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 Nine are:
Hollywood Spoofs: Comedians
love to spoof popular trends, even the movies themselves. This instalment
looks at some of the great parodies of movies, movie stars, and movie making
that were created in the early days of film. Will Rogers does cutting
(and hilarious) impersonations of both Rudolph Valentino and Douglas Fairbanks
in Big Moments from Little Pictures, cross-eyed Ben Turpin makes
fun of silent westerns in The Daredevil and Mack Swain makes fun
of egoistical stars in A Movie Star.
Will Rogers plays a Robin Hood
who is a little bit light in the loafers, spoofing Douglas Fairbanks' film.
One of the film clips I enjoyed the most was from the Our Gang comedy
of War. In this short the kids run around through the soundstages
and backlot in Hal Roach's studio. It was fun to see so many familuar
sets and get a brief tour of the lot. There is also a cameo of Harold
Lloyd filming on the set of Why Worry?
Comedy Directors: In addition
to talented comedians, a good short needs a talented director behind the
camera. This time SlapHappy looks at some of the best and most influential
directors of comedy shorts from the silent era.
Many of the best directors were also stars themselves. The best
known actor/director in the silent era was Charlie Chaplin of course.
This episode starts off with an excerpt from his film The Adventurer,
one of the last movies he did for Mutual.
Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle was not only a huge star, but also directed
many of his own films. After the scandal the destroyed his career
he continued working by directing shorts for various poverty row studios.
A clip from Butcher Boy which features Buster Keaton's first film
appearance is shown.
Snub Pollard discovers that
he's holding a bomb in Blow 'Em Up.
Another talented director was Charles Parrot who was hired by Hal Roach
in 1920. He had a knack for absurd comedy with fast paced action
that played well with audiences. In the clip included in this episode,
he directs Snub Pollard in the wild Blow 'Em Up. In 1924 Parrot
grew tired of being behind the camera, changed his name to Charley Chase,
and embarked on a successful career as a comic.
Our Gang: The longest running series
in movie history was the Our Gang shorts that Hal Roach produced.
Running for 22 years, the series has a legion of fans due to the smart
scripts and natural actors who populated the series. This time, SlapHappy
looks at the genesis of this delightful series.
Hal Roach started the series after one of the child actors that he used,
Ernie Morrison aka Smillin' Sammy, started stealing scenes from his best
comics. Roach figured if one kid could improve a film, a whole group
of them would be popular. He was right. Starting in 1922 with
Morrison at the nucleolus of the gang, the series was a big hit.
The Gang makes their own railroad
and train in The Sundown Limited.
Some of the great clips in this episode include Harold Lloyd and Ernie
Morrison in Get Out and Get Under where you can see the charm this
little actor had. They also include sections from Dogs of War,
where the kids stumble onto a film set and decide to make their own film,
and The Fraidy Cat featuring Charley Chase in one of his first staring
roles for Hal Roach.
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.
The Hollywood Spoofs episode was easily the standout on this disc.
The send-ups of both stars and movies were great. The Comedy Directors
show was also a solid episode that had some very funny clips. As
with the other volumes in this series, this disc is Highly Recommended.