No matter how far one dives into silent comedy, there’s always more comedic actors to unearth. Inevitably, they all seem to be talented actors who were box office hits. And yet, a number of factors make their stars not burn so bright now. Not the least of this is the lack of availability of films. Another one of those stars is Marcel Perez, a Spanish writer/director/actor with an incredibly impressive career. Thanks to the DVD release The Marcel Perez Collection, some of his films (ten in all) now have a wide release. Before we look at a couple of those films in particular, just who was this guy?
Although born in Spain, Marcel Perez’s career stretched across several countries and genres. Given his penchant for using different names often, he was almost like an international man of mystery. And perhaps that, it’s been speculated, is one of the reasons why his name has not lived on as strongly. Many of comedy shorts were done as a character called Tweedy/Tweedledum, and Perez’s name doesn’t even appear in the credits. Tweedledum is just credited as “himself.” His wife, Dorothy Earle, playing Tweedle Dee in the shorts.
Perez began making the Tweedie shorts in Italy in 1910. Amazingly enough, by 1912 he was already operating as a second character named Robinet. He ended up making far more films as the Robinet character, and the popularity was such that he was apparently widely known by that name instead of his real one. And yet, Perez didn’t even limit himself to comedy. In 1913 he starred and directed in the sprawling sci-fi epic The Extraordinary Adventures of Saturnino Farnadola (in fact, Perez directed essentially all of his work). It wouldn’t be his last time jumping genres.
In 1916, Perez headed to the United States and created yet another character, this one named Bungles. His co-star in this series was none other than Oliver Hardy. The Bungles shorts didn’t last long, instead opting to revive Tweedledum. In total, Perez churned out dozens of Tweedledum shorts, while all the while doing other directorial work.
Rubye De Remer, a brief big box office smash in the late teens and early 20s, worked under Perez twice: The Way Women Love and Luxury. Perez also became a regular director of Westerns, working on several over the span of many years. How many people directed westerns, mysteries, dramas and sci-fi films while also starring in popular comedies? Marcel Perez is probably the only person that fits that description.
Perez’s work slowed down in 1923 when his leg was amputated from cancer complications. While that mostly ended his acting career, the prolific filmmaker continued to direct in the years that followed. He eventually a short time later in 1929, at just 45 years old. That marked the end of a particularly remarkable and unique career in film, even if many then and now didn’t know just how incredible it was.
Can his anonymity and frequent shape-shifting be attributed to his lack of recognition? It’s very possible. After all, he regularly switched between often uncredited characters. Depending on which country you lived in, you probably knew the man by a different name than in other countries. And at the same time, he was doing even further work behind the camera. One of the most prolific and impressive careers of the time just happened to be a kind of shape shifter.
So what were his films like? Let’s take a look at two of the films from the collection.
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A Busy Night (1916)
While it’s true that Marcel Perez kept his name off the credits often, this film is a very notable exception. In fact, Perez’s name is all over this one, thanks to the entire premise. Perez plays nearly every character in the short, an oft-used element in comedies. That he is playing all the characters is proudly announced at the start of the film, even showing Perez posing with tiny versions of his other roles on his arm:
The gag goes on throughout, with the fourth wall being broken a number of times. More than once, credits interrupt the film, just so the audience can know these people coming up are also all played by Perez. The intertitles even reference Perez as fighting “himself” on different occasions. It’s a remarkable overarching through-the-looking-glass film.
It is also very funny, along with being an impressive technical feat. Buster Keaton did something similar later in The Playhouse, but Perez takes it to another level by constantly interacting with himself. He chases himself around, fights with himself and has all kind of normal human interactions. It must have required a lot of cutting, and it ends up being quite the funny and wild sight.
You’re Next (1919)
The latter half of You’re Next is good but rather run of the mill fare: Perez’s character ultimately ends up causing hijinx on movie sets, a rather common silent comedy backdrop. But before he reaches that, Perez throws in some pretty out there and hilarious comedy.
The film opens with the news that a ton of tenants are being evicted from their apartments, including Perez. Unfettered by this, Perez decides to just make the street his apartment: after blocking off traffic he sets up everything just like it’s his normal home. He even hosts a poker game with his buddies, having a grand old time in his new outdoor home. The police soon stop him and throw him in jail, but he’s released after entertaining hardened criminals with his piano work. Even if from there it’s relatively unremarkable, Perez’s opening apartment is something to behold.
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These two films, along with the other eight, show off just how strong the man’s comedic sensibilities. You owe it to yourself to check out Marcel Perez’s work. Few people were uniquely as talented as a comedy star and director. Just be careful that he doesn’t disappear before your eyes.