Audrey Kupferberg: "Alan Partridge" And Max Linder Comedies

Jun 20, 2014

Rainy afternoons and summer nights when darkness has fallen are fitting times to sit indoors and see film comedies.

One recent DVD release is called ALAN PARTRIDGE and stars British talent Steve Coogan playing his signature character, a parody of a radio and TV commentator and talk show host who has been amusing British audiences for twenty years, but is fairly undiscovered in the United States.

In ALAN PARTRIDGE, the title character is working as a DJ at a radio station that has just been bought out by a corporation whose bosses are deciding whether Partridge or his colleague—a tough Irish bloke named Pat Farrell--  will be fired.  Farrell is fired.  That evening, the disgruntled Farrell gets hold of a long-barreled shotgun and takes over the station, holding his bosses and colleagues hostage.

With all that is going on in real-life siege situations, it’s difficult to laugh at this fictional state of siege—at first.  After a while, one cannot help but succumb to the outrageous comedy. Steve Coogan is not a shy comic.  His most hilarious moment occurs when he loses his pants – underwear too! –while climbing out a window.

For those audiences who only have encountered Coogan as the journalist in PHILOMENA, hold onto your seats.  Every few minutes, I found myself laughing out loud and pounding the arm of my chair at his clever delivery of a line or a funny plot twist.   Those who enjoy robust humor should take a look at ALAN PARTRIDGE.

Another comedy star to explore is Max Linder, who began appearing in silent film comedies in France in 1905 and continued to make screen comedies until his suicide in 1925; he was a victim of chronic depression and painful injuries sustained during World War I.  Linder was the first real comic artist of the silent film era.  While his skits occasionally will remind viewers of Chaplin, Keaton or Lloyd, or even Harpo Marx and Lucille Ball, it was Max Linder who was there first.

Kino Classics has just released a DVD of three features and a short made by Linder in the United States between 1917 and 1922. One feature is a take-off of Douglas Fairbanks’ THE THREE MUSKETEERS, and Linder strings together entertaining situations, but, generally, the film lacks laughs.  Linder himself is graceful and clever, but the film just isn’t funny.  And why would anyone care to parody a Fairbanks film that already has plenty of comedy in it?

This feature may not be a laugh-out-loud comedy, but the other titles on the DVD are just that. Linder hits his stride in SEVEN YEARS BAD LUCK, a rapid-paced tale of a hapless bachelor on the verge of matrimony who goes from one silly adventure to another.  Even though this DVD collection consists of Linder’s work when he was past his prime, there are many worthwhile moments and sequences which inspired some of the most brilliant American comedy stars.  No wonder that Chaplin called Linder “the great master.” 

Audrey Kupferberg is a film and video archivist and appraiser. She teaches film studies at the University at Albany and has co-authored several entertainment biographies with her husband and creative partner, Rob Edelman.

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