Charles Puffy’s Film Career Sandwich

You may know that face. No, it’s not Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle. Nor is it Oliver Hardy, sans mustache, nor is it Otto Fries, or any of the other lesser-known plus-size comedians of the silent era. This performer was in over 130 films from 1913 to 1939 — Destiny, Dr. Mabuse: The Gambler, Mockery, The Man Who Laughs, and The Blue Angel are among the ones you may have seen him in.

That face belongs to Charles Puffy, who you see above in Not Guilty (1926). The rarely-seen Puffy short is on the program of mainly German silent comedies that screens on Nov 24 and Nov 30 during MoMA’s Silent Comedy International series. After a dozen years appearing in feature-length dramas in Germany, the Hungarian-born Karl Huszar spent 1925-1928 starring in more than forty one-reel comedies for Universal under the name Charles Puffy. He then returned to Germany for another ten years in feature-length dramas.

Frame grab from the sole surviving print of NOT GUILTY (Universal, 1926)

Most of Puffy’s comedy shorts are lost. Fortunately, this one was offered for 16mm rental to home movie enthusiasts in the 1920s and 1930s by the Universal Show-At-Home Library, and a copy turned up at the Library of Congress a few years ago in a collection of prints from the defunct Mogull Bros. rental library. Until then, this had been a lost film. And it’s a pip. Directed by forgotten genius director and comedian Harry Sweet, the film is a clever, funny and well structured 11 minutes. Aside from a showing at the Cinefest convention in 2014, it has not been seen by the general public.

Charles Puffy Not Guilty
There’s murder afoot – or is there? – in this frame grab from the 90-year-old 16mm print of NOT GUILTY.

The other films on the program are a 1914 short The New Writing Desk, starring German comedian Karl Valentin, and an early Ernst Lubitsch feature Shoe Palace Pinkus from 1916. There are very few if any Valentin shorts that survive and that are available for exhibition, and so selecting a Valentin and a Puffy comedy was an easier pick. There are several 1910’s made in Germany Lubitsch comedies to choose from, but we settled on one that is not available on DVD, and also — Pinkus is played by Lubitsch himself.

Program info and ticket links for the “Daffy in Deutschland” program are on MoMA’s site here.

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