American Slapstick Volume 2
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They were the bad boy superstars of the Jazz Age. They told jokes without words, with punch-lines made from brickbats and cream pies. At a time when pop culture was in its infancy, they made movies that would last for ages. They dressed in drag, wore crazy moustaches, showed a complete disregard for private property, and drove way too fast. This 3-disc collection is their legacy, a deluxe sampler of silent comedy rarities, B-sides, and one-hit wonders. Brace yourself for: Comedians in skirts (some of 'em girls!), the nut who used too much glue, the Frenchman with a mouthful of marbles, Charlie Chaplin comedies that don't have Charlie Chaplin in them, the girl everyone thought was crazy, the incomparable Snub Pollard goes looking for trouble, famous brothers doing their thing, and a portrait of Harold Lloyd as young man.
These never-before-on-home-video comedy shorts have been mastered from archival elements and rare collections, some of them previously thought lost altogether, and are presented with new musical scores. Hold on to your porkpie hat—here comes AMERICAN SLAPSTICK, VOLUME TWO!
From the Studio
They were the bad boy superstars of the Jazz Age. They told jokes without words, with punch-lines made from brickbats and cream pies. At a time when pop culture was in its infancy, they made movies that would last for ages. They dressed in drag, wore crazy moustaches, showed a complete disregard for private property, and drove way too fast. This 3-disc collection is their legacy, a deluxe sampler of silent comedy rarities, B-sides, and one-hit wonders. Brace yourself for: Comedians in skirts (some of 'em girls!), the nut who used too much glue, the Frenchman with a mouthful of marbles, Charlie Chaplin comedies that don't have Charlie Chaplin in them, the girl everyone thought was crazy, the incomparable Snub Pollard goes looking for trouble, famous brothers doing their thing, and a portrait of Harold Lloyd as young man. These never-before-on-home-video comedy shorts have been mastered from archival elements and rare collections, some of them previously thought lost altogether, and are presented with new musical scores. Hold on to your porkpie hat—here comes AMERICAN SLAPSTICK, VOLUME TWO!
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Due to this material's obscurity, AMERICAN SLAPSTICK, Vol. 2 will best appeal to silent movie fans looking to give their collections depth. For anyone just starting a silent comedy library (and who prefer DVD multi-packs), recommended are the more mainstream artists available on these 'budget' sets: THE BUSTER KEATON COLLECTION, SMILES & SPECTACLES - The Harold Lloyd Treasury, CHARLIE CHAPLIN - 51 Features, or LOST AND FOUND: The Harry Langdon Collection.
Bliss (1917) - Harold Lloyd/'Snub' Pollard/Bebe Daniels/Billy Evans
By the Sad Sea Waves (1917) - Harold Lloyd/'Snub' Pollard/Bebe Daniels/Billy Fay/Fred C. Newmeyer
Don't Shove (1919) - Harold Lloyd/Bebe Daniels/Bud Jamison/Noah Young/Fred C. Newmeyer/'Snub' Pollard
Hey There! (1918) - Harold Lloyd/'Snub' Pollard/Bebe Daniels/Billy Fay/King Zany
Luke Joins the Navy (1916) - Harold Lloyd/'Snub' Pollard/Bebe Daniels/Billy Fay/Bud Jamison
HAL ROACH 'B' SHORTS:
The Dippy Dentist (1920) - 'Snub' Pollard/Marie Mosquini/'Sunshine' Sammy Morrison/Gaylord Lloyd
Dodge Your Debts (1921) - Gaylord Lloyd/Estelle Harrison/George Rowe/William Gillespie
Looking for Trouble (1919) - 'Snub' Pollard/Marie Mosquini/Gaylord Lloyd/William Gillespie/Mildred Davis
Shiver and Shake (1922) - James Parrott/Jobyna Ralston
Whirl o' the West (1921) - 'Snub' Pollard/Marie Mosquini/Hughie Mack/Eddie Boland/Sammy Brooks
At Your Service (1921) - Sidney Smith
Breezing Along (1927) - Lloyd Hamilton/Estelle Bradley/Eva Thatcher
A Fresh Start (1920) - Jimmie Adams/Marvel Rea/Frank J. Coleman/Lige Conley
Jonah Jones (1924) - Dick Sutherland/Lloyd Hamilton/Babe London/Dorothy Seastrom
Post No Bills (1923) - James Parrott/Marie Mosquini/Bobby Ray/Jack Ackroyd/Ford West
Caught in a Park (1915) - Syd Chaplin/Chester Conklin/Alice Davenport/Edgar Kennedy/Polly Moran/Mack Swain
Charley Out West (1919) (no data available)
Charley's Aunt (1925) - Syd Chaplin/Ethel Shannon/James E. Page/Lucien Littlefield/Leo White
Gussle's Wayward Path (1915) - Syd Chaplin/Claire Anderson/Mack Cooley/Will Mason/Phyllis Allen
The Hobo (1917) - Billy West/Oliver Hardy/Leo White/Bud Ross/Virginia Clark
Oh! Shoot (1923) - Bobby Dunn/Eddie Lyons
HEARTS AND HAVOC:
Be Reasonable (1921) - Billy Bevan/Mildred June/Eddie Gribbon/Kewpie Morgan/Bobby Dunn
Call the Wagon (1923) - Neal Burns/Charlotte Merriam/Babe London/George B. French
Kid Speed (1924) - Larry Semon/Dorothy Dwan/Oliver Hardy/Frank Alexander
Cinderella Cinders (1920) - Alice Howell/Richard Smith/Rose Burkhardt/Mattie Fitzgerald/Leo Sulky
Faro Nell (1929) - Louise Fazenda/Jack Luden/Frank Rice/Harry Woods/Charles Mack
A Hash House Fraud (1915) - Louise Fazenda/Hugh Fay/Fritz Schade/Harry Bernard/Chester Conklin
Hold Still (1926) - Anne Cornwall/Jack Duffy/William Blaisdell/Jimmie Adams
Hollywood Runaround (1932) - Monte Collins/Gertrude Messinger/Matthew Betz/John T. Murray
Playboy Number One (1937) - Willie Howard/Janet Reade/Louis Sorin/Ruth Leavitt/Charles Slattery
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.
