The plot is simple, but the gags are elaborate. Buster lives in a polyglot neighborhood, where, in a mistaken melee with a postman, a window gets broken in the office of a local magistrate/justice of the peace. This judge happens to be an emigrant from Poland. Moments before, he has been contacted by a young Polish couple wanting to be married and desiring to have the ceremony performed in their language. He assures them that he can do the job, as he speaks no other language but Polish anyway.
Having set the gag thusly, a window in the magistrate's office gets smashed in the fight with the postman, and Buster runs away, knocking down a stout Irishwoman named Kate. She is furious with him, and hauls him before the Polish magistrate intending to rat on him for breaking the window. Of course, the judge thinks they are the couple who just phoned him wanting to be married, so he marries them.
I love how the title cards for his speech are written in Polish. Irish and Poles make up a good chunk of my ancestry, so the comic premise of this movie is especially dear to me. My Polish grandmother, or Babci, never learned much English, and in her first days as an immigrant to America before World War I, she loved silent movies because she could understand them. Even the title cards in English were irrelevant to her, so clear was the pantomime. Marie Dressler was her favorite actress.
Poor Buster looks like a Liliputian among the giants, but he uses his wits to stay alive.
Kate and her relatives ashamedly return the uneaten portions of beef back to the platter, and Buster, evidently not playing a Catholic in this movie, helps himself to a solitary feast.
My favorite gag in the movie, however, is when they gather for a family portrait and the photographer's camera tripod slips to the floor, causing the family to slide down to the floor as well. That is genius, and one of funniest scenes in any silent film.
But it is Buster's prank on the boorish family, using their religious observance as a level to gain parity with them, that clearly pokes fun at Catholics in a way that is pointed and shrewd without being caustic. Films from the silent era are not so innocent as they are unselfconscious, which is their great strength and value. This movie, made in 1922, was at the end of a long and boisterous era of mass immigration to this country where if not everyone got along, there was certainly an entertaining period of adjustment. Later in that decade, the welcome mat got pulled in, immigration was restricted, and home-terrorist organizations like the KKK, long dedicated to the persecution of African Americans, added Catholics to their list of hated targets, as we discussed a few weeks ago in the intro to our series on films of the 1920s.
Come back next Thursday when we conclude the Lenten season on a less silly note and celebrate Easter and Passover with two versions of Ben Hur - from 1925 and 1959.
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