By 1926, cinema had developed at a remarkable rate. Only 25 years earlier it was a series of moving images, audiences enthralled by the very idea of an image in motion. Over the next few years, narrative film emerged, editing was used to help tell the story, films became longer, had greater depth, and movie stars like Charlie Chaplin, Lon Chaney, John Gilbert, Greta Garbo, Lillian Gish, Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, Buster Keaton, Rudolph Valentino, and Harold Lloyd filled the screen.
Comedy became more sophisticated too. Mack Sennett learned early that frantic pacing and quick movement could be exciting and funny. Then gradually this sort of knockabout farce was replaced by human quality of Charlie Chaplin, the technical skill of Buster Keaton, and the daredevil prowess of Harold Lloyd.
In a few tangential pockets of lower budget film production, some short comedies were maintaining the old knockabout style. One of those was the Ton of Fun series which featured actors Frank (Fatty) Alexander, Hilliard (Fat) Carr, and Kewpie Ross as three overweight bumblers trying to accomplish tasks, with the usual slapstick results. Now far off the radar, any awareness of the Ton of Fun trio would be from those few who like to occasionally investigate the bypaths and see what lurks on the fringe.
In one of their most representative comedies, “Heavy Love,” the three fatties are attempting to build a house. This results in a series of fairly ordinary slapstick gags, each enhanced by the weight of the character.
The boys have just been fired by their employer, who calls them “terrible carpenters,” and run across a woman (Lois Boyd) whose contractor has just quit. Desperate, she hires the fatties to complete construction on her home, showing them a photo of how the completed house should look.
Interestingly, the structure of this comedy deals mostly with the finishing touches on the house, after it has gone up. Unlike, say, Buster Keaton’s “One Week” (1920), where the two reels is spent showing the house’s construction, resulting in a frightening result, “Heavy Love” shows the result early on (general construction with windows misplaced, looking haphazard and off-kilter). The woman seems unperturbed, and offers no problem about the appearance. Unlike comic foils in other two-reelers, the woman here is not adversarial with the central comedians.
Borrowing from the Keaton film, the fatties discover they have built the house on the wrong lot and must move it. However, unlike Keaton, there is a twist here – just after their attempts to movie the house causes it to slide down a bluff and crash onto the street, they are told they actually were on the correct lot. The man who misinformed them agrees to pay all damages, and writes each of them a check. However, he is soon taken away by two uniformed men who said “he went crazy selling real estate in Florida.” As the fatties and the woman tear up their checks, one of the uniforms states, “don’t do that, his money is still good!” They scramble to piece the checks back together as the film concludes.
Most of “Heavy Love” relies on gags and gag situations. Hammering the glass out of the side of a window, in order to reach out and wipe a spot off the other side, buckets of wallpaper paste sloppily landing over one’s head, getting stuck in the chimney, falling down flights of stairs, and other such incidents are what sustains the comedy here. But the agility of the large men (according to some accounts, Alexander himself was said to tip the scales at over 350 lbs) makes the predictable proceedings more unusual. There are many fat comedians in silent comedy, but a trio of them offers a different dynamic. Their waddling movements, and labored gestures are augmented by impressive pratfalls.
“Heavy Love” is a funny movie in spite of its predictability and informs us of a few things. First, that the reason there has always been a hierarchy among silent screen comedians, placing the likes of Chaplin, Keaton, and Lloyd separate and apart from the others, is because their work at every level is that much superior. However, a comedy like this also shows us that the top level silent screen icons were not alone. They were joined by several other comic practitioners during the silent era who were putting out some viscerally funny films that continue to be entertaining in the 21st century. Something like “Heavy Love” is hardly at the level of the comic greats, but if one enjoys well timed slapstick gags that don’t venture too far past the superficial, it is easy to have a great time with such a silly knockabout comedy as this.
Finally, there is the historical aspect. Any and all films should be preserved so that we can learn more about the development of cinema as an art. A simple slapstick comedy like “Heavy Love” has some historical significance, even if only to inform us that there was a team of obese comedians who had a series of two reelers back in the 1920s. Having no pretentions beyond mere laughter, and succeeding admirably within those parameters, The Ton of Fun can therefore be considered a success.
“Heavy Love” was filmed by producer Joe Rock for distribution by Film Booking Offices. It is available on DVD here.