#484) There It Is (1928)

#484) There It Is (1928)

OR “Great Scot!”

Directed by Harold L. Muller

Written by Muller and Charles R. Bowers

Class of 2004

The Plot: The Frisbie Family (Melbourne MacDowell and Kathryn McGuire) is experiencing some unusual phenomena in their house, all thanks to the appearance of the mysterious Fuzz-Faced Phantom (Buster Brodie). The family calls Scotland Yard, who send the kilt-clad, bagpipe-playing Charley MacNeesha (Charley Bowers) to investigate. Aided by his assistant, a stop motion bug named MacGregor (you read that right), Charley arrives and falls victim to the Phantom’s absurdist antics, as well as some really groundbreaking effects animation.

Why It Matters: The NFR calls Bowers “increasingly famous” and singles out the “adorable” MacGregor. An informative essay by silent film expert Steve Massa gives a brief overview of Charley Bowers’ career.

But Does It Really?: Oh sure. While most silent films are forgotten today, it doesn’t mean there were any less popular or important in their time. Bowers’ surreal style of silent comedy is quite unique (especially for the era), and deserves a spot alongside Chaplin, Keaton, and Lloyd for its inventiveness. Hopefully the NFR inclusion will lead to more film lovers discovering Bowers and “There It Is”.

Everybody Gets One: Charley Bowers got his start as a newspaper cartoonist for “The Chicago Star” and “The Chicago Tribune”. A move to New York found Bowers animating the Mutt & Jeff cartoon shorts, and experimenting with puppets and stop motion in his free time. His early films included the Bowers Process, a type of stop motion animation which only Bowers knew the secret to. These films caught the attention of Educational Pictures, and Bowers headed out to Hollywood. “There It Is” was the first of six shorts Bowers did under contract with Educational.

Other notes 

  • Right out the gate this movie captured my attention with its revolutionary effects. A stop motion egg turns into a live chicken, and a pair of pants seem to dance on their own. I presume the latter was the result of Substitutiary Locomotion.
  • I know this won’t matter to most of you, but the Fuzz-Faced Phantom looks remarkably like a former manager of mine. And that guy wishes he were as interesting or funny as the Phantom.
  • The only thing I can compare Bowers’ brand of innovative filmmaking to is the kind of experiments Ernie Kovacs would present on his TV show 30 years later.
  • The rising cab fare from $4 to $5 would be about $60 to $75 today. Nowadays that’s how much it costs to just get in the cab.
  • Best line in the short: the butler, upon seeing only Charley’s kilt and legs, “It’s a girl!”
  • MacGregor is so cute. Where’s his spinoff?
  • This whole film is an impressive undertaking. “There It Is” features the kind of inspired lunacy that can easily be made for animation, but becomes a logistical nightmare when translated to live action. Kudos to the team’s endless imagination and spirited execution.
  • “There It Is” may be one of the rare movies with a Previous Owners Ex Machina. The stigmatized property revelation might as well be Craig T. Nelson shouting at everyone for not moving the bodies.

Legacy 

  • Bowers’ films with Educational Pictures were well-received, but his output slowed down with the advent of sound. Bowers shifted his focus more towards puppetry and illustrations for children’s books before severe arthritis ended his career. Bowers died in 1946 at the age of 57.
  • The films of Charley Bowers were considered lost or destroyed for decades (some were victims of the Fox Vault Fire of 1937), but prints started showing up in the 1980s. In addition to its NFR designation, Bowers’ work has been included in the American Film Archives and released on both DVD and BluRay.

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