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Snub Pollard's "tribute" to Chaplin
The Australian-born Snub Pollard is best remembered as supporting comedian to Harold Lloyd during Lloyd's late Hal Roach period, but Pollard starred in his own comedy series ... of which the funniest and most inventive example is probably "It's a Gift" (1923; no relation to the W.C. Fields comedy of the same title). Pollard's starring effort "At the Ringside" (1921) is an audacious rip-off of Charlie Chaplin's 1917 classic "Easy Street" ... one of Chaplin's most popular shorts which was still in widespread release when "At the Ringside" was made.

"At the Ringside" is filmed in a "slum" which is rather obviously a studio mock-up on the Hal Roach back lot, and it clearly copies the Lambeth-style slum in Chaplin's "Easy Street" (which was also a too-obvious mock-up). The first half of this film is a blatant copy of "Easy Street". Pollard plays the local constable, charged with maintaining order in the tough slum district. He runs afoul of the local bully, played by Noah Young (an underrated comic actor who usually played roughnecks and dimwits in Harold Lloyd movies). Young has sense enough not to imitate Eric Campbell, his counterpart in "Easy Street". To his credit, Pollard is playing his own comic character here ... not imitating Chaplin, even though the source material is so obviously Chaplin's.

Halfway through, "At the Ringside" suddenly abandons its "Easy Street" rip-off and shows some originality. Young challenges Pollard to a boxing match in a hastily-erected outdoor boxing ring. From here, the film degenerates into fairly predictable slapstick gags on the pugilism theme ... with one remarkable surprise. Midpoint in the boxing match, Pollard gets a severe blow to the head which rocks him. Then we see a subjective shot as the scenery around Pollard breaks up into jigsaw-puzzle pieces (against a black background) and fades into a blur. This was so totally unexpected, I thought that the film was breaking apart in the projector. The blur comes back into focus and the jigsaw pieces join up again, as Pollard shakes his head and gets back into the fight. The camera work and editing in this brief sequence are far more inventive than ANY of the camera work and editing at any point in Chaplin's entire film career. This one trick shot in "At the Ringside" more than makes up for any lack of originality throughout the rest of the film.

Pollard's leading lady in this short is dark-haired Marie Mosquini, very young and quite pretty even by modern standards. Ms Mosquini gave up her lacklustre acting career to marry the inventor Lee De Forrest, a pioneer of radio technology.

"At the Ringside" is a decent-enough slapstick comedy, funny but not hilarious, and it offers a sort of parallel-universe version of one of Chaplin's best-known films. I recommend it as an interesting example of Pollard's work, but Snub Pollard doesn't deserve a place in the front rank of silent-film comedy.
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