Enjoying Douglas MacLean – It’s Not Just Me

On Tuesday night I rolled the dice and presented yet another obscure, unknown silent comedy film I’d taken a liking to at a show I was accompanying. Sure, I liked the wacky adventures and Fairbanksian enthusiasm of Douglas MacLean in Bell Boy 13, but would the audience?

It was very satisfying to me that within minutes of the film’s running the audience at the Cinema Arts Centre warmed to MacLean, and was laughing heartily at this unknown light comedy from 1923. The film continued to gradually build, as did the laughs, and Douglas MacLean won himself some new fans for the first time in about 90 years.

Douglas MacLean in BELL BOY 13 (1923)
Douglas MacLean (left) will do anything to meet up with his fiancée in BELL BOY 13 (1923), including taking a job as a bellhop in the hotel she is staying in.

This wasn’t just a film I’d seen at a festival or knew that an archive had and wanted to show. I had Kickstarted The Douglas MacLean Collection last spring (funded by nearly 300 fans) and have been working with the Library of Congress, digital restoration people, a graphic designer and a couple other artisans as well as scoring the films and readying the package for DVD release.

So, the stakes were a little higher. But I was pleasantly surprised, satisfied and pleased by the audience response to the undeservedly forgotten Mr. MacLean at the CAC Tuesday evening. I had had a similar experience when I presented and accompanied the restoration of Marion Davies in When Knighthood Was In Flower (1922) at the Toronto Silent Film Festival in 2017. I had seen the film too many times to know if anyone besides me would go on the ride with the film and also enjoy the picture.

I have high hopes for the screening of the other film on the forthcoming DVD, the 1921 One a Minute, which screens January 24 at the Slapstick Festival in Bristol UK. That screening will be accompanied by John Sweeney and will be introduced by Kevin Brownlow.

The Douglas MacLean Collection DVD will be released in late February 2020 on my Undercrank Productions label.

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Michael Schlesinger

BB13 knocked me out when I saw it at Mostly Lost a few years ago. I immediately scheduled it for Cinecon the following year and it killed all over again. Thank you for making it possible for everyone to enjoy this no-longer-lost little gem.