This is a nice filler for the collector, with Gaylord Lloyd, Alice Howell and Anne Cornwall among others to be discovered and enjoyed. just wish I didn't have to squint a tad to do it!
Said that, the set presents films which, with some isolated exceptions, are truly hard to find and which have never been before on DVD. One of the exceptions is Harold Lloyd's "Don't Shove", already on "Smiles & Spectacles - The Harold Lloyd Treasury" DVD. Prints are mostly fine, considering the rarity of these items, and in some cases fragmentary. An odd case, however, is Paul Parrott's brilliant short "POST NO BILLS", which appears here in a badly shaped and slightly truncated print (the beginning and the end are missing, along with some scenes in the middle). This is worth noting becausa a complete and sharp print of this short is already on DVD on Lobster's outstanding collection "Retour de Flamme" (Saved from the flames), VOL.6. This sole fact makes me doubt if some of the not so good prints here do exist in pristine form in some archive, but probably not even the producers of this DVD would be able to answer to that. In any case, we must be thankful for the effort of giving us so many rare items, many of which are also, besides its interest for collector, very funny films indeed.
The Sidney Chaplin shorts are very interesting to watch, as well as his feature "Charley's Aunt", which appears here in a complete and sharp print.
Fragmentary are the rare Harold Lloyd's Luke comedy "Luke Joins the Navy" (1916), the obscure Snub Pollard item "Whirl o' the West", on which Pollard appears with clean face! and the fake Chaplin "Oh! Shoot" (1923).
The rest of the set had already been commented. All in all, a great set with obscure items mostly not to be found elsewhere else (some of them appeared on Looser Than Loose DVDs, but these you have to buy on their own site from collector Dave Stevenson, who provided with many of the prints for this set).
There are two shorts from the `30s at the very end of the set - but it's essentially a collection of silents. And, because this is a silents set, you'll want to know that the audio track is entertaining. You'll hear some Scott Joplin here and other piano riffs from long ago. Some silent DVD releases in recent years have gone out of their way to enhance the audio experience, including offering multiple audio settings for the films. This is a single standard soundtrack -- nevertheless, lots of fun and well performed.
Here's what I think is most intriguing about this collection:
I reviewed this 3-disc set in the same week that the Seth Rogen comedy, "Pineapple Express," hit theaters and I got hooked on jotting down all the comic bits in these silent comedies that I had just seen in the new Rogen comedy. In fact, a clever film student could take the script of "Pineapple Express," listing all the slapstick bits one after another - and edit clips from silent films to fill the same script, virtually start to finish.
It's remarkable, really. Here's an example: In one fight scene, Rogen and his nemesis wrestle with Rogen's bulky figure half bent over a low counter, flipping around and tangling together. That's standard business from silent film. In this collection, it's Harold Lloyd fighting over the counter in a general store.
One bit after another, they're all here. Before I was done, I stopped jotting down the corresponding scenes because there were dozens.
What's more, in this set of comedies, you'll meet some rarely seen comic heroes - like Lloyd Hamilton, who is basically a Seth Rogen from the silent era. Like Rogen, Hamilton certainly didn't cut the typical figure of a leading man. Yet, he was attractive to the girls in his films, largely because of his loveable, hapless, persistent style. Like Rogen, his trademarks were a pudgy figure, a puzzled expression alternated with a confident smile, and his big round face. In "Pineapple," Rogen plays virtually the entire film in an ill-fitting suit, which was a Lloyd Hamilton trademark, as well.
This new collection is great fun - plus, if you've a taste for cultural history, you'll make all sorts of connections while you're chuckling.