With the major output of Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, Harry Langdon and, to some degree, even Roscoe Arbuckle now being available on the home-video market in their own exqusite DVD sets, one could think that securing the pearls of silent comedy for future generations was a mission accomplished. However, one thing anyone who holds these clowns holy (or close) can confirm, is that silent comedy is an obsession that can literally last for life; once you think you've seen it all, Laughsmith Entertainment releases yet another set consisting of rarities which puts beyond doubt that such is not the case! Volume 2 of AMERICAN SLAPSTICK is in several ways even more pleasing than the first volume, and should hence satisfy buffs of silent comedy longing for more laughs.
Consisting of three discs in all, the show begins with five of Harold Lloyd's earliest film appearances as the "Glasses character," as well as an excerpt from an older "Lonesome Luke." Naturally, Lloyd was at the very beginning of his mature process as a performer at this point, and the lovely, "regular boy" of his later films is not that lovely here; he's pretty one-dimensional, as is the universe that evolves around him, but no less are these films interesting to watch as documentation of the early, often neglected point of his movie career, and they do also provide quite a few worthwhile gags. The next film, DODGE YOUR DEBTS, is one of the few available films starring Harold's real-life brother Gaylord Lloyd, displaying him as yet another unfortunate tax-collector in the history of silent comedy. This short is not only fun to see for observing the physical resemblances between the two brothers, but is quite a worthwhile comedy in its own right, with a solid performance from Gaylord and plenty of funny gags.
Further into Disc One are a few films starring `Snub' Pollard, all of which are amusing, but ultimately feel somewhat like `Snub' Pollard himself; clearly in possession of talent, good fun for a while, but not too engaging beyond that. I'm very grateful more of his films are made available, as they occasioanlly succeed to astound the viewer with brilliant gags and set-ups, but Pollard himself was hardly more than a tool for the gags, and as he unlike Harold Lloyd never progressed into anything more complex, three films at a time (like here) feels just appropriate.
The next three films with James Parrott, brother of the more famous Charles "Charley Chase" Parrott, are a long-awaited treat for fans of Chase in search for a more comprehensive study of the brother's skills. Like his brother, James was extremely talented both as a comedian and director, and these films generally execute that talent satisfyingly. A more surprising gem is A FRESH START starring the forgotten Jimmie Adams and Lige Conley, which provides plenty of very clever gags in an action-loaded short. I don't remember having seen anything else with this pair, but if they made anything as good as this one that still survives, please go on and release it, somebody. KID SPEED displays the more famous, but often neglected Larry Semon. I'm honestly no big fan of this comedian; one reason to this, paradoxically, is that while he's certainly capable of staging gags, some of which are funny indeed, they usually seem clumsily constructed in context to one another. However, if your mood demands nothing more than some good gags to pop up here and there, he can be satisfying enough.
The final two films on Disc One might be the foremost reason why I bought this set in the first place; that is, two films starring the (once again) all too often neglected but brilliant "poor soul comedian" Lloyd Hamilton, in JONAH JONES respectively BREEZING ALONG. Few of Hamilton's films surive today, and even fewer are available to the public, so it's extremely pleasing to have these two included here. Unfortunately, by the time BREEZING ALONG was made, Hamilton's often difficult personal life had diminished his creativity somewhat compared to just a few years before, but his talent is still very evident.
Disc Two is all Chaplin, even though Chaplin isn't really in any of the films; first out are a few of the popular "Chaplin Cartoons" of the 1910's by Sullivan/Messmer, before we get to see yet another, pretty amusing film starring the best of the many Chaplin-impersonators, Billy West. However, the real treat of this disc is to see Chaplin's brother Sidney starring in three shorts as well as a feature (being the only one in the set); in the short CAUGHT IN A PARK, Sidney manages to remain quite sophisticated and cleverly-spirited in a Keystone-farce which otherwise would've appeared as little more than standard procedure. Disc Three consists of the excellent Billy Bevan-short BE REASONABLE, Neal Burns in CALL THE WAGON, an early talkie appearance with Louise Fazenda, and others displaying more obscure names.
As for the presentation, this is where Laughsmith satisfies to an even more astonishing degree than in the previous volume; each performer is granted a short, informative presentation before his/her work is shown, making it even more intriguing to observe and enjoy the individuality of their skills. The booklet inside includes an introduction by historian David Kalat, president of All Day Entertainment, and a fascinating essay by Steve Massa in which both the performers and their films, as well as silent comedy in general, is studied at a closer distance. The only complaint I've got, and this is truly minor, is that while the films included are listed, as well as their running-time and source material, so are not the performers in them, requiring the curious to check it up on the web. As for the films themselves, they are generally as sharp as one should expect from films of this era; of course there are stratches in most of them, and a few segments are even badly damaged, but being an inexhaustive fan of silent comedy, I'm just glad these films are made available for me, and others, to see at all. To those of you who have yet to check out the major work of Chaplin, Keaton and Lloyd I'd advise you to hunt for CITY LIGHTS and SAFETY LAST! instead, but if you are already familiar with such gems, it's time to move a step further; being familiar with the genre, you are probably aware that even though the VERY best is already seen, what remains can be quite a joy as well.