Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Comedy: Tomatos Another Day (1930, James Sibley Watson & Alec Wilder)

Tomatos Another Day (1930)
USA, 7 min

Tomatos Another Day (1930) (directed by James Sibley Watson and Alec Wilder) made one appearance at a Boston theatre in the early 1930s, but received such a weak audience response that the creators dismissed it as an outright failure. One can understand the audience reaction: the film itself is so incredibly stilted and awkward (albeit deliberately so) that if you approach it in the wrong mind-set – expecting a traditional melodrama – you're likely to be dismayed at its incompetency. Sibley's son, J.S. Watson Jr., remarked that the film might have proved successful had a popular comedian been involved: "Harold Lloyd, directed by (Mack) Sennet, might have brought it off." Indeed, the film did remind me of W.C. Fields' The Fatal Glass of Beer (1933), in which the actors were encouraged to emulate the melodramatic acting style to the nth degree. Watson uses the same deadpan brand of satire, though his actors, rather than hamming it up, adopt a mechanical, minimalistic delivery that makes them sound monumentally uninterested in their roles.

J.S. Watson had previously co-directed, with Melville Webber, The Fall of the House of Usher (1928), a wonderful Poe adaptation strongly indebted to Robert Wiene and German Expressionism. To a director with such a prominent visual style, the arrival of "talkies" must have been disillusioning – all of a sudden, popular films had lost the artistic flair of Murnau and Borzage, and had become utterly mundane. Tomatos Another Day was produced to "show the absurdity of talkies that recorded action in pictures with unnecessary explanations of the action recorded in sound." The film opens with a clock on the cusp of two o'clock. Soon after, the minute hand ticks over, the clock chimes twice, and a character unnecessarily remarks "it is two o'clock." Watson's satire is spot-on: I can recall many early talkies that treated their audience in such a manner, inserting such mundane dialogue as "I am alone" merely because the sound technology was available to them. I just wish that all gentlemen's hats sounded so crunchy.