THE NUT (Theodore Reed, 1921)

My taste does not run to Douglas Fairbanks in his flamboyant swashbuckling roles, but he is a light, charming comical romantic, albeit an intermittently (very!) irritating one, in the modern-dress The Nut, to whose screenplay (along with others) the dashing star contributed. Fairbanks plays Charlie Jackson, a Greenwich Village inventor who is smitten with Estrell Wynn, who lives in an apartment above hers. Some of the film’s most delightful comedy derives from Charlie’s inventions; much of its most annoying comedy derives from Charlie’s stupid efforts at pursuing Estrell and trying to please her. In one segment, this preposterously involves trying to make Estrell believe that three wax dummies are society big-wigs. I also found dispiriting the film’s attempts to make comical capital out of house fires. One visual gag has the seat of a party guest’s pants on fire.
     The plot is complicated, and I am not going to get into it except to say it involves—again, ridiculously—gangsters and police from both of whom Charlie will have to rescue his Estrell. They get married; in that day—brace yourself—Estrell had to promise to “love, honor and obey” Charlie. Count that a bit of historical side interest.
     But my favorite aspect of the film, which someone named Theodore Reed directed, involves Cupid, the winged cherub that functions as the emotional telephone operator connecting eager Charlie, repeatedly, with Estrell. These long-shot inserts are hilarious, and as inventive as Charlie’s inventions.
     Look for the Charlie Chaplin impersonator at a party; guess who plays him. (Hint: Fairbanks and Chaplin were pals.) Also, don’t exit the film until “The End.” An adorable squirrel accompanies this end of The Nut.
     All in all, a good comedy with terrible lapses or a bad comedy with moments of inspiration.

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