The Better ‘Ole (1926) – reviewed by George

Syd Chaplin was Charlie’s older half-brother and became a comedy star sooner, but Charlie grew to be a much bigger star than Syd. Still they always helped each other advance in show business. This film is the only time I have seen Syd Chaplin, so here’s a thank you to TCM!
“The Better ‘Ole” is a Cockney take on World War I, thus,
Little Alf (to Old Bill): Let’s get out of this damn ‘ole!
Old Bill: If you knows of a better ‘ole – go to it.
The Better ‘Ole is by Bruce Bairnsfather and Arthur Eliot, Screen Play by Darryl Francis Zanuck and Charles (Chuck) Reisner, Directed by Reisner.
It’s a silent movie, but the Vitaphone process, which adds a soundtrack of music and sound effects to a silent film, was used after editing was finished. This is especially funny when the guys at a show start yelling their approval and the soundtrack has a group of men going “Yay! Yay! Yay!”
Syd plays William Busby, or Old Bill, who is a main chancer, always on the lookout for a chance to score some extra food, a cigarette, a nap, or anything else. Consequently I didn’t like the character at first. However, he soon began to grow on me, partly because he has been 30 years in His Majesty’s service and partly because he is funny. Old Bill’s two best friends are Bert Chester (Harold Goodwin), thought to be a private, but actually British Secret Service, and Little Alf (Jack Ackroyd), Bills’ greatest worry, since Alf is cheerful, friendly, and too young and trusting to be in a war.
There are some very funny sequences, but perhaps the best is the show the men put on to take their minds off the war. Bill and Alf are forced into the pantomime horse costume, and it really is the best horse costume I’ve ever seen. First, it rides too high on the guys, so that it doesn’t cover their lower bodies. That is, instead of the body of the costume extending down to mid-thigh, it stops above the hips. so the guys, in their tights, give the horse a really strangely jointed look that is hysterical when they run or jump. Second, the eyes are articulated and Bill can control them so that they appear to be watching things.
There is also a German spy in the camp, and because Old Bill is always snooping around for extra rations or whatever, he is the chief suspect.
All in all a good solid comedy. Example: Alf comes in from the trenches wet and muddy and shakes his helmet off. Bill has a small group of photos posted near his bunk, and as the mud lands on a picture of his wife, Old Bill says, “What d’ye mean sloshing’ my old woman with mud? You could ‘ave ‘it the King!”

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