Max Davidson Comedies

Max Davidson Comedies

Edition Filmmuseum 58

Max Davidson (1875-1950) is one of the numerous forgotten Hollywood supporting actors who acted in innumerable movies. His heyday was in the late 1920s when he was engaged at the Hal Roach Studios for a series of Jewish comedies which belong to the best and funniest shorts the studio ever produced. The 2-disc DVD set presents all the existing comedies as well as Davidson's first sound film and documentation of the lost films with rare scripts and more than 300 unpublished stills. All films focus on Davidson as the henpecked Jewish family father who has to struggle with his good-for-nothing son(s) and a daughter who falls in love with a non-Jewish boy.

The Films

Why Girls Say No - USA 1927 - Directed by: Leo McCarey - Written by: Stan Laurel, Hal Roach - Cinematography by: Frank Young - Cast: Max Davidson, Marjorie Daw, Creighton Hale, Spec O'Donnell, Ann Brody, Oliver Hardy, Jess Devorska - Produced by: Hal Roach Studios - Premiere: February 20, 1927

Jewish Prudence - USA 1927 - Directed by: Leo McCarey - Written by: Hal Roach, Stan Laurel - Cinematography by: Len Powers - Cast: Max Davidson, Johnny Fox, Martha Sleeper, Gaston Glass, Jess Devorska, Eugene Pallette - Produced by: Hal Roach Studios - Premiere: May 8, 1927

Don't Tell Everything - USA 1927 - Directed by: Leo McCarey - Written by: Hal Roach - Cast: Max Davidson, Spec O'Donnell, Jess Devorska, Lillian Elliott, James Finlayson - Produced by: Hal Roach Studios - Premiere: July 3, 1927

Call of the Cuckoo - USA 1927 - Directed by: Clyde Bruckman - Written by: Leo McCarey, Hal Roach - Cinematography by: Floyd Jackman - Cast: Max Davidson, Spec O'Donnell, Lillian Elliott, Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, James Finlayson, Charley Chase - Produced by: Hal Roach Studios - Premiere: Oktober 15, 1927

Should Second Husbands Come First? - USA 1927 - Directed by: Leo McCarey - Written by: Hal Roach - Cast: Max Davidson, Spec O'Donnell, Lillian Elliott, David Butler - Produced by: Hal Roach Studios - Premiere: Oktober 23, 1927

Flaming Fathers - USA 1927 - Directed by: Leo McCarey - Written by: Hal Roach, Hal Roach - Cast: Max Davidson, Martha Sleeper, Tiny Sandford, Lillian Leighton, Eddie Clayton - Produced by: Hal Roach Studios - Premiere: December 18, 1927

Pass the Gravy - USA 1928 - Directed by: Fred Guiol - Written by: Leo McCarey, Hal Roach - Cinematography by: George Stevens - Cast: Max Davidson, Spec O'Donnell, Martha Sleeper, Bert Sprotte, Gene Morgan - Produced by: Hal Roach Studios - Premiere: January 7, 1928

Dumb Daddies - USA 1928 - Directed by: Hal Yates - Written by: Leo McCarey, Hal Roach - Cinematography by: George Stevens - Cast: Max Davidson, Spec O'Donnell, Viola Richard, Edgar Kennedy, Thelma Hill, Gene Morgan - Produced by: Hal Roach Studios - Premiere: February 4, 1928

Came the Dawn - USA 1928 - Directed by: Arch Heath - Written by: Leo McCarey, Hal Roach - Cinematography by: George Stevens - Cast: Max Davidson, Gene Morgan, Polly Moran, Viola Richard, Charles Dorety - Produced by: Hal Roach Studios - Premiere: March 3, 1928

The Boy Friend - USA 1928 - Directed by: Fred Guiol - Written by: Leo McCarey, Hal Roach - Cinematography by: Len Powers - Cast: Max Davidson, Marion Byron, Bill Elliott, Edgar Kennedy, Fay Holderness - Produced by: Hal Roach Studios - Premiere: November 10, 1928

Hurdy Gurdy - USA 1929 - Directed and written by: Hal Roach - Cinematography by: George Stevens - Cast: Max Davidson, Ann Brody, Edgar Kennedy, Thelma Todd, Oscar Apfel - Produced by: Hal Roach Studios - Premiere: May 11, 1929

