Ring a Ding Ding
I often marvel at Charlie Chaplin’s ability to find success with silent pictures after the close of the silent era. When 1929 rolled around and with it the sound technology, all studios realized in order to compete they must produce talking pictures. Chaplin nevertheless issued City Lights and Modern Times with no spoken words after the end of the era in which he reigned supreme.
Fast forward to the 1960s and a French actor/movie maker repeated Chaplin’s success. Pierre Étaix with a background in film and clowning wrote, directed and starred in Yo Yo. The black and white movie begins in 1925 and is absent any dialogue –emulating a silent film by including intertitles. His unexpressive face reminds us perhaps more of old Stoneface Buster Keaton, but his movements emulate the great silent comedians and we cannot help but laugh at his movements and lifestyle as a lonely millionaire.
The scenes are not absent all noise, however, with the sound of a squeak toy used for the opening and closing of every door and the opening of drawers, etc. The sound effects alone drive many laughs. But the picture does not remain dialogue-free. Come 1929, the intertitles tell us talking movies came in, perhaps as a way of justifying the new presence of spoken words. The stock market crash is the next historical event to affect the picture, sending our millionaire into poverty.
The man reunites with his ex-lover, a bareback rider (Luce Klein), and their young son (Philippe Dionnet) –of which the millionaire was unaware–and joins the traveling circus that employs them. The son, Yo Yo, maintains a photo of his father’s mansion and dreams of restoring the wealth he witnessed there. Time goes on and Yo Yo grows up (also played by Étaix) and becomes a star of stage and screen. When he finally secures the old mansion and throws a party for his parents, they refuse to enter, preferring instead to stay in their trailer and with the circus, thus leaving Yo Yo as alone and miserable as his father once was.
The films of Étaix have recently become available after a long-standing legal dispute with his distribution company. The man is wonderfully entertaining to watch and it is delightful to see a filmmaker embrace the silent way of life as late as the 60s.