If there was such a genre as “ice cream comedy”, I think A Pair of Tights would be an award-winning piece. With its delightful cast and gentle story it’s so amusing that it makes you laugh again and again. This movie certainly proves that in the golden age of silents a single gesture could speak louder and be funnier than a hundred words today.
I can hardly imagine that any movie has ever used ice cream as a prop in a cleverer way than A Pair of Tights. Mind you, they won’t use it properly; instead of some gentle licking, ice cream here becomes a dangerous weapon and a treasure to fight for – and to get hold of a couple of cones soon becomes the central motive of the characters. Of course all this is executed in the marvelous silent way when everything was still conveyed through body language or title cards.
By the second half of the 1920s, which is often called the golden age of the silent cinema, visual gags had been turned into an art form. Loads of fascinating comedies, such as A Pair of Tights, were produced in this flourishing era which was suddenly brought to an end by the appearance of the talkies. Though the first sound film, The Jazz Singer, was released in 1927 it wasn’t until the end of the decade that major studios decided to close down their silent film departments forever. 1929 was the last year when silent movies were still widely in circulation.
A Pair of Tights was one of the last silents produced by Hal Roach, too. Roach was the owner of a huge studio making popular comedies and he soon became the competitor of Mack Sennett’s Keystone farces. He employed silent movie legends like Harold Lloyd, Laurel & Hardy and Charley Chase and was constantly experimenting with new ideas. In an attempt to create a female Laurel & Hardy duo, he teamed up Anita Garvin and Marion Byron for a couple of films in 1928-29. A Pair of Tights was part of this fugitive series.
This time the girls are dating Edgar Kennedy and Stuart Erwin who are the “pair of tights” of the title which refers to their tightwad-like behavior. It’s true enough that Edgar doesn’t want to invite the ladies out for dinner; he offers to buy them ice cream instead so that they’ll lose their appetite. Yet in a silent comedy it’s not as easy to buy an ice cream as one might think. Trouble ensues when a furious policeman doesn’t let the boys park in front of the ice cream parlor while the girls find themselves engaged in fighting with a family living above the shop.
You might be familiar with this lovely short film if you’ve seen Robert Youngson’s compilation of silent movies, When Comedy Was King. The following snippet was featured in that documentary, with music and narration added and slightly edited, but if you’re interested you can also find the (allegedly) whole film on YouTube. Take some ice cream from the fridge and enjoy!