1919).

Above, more views with Snub Pollard at the crazy corner from Fifteen Minutes. Early in my research when I noticed different comedians using the same location, I felt it was a lucky coincidence. But instead it’s become increasingly clear that these locations were commonly known and shared within the small, tightly-knit film community.

Above left, Fifteen Minutes also has scenes filmed a block away from the crazy corner, looking south from Sanchez Alley down Arcadia towards Los Angeles Street, now lost to the freeway, matching scenes appearing in Buster Keaton’s Neighbors (1920) above center, and Cops (1922) above right.

Los Angeles Street runs left-right below the Plaza, intersecting with sloped Alameda Street. The red circle marks the crazy corner, the blue circle the fire station museum, and the yellow circle marks the lost corner of Sanchez Alley.

Today the view south down Los Angeles Street from Alameda is subsumed by a landscaping plaza, shown below on Google Maps. The brick substation building is still standing to the right of the palm tree.

Please help support naming the Chaplin Keaton Lloyd alley in Hollywood by posting a review on Google maps. Prototype alley sign design by noted Dutch graphic artist – Piet Schreuders. Download a 4-page brochure HERE.

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4 Responses to Silent Comedy’s Crazy Corner

  1. gregory W mason says:

    thanks for your wonderful posts

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Bob Borgen says:

    Brilliant discovery! Thanks for taking us all on this time-machine ride.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thomas Kaufmann says:

    Did anyone notice in the corner picture with Joe and Chubby, that the street names Motor and Woodbine appear to be on the side of the building about half way up by the windows. Or am I seeing something else ?

    Like

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