Slapstick's greatest hits: 100 years of banana skins

Updated 7:37 AM ET, Fri January 3, 2014
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Celebrate 100 years since the creation of Charlie Chaplin's greatest alter ego -- the Little Tramp -- with a look back at some of the greatest moments of slapstick comedy in the last century. Hulton Archive/Getty Images/file
On 7 February 1914, the silent film "Kid Auto Races at Venice" premiered in cinemas, featuring Charlie Chaplin in his first screen outing as the "Little Tramp," the character that generations to come would associate with the great performer. The Tramp would arguably see his finest hour in "City Lights" (1931) -- where Chaplin had honed the childlike rogue's antics to perfection. Watch the boxing match scene for tightly choreographed physical comedy that comes close to graceful ballet. Hulton Archive/getty images/file
One of the highest-earning stars of the silent era, Harold Lloyd graduated from short films to features, where he combined comedy skill with "death-defying" thrills. The vertigo-inducing shot of Lloyd hanging desperately from the minute hand of a skyscraper's clock has become one of the iconic images of the "golden era" of silent comedy. Lloyd built a fake skyscraper on the roof of a real skyscraper to create the realistic impression of the action occurring high above the city streets (while allowing a degree of safety measures to be taken) for the film "Safety Last!" (1923). General Photographic Agency/Getty Images
Film critic Roger Ebert called Buster Keaton "the greatest of the silent clowns." Keaton performed in vaudeville theater as a child, where he first realized that audience responded with riotous laughter when he emerged from calamity with a unflinching appearance. The "Great Stone Face" created a character on film that was a point of calm in the midst of chaos. He uses this to great effect in the perilous train chase sequence from "The General" (1927) where he pursues the villains on the cowcatcher of a speeding locomotive. Hulton Archive/Getty Image
The arrival of sound in movies at the end of the 1920s spelled an end to the careers of many of the silent era's stars. Bucking this trend, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy scored big successes straddling the advent of the "talkies." They added the occasional spoken gag or musical prop to their simply plotted short films. The plot of the "The Music Box" (1932) involves little more than Laurel and Hardy carrying a piano to the top of the stairs -- but in their hands turns into a much-referenced classic. Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Bringing fast-paced screwball dialogue to meet slapstick action, the Marx Brothers (from left to right Chico, Zeppo, Groucho, Harpo) created anarchic comedy that embraced cinema's new capabilities. With a plot that is largely incomprehensible -- and doesn't really matter anyway -- "Duck Soup" (1933) makes its way through slapstick set pieces and absurd exchanges of quickfire dialogue. In one scene, Groucho comes across Harpo, dressed as him, in the frame of a broken mirror. The perfect execution of the mime made the mirror scene a classic. General Photographic Agency/Getty Images
Perhaps the best loved and longest lived slapstick characters ever created: The Three Stooges' careers spanned 50 years, during which time they perfected the art of the eye-poke, the fall-down, and the pie fight. Over their 23 years at Colombia Pictures -- spanning 1934 to 1957 -- the Stooges released nearly 200 short films, which are replayed on television networks across the world today. Despite the lineup changing more than once -- notably to fan favorite Curly, and subsequently his replacement Shemp -- fans remained devoted to the trio's idiotic antics. "Hoi Polloi" (1935) tops many fans' lists. Courtesy Fox Photos/Getty Images
Director Mel Brooks slammed together social satire and daft gags in comedy western "Blazing Saddles" (1974). The film brought new life to the slapstick genre and went places comedies would not have dared in the "golden age" (try to imagine Buster Keaton punching a horse). These jokes may have been gently mocking slapstick's fondness for cartoonish violence, but the film could not have ended on a more traditional note -- with the characters breaking into an enormous pie fight. courtesy warner brs
While comedy movies for adults became more wordy and less physical over the latter half of the 20th Century, slapstick in children's filmmaking has never faltered. It seems that kids never tire of seeing people being smacked, tripped, beaten or otherwise bruised. "Home Alone" (1990) proved that it's especially popular when the child seeks revenge on adults -- Kevin McCallister (Macaulay Culkin) defending his boobytrapped home from robbers goes down as one of cinema's most gleefully violent sequences. courtesy 20th century fox
The days of the slapstick hero aren't over. Jim Carrey exploded onto the cinema screen in 1994 making "Ace Ventura: Pet Detective" an unexpected success with his hyperactive gooning and scarcely controlled limbs. Similar roles in "The Mask" and "Dumb and Dumber" made his name as a box-office draw, before returning to Ventura to produce one of the decade's great gross-out scences. In "Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls" (1995) Carey is tasked with struggling naked through the back end of a fake rhinoceros while being watched by a young family. courtesy warner bros entertainment
Arguably the true heir to Keaton and Lloyd, the name Jackie Chan brings to mind high-speed action set pieces, but everything he produces is injected with wild comedy. Like his forebears, Jackie Chan is as much an acrobat as an actor and performs many of his own high-risk stunts. Paired with lanky comedian Chris Tucker, "Rush Hour" (1998) spawned two sequels. The climactic scene, in which Chan's terrified Inspector Lee runs through rafters of the roof, carrying an explosive vest while fighting off bad guys, shows off Chan's comedic skills and athleticism all at once. courtesy new line
Slapstick gets real: if laughing at people get hurt is at the core of slapstick, why stop at fictional violence? Since 2000, Johnny Knoxville and the "Jackass" crew have been making viewers laugh and squirm with real-life displays of idiotic self-injuring violence and death-defying pranks. First as a TV show, later as three movies, the "Jackass" crew damaged themselves for laughs. A spin off, "Jackass: Bad Grandpa" (2013), featured Knoxville disguised as an drunk octogenarian -- mixing a fictional plot with genuine reaction from the public. Watch as Knoxville and his fake grandson crash a funeral, fly though a glass window, and become the unexpected stars of a youth beauty pageant. courtesy paramount pictures