KID SPEED (1924)
Run Time: 18:00
Producer: Larry Semon
Director: Larry Semon
Key Cast: Larry Semon
Larry Semon was a talented actor/director/stunt man, who’s nearly forgotten these days, but in the 1920s he was a very successful and wealthy film producer. He directed the first, silent version of the ‘Wizard of Oz’ in 1925 (in which he played the Scarecrow), and worked with both Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, before they created their immortal comedy team.
Semon directed and acted in the short ‘two reel’ film ‘Kid Speed’, about two auto racers (Semon and Hardy) competing for the same girl (‘Lou duPoise’, a reference to the duPont family). Semon was known for his elaborate/expensive sets, sometimes building fully functional houses for a film, as well as huge gags – in the case of ‘Kid Speed’, an entire mountainside slumps onto a road for comic effect. If you want to skip the slapstick and see the cool old racers, jump to the 14-minute mark.
‘Kid Speed’ is a two-reel film, shortened to 18 minutes; this may be the result of deterioration of the original, highly volatile nitrocellulose film stock. Semon died in 1928 of tuberculosis, and many of his films languished in private collections before being rescued and transferred to more stable ‘Safety Film’ stock – cellulose acetate, which is much less flammable. Note the words ‘Safety Film’ on your old 35mm Kodak negatives; previously they would have had ‘Nitrate’ in dark letters printed. Nitrocellulose is explosive, derived from ‘guncotton’ and related to smokeless gun powder, and was the foundation of the DuPont chemical fortune.
For more on motorcycles in silent film, see The Vintagent article: The Silent Types.