Most people have at least heard of the three big silent comedians.
Charlie Chaplin is a household name even today, and Buster Keaton and Harold
Lloyd are well remembered by even casual silent film buffs. In the
1910's and 20's however, there were literally thousands of comedy shorts
made staring comedians who are all but forgotten today. How
many people know of the work of Lloyd Hamilton, Andy Clyde or Larry Semon?
To learn more about these comics, and many others that history has passed
over, you need only turn to SlapHappy.
SlapHappy is an exhaustive 30 episode series that searches out
the forgotten comics and studios of the silent era and gives them a moment
in the spotlight again. More than just a documentary though, these
shows present extended clips from silent shorts in addition to background
information about the stars. This lets you see for yourself how funny
and creative many of these forgotten silent clowns were. It
also gives you the background on these forgotten stars; how they got their
start, who they worked with, how popular they were, and often why their
One of the things I really like about this series is the fact that there
is only sparse narration. The narrator gives the background of the
comic who is on the screen, sets up the piece, and then falls silent.
This lets the viewer concentrate on the comedy on screen, instead of having
to process a lot of information. There is even an option to view
the shows without any narration at all.
Though this series is very informative, the strength of this show is
the rare clips that they've chosen to fill out the half hour. Some
of the clips only last a few seconds, but the majority of them are minutes
long, some going on for five minutes or more. This really gives viewers
the chance to see how gags were set up and executed, as well as how the
comics progressed on to the next gag. By cutting out the plot points
of the shorts, as well as the minor gags, SlapHappy is able to present
the funniest parts of the shorts as well as being able to give a good overview
of an artist's work through several shorts.
Another great strength of the show is that there isn't a laugh track.
This show gives the viewer credit for knowing what's funny and what isn't.
Each volume of The SlapHappy Collection presents three half hour
episodes. Overall, this is a very informative and funny show, and
the DVDs look great. Where else can you get more laughs than a feature
length movie and learn something at the same time?
The three episodes on Volume Six are:
Thrill Comedians: Many
one and two reel films of the silent era relied on outrageous stunts to
get laughs. From Buster Keaton's amazing prat falls to Harold Lloyd's
hanging off the side of a skyscraper, silent comedians were always looking
for laughs with danger. This episode looks at some of the most famous
comedians who earned a living by risking their lives (or the lives of their
stunt doubles) in order to make a funny film.
One of the greatest comedians of this type was
Buster Keaton, an amazing acrobat and comedian. There is a nice excerpt
from The Paleface where Keaton is chased down a mountainside by
a tribe of Indians. Keaton takes some great falls and you can see
that he was a very talented acrobat.
Buster Keaton is burned at the stake in The Paleface.
Lupino Lane was also a fine acrobatic comedian,
nearly as talented as Buster Keaton. In His Private Life,
Lane is a rich pampered man who has been drafted into the army. Also
drafted was his butler, who is now his drill sergeant. Mayhem ensues
as the now strict sergeant tries to whip the fop into shape.
One of the best shorts in this episode is a 1924
Monty Banks film, Pay or More. Here Monty has to get the rent
money from a pair of toughs who don't want to pay. The chase scene
that ensues is both creative and hilarious. Banks was a fine comedian
and someone should put out a collection of his shorts.
The only disappointing part of this chapter is
that the most famous thrill artist, Harold Llyod, is only given brief mention.
There is a very short excerpt from Ask Father, but his more famous
comic stunts are missing. This is most probably due to copyright
issues as I know that Susan Lloyd, Harold's granddaughter, is very protective
of her ancestor's legacy.
More Funshops: In
the early days of the 20th century, there were hundreds of independent
movie studios trying to sate the country's demand for films. Many
of these companies were only distributed in small towns and rural areas,
but they managed to eak out a living on the edges of the Hollywood system.
This instalment of SlapHappy takes a look at some of these small time outfits
that produced comic shorts.
One of the most interesting clips in this show
is from Billy West. He was one of the legion of Chaplin impersonators
who tried to cash in on the success of the Tramp. (The fact that
the time between Chaplin shorts was often quite long helped these imitators
immensely.) The thing that sets Billy West apart from the others
is that he was actually very good. He created some innovative and
unique gags and had a good sense of timing. Working for the King
B company West became very popular as a Chaplin look-a-like. He eventually
abandoned his Chaplin persona and created his own character, but unfortunately
his popularity plummeted.
There is also a very interesting section on Max
Linder, the first popular screen comedian, and an actor that Charlie Chaplin
greatly admired. He was also the first comedian to create a screen
persona. Working for the French company Pathe, he was exceedingly
popular in the years proceeding WWI. His popularity waned as
Chaplin's increased though, and today he is not nearly as well known as
he should be.
Great Gags 3: This
third look at some of the funniest gags of the era is just as riotous as
the first two. Among the films features in this instalment, one of
the best is the Bobby Vernon film Short Socks. When Vernon
falls in love with a young lady he sees in a department store, he tries
to make her acquaintance by returning a purse that she dropped. The
only problem is the police think he stole it. He ends up dressing
up as a child to elude them, only to have the truant officer return him
to school. The same school where his love happens to teach.
The classroom scene at the end where Vernon is constantly trying to get
the teachers attention is absolutely hilarious.
Slim Summerville is mistaken for the notorious Murderous
Mountaineer in A Horse on Barney.
Another great scene comes from a A Horse on
Barney, featuring Slim Summerville. Slim is a tall gangly comedian
and in this short he's mistaken for a notorious wrestler, The Murderous
Mountaineer. His opponents are all terrified into submission until
the real Mountaineer shows up and challenges him. A very funny boxing
Snub Pollard is an inventor who comes up with
all sorts of crazy gadgets to make his life easier in It's a Gift.
Like several Fatty Arbuckle shorts, the wacky inventions that Snub comes
up with creates the humor. This has always has been one of my favorite
type short comedies, and the creative and humorous gags in this one work
Each disc in this series comes in a keepcase and contains three half
hour episodes on a single DVD-R.
The two channel soundtrack sounded very good. The music for the
series is composed of up beat Jazz music courtesy of Stomp Off Records,
and it works very well. They old time sounding Jazz scores fits with
the antics on screen though the music wasn't composed specifically for
the clips. There are some sound effects added, the slamming of a
door, or a gunshot, and these accentuate the action without becoming intrusive.
Being recent recordings, there is no hiss or other audio defects.
The image quality ranges from good to excellent, with most of the clips
being very good. There are no blurry, faded, scratchy prints used
in the series that I've seen, and I was very pleasantly surprised.
Since many of these clips are from more minor stars and studios I was expecting
a poor quality image, but luckily that isn't the case. Much of the
film is from 35 mm prints, but a minority of them looked like they originated
from 16mm reduction prints, but even these looked good. For film
that have been ignored for 80 or more years, the quality is outstanding.
The only qualm I had with the picture is that there is a light "Slap
Happy" bug in the lower right hand corner during the entire show.
This is a minor annoyance at best though.
There are no extras on this discs.
It was a treat seeing the Max Linder clips in this volume, and the Lupino
Lane excerpts were great too. The clips from the Bobby Vernon film
Socks was uproariously funny too. SlapHappy has the rare ability
to entertain as well as educate. Another Highly Recommended
DVD from this series.