Paths to Paradise in Niles

My wife and I drove to the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum to catch a screening of Paths to Paradise last night. As I suspected, big fun.

As is Niles’ custom, the evening started with speakers, introductions, and two short comedies–in this case Harold Lloyd’s "Chop Suey & Co." and Monty Banks’ "Chasing Choo Choos." The Lloyd wasn’t one of his best (his character didn’t really crystallize until features), but "Chasing Choo Choos" is a gem. Banks stunts almost as well, and almost as dangerously, as Buster Keaton as he fights off toughs, chases a locomotive, and keeps himself and his girl alive on the run-away train.

The climax to an unsuccessful feature, recut and repurposed as a short, "Chasing Choo Choos" is one of the best surprises on the massive, 5-disc Slapstick Encyclopedia boxed set. This was my first time seeing it with an audience, and with live music (by Judy Rosenberg); well worth the drive.

So was Paths to Paradise, the feature presentation. The dapper, suave, verypathstoparadise funny, yet today nearly-forgotten Raymond Griffith carries the movie, although top billing went to his rival and romantic interest, Betty Compson. Competing crooks, they’re out to steal the same enormous diamond necklace. Griffith seems capable of outsmarting everybody (he never gives the same name, twice) and does so in various ingenious ways.

Wonderful as it is, Paths to Paradise isn’t a complete film. The last reel is missing and will probably never be found. Fortunately, the final existing reel kind of works as an abrupt but satisfying ending.