Tuesday, July 2, 2024

NFR Project: 'Pass the Gravy' (1928)

Pass the Gravy

Dir: Fred Guiol

Scr: Fred Guiol

Pho: George Stevens

Ed: Richard C. Currier

Premiere: January 1928

25 min.

Jewish comedy in America rose from two sources. First, the tradition of Yiddish theater on the Eastern seaboard in the 19th century meant that iconic comic performances were perpetuated there. Secondly, in vaudeville Jewish comedians were included under the heading of "German" or “Dutch” comics. With the onset of World War I, all things German were discouraged, so all the German comics became Jewish comics overnight.

One of the beneficiaries of this trend was Max Davidson. He was the go-to Jewish comedian of the screen for years, in short-subject vehicles turned out by the Hal Roach studios. While his performances included stereotypical grimaces, shrugs, eye rolls, and oy-vey hands to the face, it can not be said that these films were overtly anti-Semitic. There was no casting of aspersions that Jews were avaricious or craven; no, the Davidson films give us the usual hijinks associated with domestic comedy.

Here Max is an urban farmer whose neighbor has a prize rooster that keeps getting into Max’s yard. The neighbor’s son is engaged to Max’s daughter. Max invites the neighbors over for a chicken dinner. He tells his mischievous son to go buy a chicken for the dinner; the boy pockets the money and grabs the prize rooster by mistake.

Now the families are gathered to eat, and the cooked bird, complete with a “1st Prize” tag still stuck to its leg, is served. Gradually everyone but the neighbor realizes the problem, and soon and frantically everyone is fighting to get that piece of chicken served to the neighbor away from him.

Fred Guiol directs his own script here. The comedy has many fine filmmakers attached to it – comedy genius Leo McCary supervised it, and future Oscar-winning director George Stevens photographed it. The typical Roach comic structure is in place here. As the attempts to hide the chicken continue, they multiple absurdly, becoming more and more extreme, to the point where everyone is wrestling around the living room floor, reduced to slapstick.

Ultimately, the truth is found out, and Max does the only thing left to him – he runs. A nice little gag rounds out the film, as Max, far in the distance, is struck down by a thrown stone.

The NFR is one writer’s attempt to review all the films listed in the National Film Registry in chronological order. Next time: The Power of the Press.

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