The best female-lead slapstick ever made, 1920’s Suds, is based on a popular one act by Frederick Fenn and Richard Pryce called ‘Op O’ Me Thumb. It’s also a great example of both how obligatory happy endings can nearly ruin a picture and how the function of comedy, slapstick included, is the total embrace of failure, death and pain.
In the should-be final scene, the pseudo-Cinderella Amanda Afflick, derided as “Sudsie” and played by Tinseltown’s first self-made millionaire, Mary Pickford, delivers a profoundly funny line when answering her own question wondering whether anyone will ever fall in love with her:
A triple negative. Not only, either – a triple negative spoken by a penniless, heart-broken, sobbing young woman:
This is the epicenter of comedy.
Look at how the triply negative intertitle mirrors the comical structure of the scene. The levels of Sudsie’s misery are so thoroughly so that they begin to crumble and fall within their very articulation. This blend of pathos and comedy is typically called Chaplin-esque, but this is less tragicomic than it is using tragedy as the baseline for humor.
The scene is actually Fields-esque. James Curtis, quotes W.C. Fields in his biography: “I never saw anything funny that wasn’t terrible. If it causes pain, it’s funny; if it doesn’t, it isn’t.”
See? She’s done for. Get it?
Of course things are only half as bad / twice as worse as they seem.
First, the half-as-bad: Before Sudsie concludes that nobody never won’t love her, the man of here dreams – a man who wants nothing to do with her – reluctantly pecks her cheek and then high-tails it out of the laundromat where the film finds its title. But, the scene is intercut with action happening just outside the door of the laundromat, where a delivery man who’s grown attached to Susdie because of a horse they both care for holds flowers in his hands and peers inside to look for the woman of his fancy. Once he gets a whiff of the jerk – whom he doesn’t know to be jerk per se – he backs off, not quite as upset as Sudsie will be moments later but nevertheless upset.
So “Nobody never won’t” is unambiguously foreshadowing the eventual reconciliation of the failed pair, Sudsie and the delivery man. Connecting through a break, positing a positive in a triple negative.
Now for the twice as worse: This is not the last frame of the film, as it so hilariously, proudly and beautifully should be.
After some cliche proverb about bumps in the road comes an obligatory last scene:
This is an interesting mirroring of the sense of shock and betrayal felt upon seeing this final scene of the film, only by the characters in the scene itself.
A close reading of the outcomes, from right to left: Sudsie is literally not Sudsie but instead some confused poster child for bourgeois ideals; her horse, Lavender, that previously mirrored Sudsie and her deeply-held conviction that scrawny, worthless, runts deserved to be loved as though they were your own self, is now a fat, boring, majestic-looking thing – Yucklph!; Finally, she winds up with … THE DAMN JERK! and not the delivery man after all.
He looks as confused as anyone, doesn’t he?
The whole charade – as cliche of a Hollywood-forced happily-ever-after as any – is a far, far cry from Fenn and Pryce’s original play, which ends as such:
She crouches in a shabby little heap in the middle of the empty room as the CURTAIN FALLS
See? She’s done for. Get it?
The only – and only slightly because this is just apologizing for what’s shown – saving grace to the disaster is that the fantasy/delusion operates in the Lynchian structure of it-could-all-be-a-dream. Let’s not remember that before all this disastrous bump-in-the-road business, Sudsie was falling asleep on the step:
Ay, there’s the heap.