AFI Catalog of Feature Films
Movie Detail
Name Occurs Before Title Offscreen Credit Print Viewed By AFI
When Comedy Was King
Release Date:   Mar 1960
Premiere Information:   New York opening: 29 Mar 1960
Duration (in mins):   81 or 90
Print this page
Display Movie Summary

Cast:   Fatty Arbuckle    
    Wallace Beery    
    Charlie Chaplin    
    Charley Chase    
    Buster Keaton    
    Edgar Kennedy    
    The Keystone Cops    
    Harry Langdon    
    Laurel and Hardy    
    Mabel Normand    
    The Sennett Girls    
    Gloria Swanson    
    Ben Turpin    
    Billy Bevan    
    Andy Clyde    
    Chester Conklin    
    Vernon Dent    
    Stuart Erwin    
    Jimmy Finlayson    
    Madeline Hurlock    
    Charlie Murray    
    Daphne Pollard    
    Snub Pollard    
    Al St. John    
    Mack Swain    
    Keystone Teddy    
    Bobby Vernon    
    Dwight Weist (Narrator )  
    Teddy, the Keystone dog    

Summary: In a series of silent vignettes scenes from the movies of the teens and 1920s are presented: As comedian Charley Chase and his family disrupt an entire movie audience with their unruly antics, an offscreen narrator explains that this scene was typical in neighborhood theaters in the 1920s, when silent comedy was king. The scene shifts to 1914 at the Keystone Studios, where Charlie Chaplin is just launching his career as "The Tramp." After a domestic squabble with his wife, played by Mabel Normand, Charlie encounters Mack Swain at a diner, and the two become embroiled in a food fight that culminates with a pie in the face. In a 1916 short, Mabel and Fatty Arbuckle star as newlyweds whose marital bliss is imperiled by Mabel's jilted suitor, Al St. John. During a storm, Al shoves the sleeping sweethearts' cottage out to sea. Awakening to water lapping at her feet, Mabel sends her loyal dog to summon help and rescue them. In 1917, Wallace Beery portrays Gloria Swanson's evil guardian who chains her to the railroad tracks, where she is rescued from an onrushing train by her beau, Bobby Vernon, and Teddy, the Keystone dog. In 1924, Harry Langdon and Alice Day appear as newlyweds whose domesticity is shattered by the arrival of a burly cook named Annie. After Annie quits in disgust, she is replaced by the glamorous Fifi Le Fluff, who arouses Alice's jealousy. All ends happily, however, when on a stormy night, Fifi, an undercover secret service agent, unmasks Harry's boyhood friend as an international criminal. In a 1923 Hal Roach short, Snub Pollard is the madcap inventor of the "magnet car," a car that propels itself with a big magnet. In 1928, Stuart Erwin and Edgar Kennedy appear as a couple of guys in search of an ice cream cone while being harassed by a traffic cop. Next, Buster Keaton, known as "the great stone face," portrays a moving man who innocently disrupts the annual police parade, thus making himself the target of a chase by the entire police department. A 1924 short shows Ben Turpin traveling through the frozen north, where he encounters Mack Sennett's Bathing Beauties emerging from their igloos. In a scene written by Frank Capra, Billy Bevan propels a column of automobiles over a sand dune. The film ends with the 1929 short Big Business , in which Leo McCarey directs Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy as Christmas tree salesmen, who try to pitch a tree in the middle of summer to impatient home owner Jimmy Finlayson. The transaction slowly escalates into warfare as Finlayson angrily dismantles Laurel and Hardy's car and they retaliate by vandalizing his house. After taking notes on the entire incident, a police officer intervenes, and they all tearfully shake hands. Laurel presents Finlayson with a cigar, and after he and Hardy run off, Finlayson lights the cigar, which then explodes in his face. 

Production Company: Ro-Co Productions, Inc.  
Production Text: A Robert Youngson Production
Distribution Company: Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.  
Producer: Robert Youngson (Prod)
  Herbert Gelbspan (Assoc prod)
  John E. Allen (Asst prod)
  Al Dahlem (Asst prod)
Writer: Robert Youngson (Wrt)
Music: Ted Royal (Mus)
  Ted Royal (Orch)
  Charles L. Cooke (Orch)
  Sylvan Levin (Orch cond)
  Herman Fuchs (Mus supv)
  Louis Turchen (Mus supv)
Sound: Ralph Curtiss (Sd eff)
Special Effects: Maurice Levy (Opt eff)
  Samuel Levy (Opt eff)
  Eastern Effects, Inc. (Opt eff)
Production Misc: Paul Guffanti (Film quality control)
Country: United States
Language: English

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number
Ro-Co Productions, Inc. 31/12/1959 dd/mm/yyyy LP15646

PCA NO: 19179
Physical Properties: Sd:
  Widescreen/ratio: 1.66:1

Genre: Comedy
Sub-Genre: Compilation
Subjects (Major): Chases
  The Keystone Cops
  Motion pictures--History
Subjects (Minor): Cooks
  Romantic rivalry
  Undercover agents
  Wards and guardians

Note: Robert Youngson's onscreen credit reads: "produced and written by." The entire film consists of edited clips from silent comedies. Youngson provides an offscreen narration throughout the picture. As noted in Youngson's narration, Leo McCarey directed and George Stevens photographed the Big Business short starring Laurel and Hardy, and Frank Capra wrote the sequence with Billy Bevan and the automobiles.
       According to modern sources, clips from the following shorts, among others, were included in the film: the 1914 Keystone-Mutual production The Masquerader , starring Charlie Chaplin; His Tysting Place , a 1914 Keystone-Mutual film starring Mabel Normand, Chaplin and Mack Swain; Fatty and Mabel Adrift , a 1916 Keystone Triangle production starring Normand and Fatty Arbuckle and Teddy at the Throttle , a 1917 Keytstone-Triangle Production starring Gloria Swanson and Wallace Beery. When Comedy Was King was produced as a follow-up to the 1958 film The Golden Age of Comedy (see above), which Youngson also produced. 

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
Box Office   7 Mar 1960.   
Daily Variety   29 Feb 60   p. 3.
Film Daily   29 Feb 60   p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter   29 Feb 60   p. 3.
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest   5 Mar 60   p. 612.
New York Times   30 Mar 60   p. 42.
Variety   2 Mar 60   p. 6.

Display Movie Summary
The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
Advanced Search
Support our efforts to preserve hisotory of film
Help AFI Preserve Film History

© 2017 American Film Institute.
All rights reserved.
Terms of use.