The Bootleg Files: Bedlam of Beards

BOOTLEG FILES 700: “Bedlam of Beards” (1934 short starring Bobby Clark and Paul McCullough).

LAST SEEN: On YouTube.


REASON FOR BOOTLEG STATUS: There is no great commercial interest in restoring the Clark and McCullough films.


This column marks the 700th entry in The Bootleg Files series, which ran from 2003 to 2015 on Film Threat and came over to Cinema Crazed in 2017. I would like to take this moment to thank Cinema Crazed’s publisher and editor Felix Vasquez Jr. for having this column here on the site and to thank the longtime readers of The Bootleg Files who have offered invaluable comments, recommendations and support for my work.

For the 700th column, I am pleased to shine the spotlight back on a comedy team that has been forgotten by everyone except the most diehard of old-school comedy fans: Bobby Clark and Paul McCullough. From 1928 through 1935, Clark and McCullough starred in a series of short comedies, first at the Fox studio and then for RKO Radio Pictures. However, their work has been unavailable for many years – 11 of their 14 Fox shorts are considered lost, while their 21 RKO titles never joined other 1930s shorts series like the Three Stooges and Our Gang as part of the TV rerun culture. And, to be frank, much of the duo’s work was wildly uneven – a problem exacerbated by Clark’s frequently obnoxious domination of the comedy and McCullough’s relegation to a sidekick status rather than serving as an equal partner.

But when Clark and McCullough hit pay dirt, their comedy was priceless. A case in point is the short “Bedlam of Beards,” which carries a 1933 copyright date on the print but is listed in film history sources as a 1934 release.

“Bedlam of Beards” opens with a newspaper story highlighting the kidnapping of cheese manufacturer Wilbur Whipple and his wife’s willingness to pay a $1,000 reward for his return, even though the kidnappers want a $10,000 ransom. Whipple’s photograph shows him as a dazed looking fellow with a thick beard – George “Gabby” Hayes plays the character. We then find Whipple playing solitaire in an apartment where he is being held by two gangsters. Whipple is severely hard of hearing and comically misunderstands what the gangsters are saying. Oddly, the gangsters decide to leave Whipple alone and unsupervised – one goes to deliver a letter and the other heads to a barbershop for a shave.

The barbershop is run by Shaver and Blodgett, played by Clark and McCullough. Clark, with his trademark painted-on eyeglasses, is inexplicably wearing a graduation cap while McCullough has a black Chinese cap. There are some shenanigans with the gangster sitting on top of Clark in the barber’s chair and then Clark reclining on top of the seated customer to read a newspaper while McCullough does stretching exercises and gargles hair tonic. Clark then takes a bucket of shaving cream and starts slopping the contents across the gangster’s face while McCullough puts on a feminine blonde wig – and he is quite a sight, considering he also has a toothbrush mustache. McCullough rushes up to the gangster carrying a tray and says in a bad falsetto, “Manicure, sir?” When McCullough’s offer is rejected, Clark interjects, “Remember, he’s almost a lady.”

Clark covers the gangster’s entire face in shaving cream and asks McCullough for a hose. “Coming up with the squirteroo,” McCullough answers as Clark hoses the gangster down, then sets him spinning with the “whirlascope,” which turns the barber chair in to a giant gyroscope and sends him flying head first into a wall. The timely arrival of an oversized cop scares off the gangster.

Clark then hatches a scheme: he will glue a bushy beard on McCullough, who will pretend to be Whipple. Clark theorizes that if the gangsters see the fake Whipple walking about, they will mistake him for the genuine item and seize him – allowing Clark to trail them to their hideaway and rescue the real Whipple. (Huh?) As luck would have it, Whipple’s wife sees the bearded McCullough and put him in her limousine for a ride back to her mansion. At the mansion, the pretty blonde maid Maisie believes McCullough is one of the gangsters, who had schemed to show up with a fake beard and pretend to be the missing Whipple. Of course, the real Whipple also shows up. Clark comes barging in pretending to be a doctor – and he immediately begins pawing Maisie while bellowing in tomcat growls and declaring, “Just as I suspected, I’ll have to operate.”

What happens next is a type of comedy that you don’t see anymore: the pure, undiluted, slamming door-style farce with Clark, the two fake Whipples and the real one, Maisie and Mrs. Whipple crisscrossing each other through a network of rooms and hallways. McCullough pauses to guzzle down bottles of hair tonic while Clark and Maisie do a zany dance. Clark, who zips through some of the sauciest dialogue of his film career, also briefly dons his own fake beard, creating a quartet of Whipples. When the cops arrive, the gangster is exposed and shots get fired, leading Clark and McCullough to jump out of a window and race off across a field into the sunset.

While Clark is still the dominant force in the team, “Bedlam of Beards” gives McCullough a lot more screen time and plot involvement than most of the team’s films. He rises to the occasion and is truly hilarious as an active participant in the mayhem. It also helps that they have Thelma Todd-lookalike Vivian Fields as the vivacious maid – this is only one of two films where she has credit, which is a shame because she was a fine comic actress. Director Ben Holmes keeps the action moving quickly – he helmed several of the team’s best shorts, including their peak work “Odor in the Court” (1934) and their final “Alibi Bye Bye” (1935), which was made one year before McCullough’s suicide.

“Bedlam of Beards,” like all of the surviving Clark & McCullough shorts, has never been available in an official home entertainment release – the team has been so far below the pop culture radar that it is unlikely a commercial DVD or Blu-ray release would be commercially viable. A slightly battered 16mm print of “Bedlam of Beards” has turned up on YouTube, which offers a satisfactory platform to enjoy some wonderfully silly old-fashioned comedy.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: While this weekly column acknowledges the presence of rare film and television productions through the so-called collector-to-collector market, this should not be seen as encouraging or condoning the unauthorized duplication and distribution of copyright-protected material, either through DVDs or Blu-ray discs or through postings on Internet video sites.

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