I knew the name Billy Franey because Blackhawk Films sold prints of The Bath Dub (1921). I’d seen this listed in their monthly bulletins over and over growing up. I’d never seen the film, so The Water Plug (1920) was my first Franey short. I was impressed.
It was one of a handful of rare one-reel 16mm comedies sent to me by a collector right when I began my Accidentally Preserved project, during the trial phase, a year or so before I kickstarted/released the first DVD, when I was just scoring and posting films to my YouTube channel. The print had a music track, one I have since learned was added by someone named Charlie Tarbox, who sold prints to collectors in the 1960s and 1970s, and had a home-use edition replacement main title from Home Film Libraries, Inc.
Franey entered films in 1914 and worked into the 1940s, in supporting or character parts. There are over 440 entries under his name on IMDb. He did, however, star in his own series of comedies for Reelcraft from 1920-1921. The Water Plug, directed by Grover Jones, was part of that series.
The film is very inventive and funny, and some of the gags anticipate animated cartoons of the 1930s and 40s. In the last five years or so I’ve acquired another one of these Reelcraft Franeys, The Cameraman, which actually does have a running gag that I’ve seen in a WB cartoon. I’ve also seen seven or eight more of these at the Library of Congress. A 35mm print of The Sleuth turned up there a couple years ago, and a bunch more turned up in the stash of Mogull Bros. 16mm rental library prints. Those 16mm’s have original titles and are very sharp, and are complete.
They’re all equally funny and clever, and at times surreal. Except, that is, for the ones that are not directed by Grover Jones.
I’d wondered why Franey had not continued in other starring series until I saw The Pile Driver, and one other short like it, both directed by someone else. The Pile Driver is a dud. It was clear to me that the driving force behind the surreal gags and wacky plot lines I’d seen and enjoyed in the other Franey shorts was Grover Jones. Left to his own devices, Mr. Franey was another gifted physical comedian with a thin mustache and baggy pants.
Grover Jones is a silent comedy director whose career and work deserves a good look. I’d only known the name because it was the one listed as director on the Al St. John shorts The Iron Mule (1925) and Dynamite Doggie (1925), which was actually directed by Roscoe Arbuckle. Jones’ directorial efforts for comedies during the silent era only run from 1920 to around 1926, but I suspect there are holes in the IMDb’s listings in this regard. He does have a lot more writing credits in the silent era, and they extend into the sound era.
The Franey-Jones combo may be similar to the lightning-in-a-bottle year or two of shorts that director Louis Myll made for Kleine starring Harry Watson, Jr. as “Musty Suffer”. Post-”musty”, Myll did not do much more in film, and Watson only appeared in supporting roles in a couple Marion Davies pictures.
If you’d like to see Billy Franey (directed by Grover Jones) in The Cameraman, you’ll need to sign up for my email list — upon confirming your address you’Il be sent a secret link to view the film.
I’ve posted The Water Plug to my YouTube channel, and you can view it below. The film included on the Accidentally Preserved: Volume 1 DVD, which is available online at Amazon, the TCM Shop, DeepDiscount and many other online retailers in the US and international markets.