It is an ordinary day in the Frisbie household. In the kitchen, the cook is preparing a meal. She cracks an egg – and a full-grown chicken emerges from the table. Upstairs, the butler is brushing his hair when he is distracted by a disembodied pair of legs dancing on a chest of drawers. Cook and butler rush to the drawing room to tell the master and his daughter what they have seen, when a small, bald man with bushy eyebrows and beard, wearing owlish glasses, emerges from a wall, crosses the room on little wheels, and disappears through another wall.
Father decides this is beyond the competence of the local police, he is going to send a wire to Scotland Yard and the appeal for help against the “Fuzz Faced Phantom” is despatched. Scotland Yard is exactly that – a small yard surrounded by a picket fence, filled with Scotsmen in kilts. By a simple expedient of “Eeeny-meeny-miny-mo”, the Chief selects Charley MacNeesha (Charley Bowers) to take the case. MacNeesha collects his bagpipes and his faithful assistant, MacGregor – a cockroach (also in kilt and sporran) who lives in a matchbox. MacGregor packs his toothbrush and detective's magnifying glass, and the two sail to America on the good ship SS Hoot Mon to battle the Phantom.
In the Bob Hope, Bing Crosby film Road to Morocco, a camel turns to the camera and says: “This is the screwiest picture I've ever seen!” Obviously he had not seen this 1928 silent short, because if what I've written so far doesn't sound screwy, I haven't written it properly.
Charles, or Charley, Bowers began his career as a cartoonist, and this is evident in his film comedy. It is truly surreal, and has the slightly disturbing effect of a bad dream (is the little man some sort of poltergeist?). Imagine a visual 'Goon Show' and you're starting to get the idea. He was forgotten for many, many years, and was not even a footnote in the history of silent film comedy. Maybe he was too unique and impossible to classify. Bowers developed what he called the “Bowers Process”, a brand of camera trickery using stop-motion photography and animation (you didn't think MacGregor was real, did you?) to go far beyond straightforward filming. Thankfully some of his films survive, and modern audiences are more open to his style.
This 20-minute film needs to be watched once, with the mouth hanging open at the outrageous visuals and gags which are like nothing else in film, then again to marvel at the inventiveness and sheer nerve of a unique comedy talent.