March 19, 1916 [The Wrong Mr. Fox]

I'd like to see more of Victor Moore (now there's a publicity slogan). What surprises me is how little I was put off by his burlesque suicide attempt. Sucking on a gas pipe, one could argue, is not the most auspicious beginning for an entertainment. But when the out-of-work Jimmy Fox thinks better of ending it all, instead spitting fire everywhere he goes, Moore made the appalling humorous. There is something casual—if such a word can be applied to screen comedy—about him. He seems in some ways the least perturbed of slapstick comedians, so that even his unsavory inclinations seem more impish than grotesque.

This matter-of-fact approach to havoc serves Moore well, given the contrivances of the plot: Fox the actor is confused with Fox the minister, and he decides to play along, his larcenous eye on the collection plate. Moore takes advantage of the situation to satirize both occupations: As an actor, Fox accepts his role; as he notes, "I saw Billy Sunday once"—and as a minister, he exposes the shepherd/flock relationship: While he sways before the congregation, they sway in unison with him, as regular as sea-waves—and as automatic. And although none of his thievery is rewarded, I'm left with the distinct impression he has not learned a moral lesson, but a tactical one. Literally stripped of his ecclesiastical garb, he hops on a bicycle and heads back to New York—298 miles away, according to the sign. Fox may not know how to save anyone's soul, including his own, but he does get while the getting's good.

Like Chaplin, Moore understands that comedy is not mere situation and physical noise. His Jimmy Fox is brightly aware of his surroundings, and his failures arise not through random disruptions but his own overreaching, combined with an almost-nonchalance, allowing him to keep his head—even when everyone around him is demanding it.


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