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Speak Easily - 1932 - Editing Exercise - Sequences 11 and 12 blend for The Climax and We're OUTTA HERE!
At times, portions of the final section of Speak Easily seem to predict the climax of A Night at the Opera, with Keaton swinging from the rafters across the stage. Originally, it ran like this:
The class went nuts. Armetta was out! OUT! and Keaton needed to have a tighter focus and not drag out his time on the diorama. In addition, an editing continuity had them rerunning the sequence where he stumbles from the catwalk, apparently on the right side of the stage, and then swings onto the stage from the left. Using the miracle of digital editing, that was adjusted as well. And who puts a fade out in the middle of a comedy climax!?!?
And whoosh! It is over at last.
While 20:20 hindsight is always an easy thing, we cannot fault everyone involved in the production of Speak Easily with its shortcomings, but we can use it as an exercise on how not to put together a comedy. By today's tastes, Speak Easily doesn't hold up very well, but we must remember that in its 1932 release, it made more money than any of Keaton's silent films ever did. So like Pixar and its Cars series, MGM felt it was making the right decisions based on what truly mattered to Louis B. and Irving T.
1932 - 8 minutes, 2 seconds
2021 - 6 minutes, 25 seconds
The complete, entire original film - 81 minutes
The class edit project final length - 72 minutes
Next we're going to work on either Intolerance or Gone with the Wind. Or perhaps invest in a popcorn machine.
Complete assembly of the Speak Easily "Redux" is on archive.org --
And so it begins - the show starts, Keaton reels from a sincere kiss and things start falling apart. A face in the crowd is targeted as someone really enjoying the show. At first, we all thought it was the university butler in attendance at opening night, but it is actually one of the show's backers. It seemed odd to introduce him so late in the proceedings.
Keaton has a nice slide onto the stage, Durante does one of his specialty songs (which he was still doing on the Mike Douglas Show in the 1960s), and Thelma Todd gets covered in bleached corn flakes. The sequence doesn't really build, but there it is:
Nobody really cared for Henry Armetta here, either. I told them to check out the Marx Brothers' The Big Store someday, where the producers thought they needed a "funny Italian" (apparently Chico wasn't a comedian to them by that time in his MGM career). Regardless, he was trimmed.
In 1932 - 8 minutes, 22 seconds.
2021 - 6 minutes, 58 seconds
Speak Easily has been building up to this point. Unlike A Night at the Opera three years later, the show is supposed to go on, and we're supposed to hope for the best with this collection of wandering vaudevillians and a befuddled professor.
Cross your fingers!
The original ran thusly:
And the project produced this version:
1932 - 6 minutes, 35 seconds
2021 - 5 minutes, 56 seconds
The sequence begins with a Durante caricature with his nose protruding downward at a specific angle. It comes at a reel change, so it is extended by Durante's laugh over the image. Now think how Keaton was positioned in the shot immediately preceding this one. I think a fade in/out transition was chosen instead of a lap dissolve for a reason.
Of course it leads to a possible compromising situation, and the troupe has now learned the truth behind the professor's inheritance, so it's time for a nice switcheroo. And a few trims, because by now everyone was on a roll.
Appendix - here are the screen shots of the end of sequence 7 and the start of sequence 8, with a simulated midpoint of a slow lap dissolve of the two, had the transition been performed in that manner -
Considering the chemistry that Thelma Todd had with the Marx Brothers in Horsefeathers, also from 1932, it is interesting to compare her scenes with Keaton with those of Groucho. Chico, and even Zeppo. It doesn't help that this is a drinking scene, and perhaps something other than tea had been placed in the decanters. Todd's reactions are great, nonetheless, if somewhat lost in the medium shots. And Spite Marriage is used again for material, however briefly, in getting her to stand up near the end.
What rhythm the scene has is broken with the extended insert of the cuckoo clock, no matter how clever the swirling effect, and the class agreed that one clumsy backflip over the sofa was quite enough. So out came the scissors, and everyone had fun resizing those master shots!
The rehearsal is centered around Durante and Toler, and somewhere along the line, someone (possibly the film's editor) noticed that the film's star was missing. Thus the insert shots appear of Keaton, with a neutral background, looking interested in the goings on and saying nothing, so when he does appear near the end we get the impression he has been in the rehearsal room the entire time. The "Singing in the Rain" gag is still cute, and was featured in the compilation film, That's Entertainment (1976).
Of course we had to snip here, and there:
In 1932, it ran 6 minutes, 30 seconds.
In 2021, 5 minutes, 59 seconds.