THE MARCEL PEREZ COLLECTION (DVD)

The Spanish-born comic actor and director Marcel Perez was a well-known star during the 1910s and 1920s, but over the years he became lost to obscurity. Part of the problem was the disappearance of many of his works – only a relative handful of his 200-plus starring short films survive. Complicating matters was the fact Perez rarely starred in the film under his name – he was billed as Marcel Fabre, Fernandea Perez, Robinet, Tweedy, Tweedledum, and Twede-Dan.

This new DVD collection offers a rare sampling of Perez’s surviving work, with five comedies made in Italy between 1911 and 1914 and five comedies made in the U.S. between 1916 and 1921.

The Italian films, which were preserved by the EYE Filmmuseum of the Netherlands, are one-reelers with Perez playing the role of Robinet, a bourgeois bumbler who inevitably gets stuck in silly situations (disguising himself as a woman when his lover’s husband abruptly returns home, trying to avoid muddy indignities while wearing a new white suit, and so forth). The films’ very short running times do not allow for the construction of satisfying stories, and the humor is more than a little predictable. Nonetheless, it is interesting to see this glimpse of pre-World War I European short film comedy.

Perez’s American films, which were preserved by the Library of Congress, are a bit more satisfying. Working under the name of Tweedledum, Perez is more of a Sennett-style goofball who delights in thumbing his nose at the world. The best efforts here are the rural romp “A Bathtub Elopement” (1916), which contains a skein of amusing sight gags, and “A Busy Night” (1916), with Perez playing 16 different roles as part of an entertaining romantic romp.

All of the films are presented with new musical scores by Ben Model, who also produced the DVD. This offering also comes with a fine book by Steve Massa that details Perez’s biography and includes intriguing stills from some of his still-missing comedies.

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