R: Gilbert M. ‘Broncho Billy’ Anderson. D: Ben Turpin. P: Essanay Film Manufacturing Company. USA 1909
“Mr. Flip is sometimes credited (either overtly or by omitting all earlier titles) with containing the first pie-in-the-face gag. Not even close. Family Troubles (1900) features a probable pie to the face and the 1905 comedy The Coal Strike contains a confirmed pieing. The joke had been a popular one on the stage for quite some time as pies were easy enough to mock up as props with shaving cream and the like, it would have been a no-brainer for comedians to make use of them. (…) The version of Mr. Flip that is most readily available is missing the final two harassment sequences but, frankly, this is for the best. (At least according to the synopsis found in Moving Picture World.) Turpin’s character tries to arrange an assignation with an actress but she has her African-American maid wear a veil and go in her stead. Turpin’s “punishment” is discovering that the object of his affection is not white. (…) The film originally ended with Mr. Flip receiving his final comeuppance at the hands of laundry workers. As it stands, the picture is more of a loosely connected set of vignettes without much closure. The direction, especially compared to the visual sophistication of other 1909 entertainments like Princess Nicotine, is rudimentary at best.”
“The more significant point is that Mr. Flip can ultimately be read as a fable, however farcial, of working women’s struggles to reform untoward masculine behavior. A comparison again proves useful: the psychological reformation of Griffith‘s drunkard here becomes the physiological reformation of the flirt, and the physicality of the women’s reformist agenda is far from subtl. The flamboyant difference of the ‘average’ working woman’s reformation of the ‘average’ working man effects a wild variable in the filmic discourse as well, which appears in the second scene. The scene opens with a medium long shot of a manicurist’s parlor, but radically alters the viewer’s perspective by offering a detail cut-in: a close-shot insert reveals a long needle that one of the women places under Mr. Flip’s seat. As he lowers himself unknowingly onto the razor-sharp point he becomes – quite literally – the butt of the joke.”
Jennifer M. Bean: 1909. Movies and Progress. In: André Gaudreault (ed.): American Cinema 1890-1909: Themes and Variations. Rutgers University Press 2009, p. 235-236
Ben Turpin (1869-1940)
“Probably no silent comedian has had so much biographical misinformation gathered about him than scrawny, cross-eyed Ben Turpin. This much we know for sure: Turpin was the son of a New Orleans candy store owner, who moved his family all over the country depending on his financial state. We’d like to believe that, having squandered the hundred dollars his father gave him to make a start in the world, he hopped a freight and went on the bum rather than face his dad’s wrath. Whether or not Turpin really did live a hobo’s existence during his late teens is lost to history; his early career as a comedian in vaudeville, burlesque and stock is only hazily chronicled. (…) It is quite true that, once he became a star, he took out a Lloyd’s of London insurance policy against his eyes ever becoming un-crossed–a wise move, since, in the words of critic Leonard Maltin, ‘To the end, Ben Turpin’s face was his fortune.’ His movie career commenced in 1907 when he was hired by the Essanay studios in Chicago as both utility comedian and studio janitor. Oddly, his early Essanay films did nothing to capitalize upon the comic potential of his facial appearance. His fortunes improved (and his close-ups increased) when, in 1915, Turpin was teamed with Essanay’s newest comedian Charlie Chaplin. Gaining a following thanks to his appearances with Chaplin, Turpin was signed to his own series at Vogue studios in 1917, then began a long association with Mack Sennett.
Though he turned out fewer films than Sennett’s other top comedians, Turpin rapidly became the studio’s most popular star. In addition to headlining such 2-reel gems as The Daredevil (1924), he was starred in several Sennett features, including A Small Town Idol (1921) and the legendary Rudolph Valentino spoof The Shriek of Araby (1923). Because Turpin regularly lampooned such personalities as Valentino and Erich Von Stroheim, some historians have lauded Turpin as a satirist of the highest order. In truth, Turpin was merely performing the routines written for him by such ace Sennett gagsters as Mal St. Clair and Frank Capra; though his comedies were surefire laughgetters, he himself was only as good as his material. (…) In his twilight years, Ben was far too wealthy to care that the parade had passed him by; in his heyday, he’d made $3000 a week (a fact that he enjoyed trumpeting to complete strangers on the street), and what he didn’t squirrel away in banks he wisely invested in real estate and property. It is said that he personally worked as a janitor in the posh Los Angeles apartment houses that he owned, just to save an extra few bucks per week. Appropriately enough, Ben Turpins last film appearance was as a myopic apartment-house plumber, whose crossed wires and pipes result in music-playing refrigerators and ice-covered radios, in Laurel & Hardy’s Saps at Sea (1940).”