The Itching Hour - USA 1931 - Directed by: Lewis R. Foster - Written by: Edgar Vincent Durling, Frank Gay - Cast: Louise Fazenda, Max Davidson, Spec O'Donnell, Harry Bernard, Fern Emmett - Produced by: Larry Darmour Productions - Premiere: February 1, 1931

About Max Davidson

Squinting through his beady eyes, Max Davidson peered out at a world in which he was forever bedeviled by incompetent tradesmen, larcenous businessmen, and most of all... his own family. Playing an old world Jew adrift in a land of goyim, Davidson was a comedian whose stock-in-trade was the stereotypical European Jew. His full beard, shaggy hair, bowler hat, and dark clothes from an earlier century, marked him as an immigrant. His characterization was a catalogue of hand gestures, winces, beard strokes, and shrugs. He played Ginsbergs, Cohens, Gimplewarts, and Weinbergs. He portrayed rag men, junk men, pawnbrokers, and most often, tailors. Jokes about stinginess, greed, and pork were all part his comic repertoire. The character was not original. Comic and/or villainous Jews had precedents in literature and stage stretching back to Shylock and beyond.

A case could easily be made that Davidson and his films should be tossed into the "Moran & Mack" dustbin of justly forgotten ethnic comedians. But the actor could and often did transcend that genre. There's something more to his character that attracts us.

He played a fish out of water. Davidson's character was struggling to adjust to mainstream America and his comedy grew out of the gulf between his old world manners and the new world that his children were born into. It was a tension that millions of Americans in the 1920's were either experiencing or witnessing. Between 1877 and 1927 the Jewish population in the U.S. rose from 229,000 to 4,228,000. The earlier wave of Jewish immigrants were succeeding in various trades and professions, but later arrivals (most of whom came from Poland or Russia) struggled to rise from utter poverty in urban ghettos. In a 1927 feature, Pleasure Before Business, Max makes a bad bet at the racetrack. His line, "If my bet ain't canceled, we'll be immigrants again.", must have resonated with millions of new Americans.

A small man (5'4" and 130 lbs.), Davidson was not an athletic comedian, but used his face and hands to garner most of his laughs. Rarely the perpetrator of mayhem, his forte was in reacting to the chaos around him. It's no wonder he found his artistic home at Hal Roach Studios, where directors knew that an actor's reaction to a gag could get a bigger laugh than the gag itself.

Max Davidson is best remembered for his wonderful series of shorts made for Hal Roach between 1927 and 1929. Like much of the Roach product of the era (or at least those shorts other than Laurel & Hardy's or Our Gang's) are lost. But surviving gems like Jewish Prudence, Don't Tell Everything, Should Second Husbands Come First? (all 1927) and Pass the Gravy (1928) rank among the funniest two-reelers ever made.

Robert Farr


DVD features (2-disc DVD)

DVD 1

  • Why Girls Say No 1927, 23'
  • Jewish Prudence 1927, 21'
  • Don't Tell Everything 1927, 23'
  • Should Second Husbands Come First? 1927, 21'
  • Flaming Fathers 1927, 25'
  • Hurdy Gurdy 1929, 20'
  • New scores by Joachim Bärenz, Christian Roderburg and Günter A. Buchwald
  • 24-page bilingual Booklet with essays by Richard W. Bann, Steve Massa, Stewart Tryster and Stefan Drössler

DVD 2

  • Call of the Cuckoo 1927, 19'
  • Love 'em and Feed 'em 1927, 9', tinted
  • Pass the Gravy 1928, 25'
  • Dumb Daddies 1928, 15'
  • Came the Dawn 1928, 17', tinted
  • The Boy Friend 1928, 20'
  • The Itching Hour 1931, 19'
  • New scores by Joachim Bärenz, Christian Roderburg and Stephen Horne
  • Scripts, cutting continuities, stills and lobby cards of all the lost Max Davidson comedies as ROM features

Edited by: Filmmuseum München
DVD authoring: Ralph Schermbach
DVD supervision: Stefan Drössler

First edition March 2011

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