Jay Ward and Bill Scott, the creators of Bullwinkle the Moose, George
of the Jungle, and Dudley Do-Right, among many others, had several cartoon
programs, but only created one live action show: Fractured Flickers.
This weekly half hour parody of silent movies aired in 1963 and only lasted
one season of 26 episodes. But it is still mentioned in silent film
circles, often fondly and sometimes with disdain, but the show certainly
made an impression. Now VCI has gathered the complete series and
released them on a three DVD set.
Fractured Flickers was the Mystery Science Theater 3000 of
the sixties. Like Woody Allen would do a few years later in What's
Up Tiger Lily?, the idea was to take old silent movies (licenced from
the controversial Raymond Rohauer) reedit them, and then add voices and
sound effects to turn the work into a new comic skit. The result
was always outrageous and often hilarious. Douglas Fairbank's Mark
of Zorro became The Barber of Stanwick, with Fairbanks playing
Zeke the barber who would carve his initial in all of his costumers.
"The only place in the world where you can get your hair cut and face disfigured
at the same time." Valentino's Blood and Sand was changed
to Death of a Traveling Salesman. In probably the most uproarious
fracture that they ever came up with, The Hunchback of Notre Dame
turns into Dinky Dunstan, Boy Cheerleader.
The program was hosted and dubbed by Jay Ward players from his previous
series. Hans Conried was the host in addition to doing some of the
voices, and he was joined in the dubbing studio by Bill Scott, Paul Frees
and June Foray, all voices that you'd recognize from other Jay Ward Productions.
Conried was the prefect person to act as host of the wacky show. He
looked dignified, but his demeanor and attitude lets the audience know
that nothing should be taken seriously. In the opening show he invites
viewer to take a trip "down memory lane, with axe and crowbar." And
that's what the show did each week.
The typical show consisted of a major movie being 'fractured' a couple
of shorts, and an interview with a star. All crammed into half an
hour. As you would expect from the creators of Rocky and Bullwinkle
and George of the Jungle, there are a lot of jokes wedged into
each show. The show would open with a different one liner, ("Tonight's
program is brought to you by the makers of...mistakes.") and after the
credits Hans would appear for one last zinger. ("The biggest waste of time
since the Bullwinkle show.") In between, it was constant mayhem.
Even the short interviews were comic gems. While most comedy shows
would have an interview segment in an attempt to raise the level of the
show and add a touch of class, Ward and Scott did the opposite. They
often used the guests to make fun of the show. When Fabian was on,
Hans explained that the concept of the show was to reedit silent movies
and add amusing dialog to which the teen star asked "Why?" The show
never took itself seriously either. Gypsy Rose Lee was interviewed
as an "expert in pantomime" since she could hold an audience's attention
without saying a word.
Some people don't like the show because they take serious and artistic
films and use them to create crass humor. While I can see these critic's
point I don't agree with it. As a fan of silent movies I don't think
that adding humorous dialog to a film lessens the quality of the original
to any degree, and may even spur someone to search out the original.
The only qualm I have with the show, is I feel the quality of the production
went down after the first dozen or so shows. While the program was
still funny, I didn't think there were as many belly laughs as the program
progressed. Whether this was due to running out of ideas, a tighter
production schedule, or the fact that they had already spoofed the best
material is anyone's guess. The latter half of the show was still
funny, just not as uproariously so as it started out. In any case
it's still fun to see how many movies, shorts, and stars you can identify.
The entire 26 episode series comes on three DVDs which are housed in
a double width Amaray case. There is an insert listing the episodes
(by guest interview) and a text piece on Jay Ward and Bill Scott which
ironically doesn't mention Fractured Flickers at all.
The mono audio track is sufficient, though it's not outstanding.
The dialog and sound effects are clear and easy to hear though the audio
is very flat, as you'd expect from a 60's TV show. There is a little
bit of hiss, and some distortion in a couple of places, but this shouldn't
stop anyone from purchasing the set.
The black and white image looks pretty good taking into consideration
the age of the show. The host segments have a good amount of detail,
but there isn't a lot of contrast. Host Hans Conried's black jacket
shows no texture and often seems to merge into the background creating
a 'floating head' effect. The old silent movies vary quite a bit,
with most of them being scratchy and faded but still watchable. This
is about as good as this show is ever going to look.
The only extras are text biographies.
I found myself laughing a lot while watching this show. It is
wonderfully irreverent, and should appeal to fans of Mystery Science
Theater, Kung Pow, and other such titles. It is great to have
the entire collection in one set. Highly Recommended.