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 eight are:
Surrealist Comedy: Silent
comedies were often filled with fantastic imagery and dream like sequences.
Some of the most unusual are featured in this instalment.
One short I was interesting in seeing was Dream
of a Rarebit Fiend. This fun short is based on a comic strip
by Windsor McCay, who is most famous for writing and drawing the Little
Nemo cartoon strip, and also being an early pioneer of animation.
This live action film shows how it feels to eat too much rabbit for dinner.
An extended sequence from The Thieving Hand,
one of my favorite bizarre shorts, is also included. This film, also
available in the Treasures
From American Film Archives, tells the tale of a one-armed man who
does a good dead and is rewarded by being given a new arm. The arm
used to belong to a thief however, and the arm continues its pilfering
though the man is oblivious. It's interesting to note that is idea
of a body part having its own will was later picked up by science fiction
films in the 50's.
Billy Bletcher is chased by
a giant lobster in the surreal Fresh Lobster.
Just about every episode of SlapHappy includes
an excellent comedy that is new to me. This episode it is the Billy
Bletcher short Fresh Lobster. Made in the late 30's (according
to the show. The IMDB claims that it was made in 1948) this is a
unique comedy. Using both trick photography and animation this surreal
comedy is unique and entertaining. A man has a late night snack of
lobster and sausages and it comes back to haunt him, literally. Using
both paper mache and animated lobsters, this poor man is chased through
the streets on his galloping bed by an irate crustacean. A wonderfully
irreverent and visually interesting short.
Getting the Girl:
Silent shorts often had very sparse plots, usually just enough to get the
action going. One plot that did get used a lot however was the classic
boy pursues girl. This episode looks at some of the great lengths
silent comedians would go to in order to get the object of their love.
One short that caught my attention was Hoot
Mon with Bobby Vernon. It features Vernon driving his girl in
a booby-trapped car, right up to the impressive castle set that Douglas
Faribanks made for Robin Hood.
Hardy isn't sure why Charlie Chase is wooing his mother in Be Your Age.
Bumping into Broadway has Harold Lloyd
follow his girlfriend who is accompanied by his rival, to a speak easy.
Once there naturally, the place is raided by the police resulting in the
chase scene worthy of Buster Keaton.
Charlie Chaplin: Chaplin
almost single-handedly changed comedy into an art. When Chaplin entered
the movies, humorous shorts were low-brow and only for the lower classes.
By mixing humor with social commentary, he created films the like of which
had never been seen before and in the process, he made comedy respectable.
This episode looks at Chaplin's early years, from his start at Keystone
to his super-star status only a few years later.
Chaplin's inspiration was the first film comedian
to attain star status; Max Linder. As illustrated from one
of his shorts, Linder created a mix of slapstick, farce and situational
comedy. Something that Chaplin would go on to perfect.
There are some very funny scenes from an early
Sennett comedy, Dough and Dynamite. In this farce, Charlie
is a waiter and cook in a french restaurant where he doesn't get along
with the customers or the owners. There is also a clip from one of
my favorite Sennett comedies, Rounders with Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle.
After Chaplin left Keystone for more artistic
control he signed with Essanay where he made The Champion.
There are extended scenes from this boxing short including the scene where
Chaplin has to fight the Champ. He would later rework and refine
this scene for the boxing scene in City Lights.
Chaplin arrives at Ellis Island
in The Immigrant.
The latest film presented is Chaplin's 1917 masterpiece
The Immigrant. Though the entire film isn't included, viewers
can still see how Chaplin had grown as a film-maker, adding bittersweet
touches to offset the outrageous comedy. It is one of his finest
shorts, and hints at the even greater things to come.
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.
Another great disc. The Surrealist comedy episode wasn't one of
the funniest, but it was one of my favorite installments. There were
some truly bizarre shorts in that episode. Highly Recommended.