Sometimes it's easy to take for granted how easy film buffs have it
nowadays. With DVDs, VHS tapes, the Internet, and 100 cable channels
if you want to watch a particular film, it's usually pretty easy to do
so. I remember growing up in the late 60's/early 70's however and
desperately yearning to be able to see certain movies. I would spend
hours pouring over the pages of Famous Monsters of Filmland (the original
version, not the crap that Ray Ferry puts out) and wishing that I could
see some of the films that were being discussed. Of course those
movies would occasionally turn up on late night TV or the Saturday Afternoon
Creature Feature, not so with silent films. For decades it was
nearly impossible to see any silent features or shorts, unless you were
lucky enough to live in a town with a revival theater, and even then you
were usually limited to catching Nosferatu and The Hunchback
of Notre Dame around Halloween. That's where Robert Youngson
comes into the picture.
movies were all but forgotten in the public mind by 1958. That year
Robert Youngson put out The Golden Age of Comedy, his first compilation
movie of gags culled from old comedy shorts and it was a big success.
He followed it up with When Comedy was King a year later.
By 1970 Youngson had created eight feature lenght compilations and almost
single handedly revived interest in the comedies of the silent era.
Not only did he remind people that these films were funny, he made them
available. Now these two earliest Youngson films are available (at
long last) on a single DVD.
Both of these films present the early comedies in the same way:
the take the funniest scenes from a short, add narration to set up the
scene, and let the comedy unfold. These excerpts are presented with
full orchestrated music and some well placed sound effects. The narration
is often useful, but can get a bit tiresome when Youngson tries to add
some verbal comedy. These jokes always pale in comparison to the
action on screen.
Golden Age of Comedy was intended to be a short, but when Youngson
came to an agreement with Hal Roach Studios and gained access to their
library, the idea was expanded to a full length feature. This first
feature includes clips of Ben Turpin, Billy Bevan, and Charley Chase.
There's an extended sequence featuring Will Rogers where he parodies Hollywood
movies. Taken from both Big Moments from Little Pictures and
Uncensored Hollywood these are the funniest bits from Rogers 2-reel
period with Roach all strung together. He does a wonderful skewering
of Douglas Fairbanks in Robin Hood, and his Tom Mix sketch, including over-sized
hat and a horse that can outrun cars, is hilarious. Carole Lombard
also has some time on screen with an excerpt from Run, Girl, Run
(thanks to Harry H. for coming up with the name!) where she plays a track athlete who would rather powder her
nose than run a race, much to her coach's dismay.
The highlights of the film are the Laurel and Hardy sections.
The Boys, as they were known, really steal the show. The pie fight
scene from Battle of the Century (probably the best scene of its kind ever
shot) is included, as well as bit where they escape from jail in The
Second Hundred Years dressed as painters and have to convince a suspicious
police officer that they really are workmen. They do this, naturally,
by painting: a car, the street, store windows, and even a woman's
backside. There's also an extended scene from one of their best films,
Two Tars. Youngson was wise enough to include the whole traffic
jam scene were Stan and Ollie, playing two sailors on shore leave, get
into a battle with other drivers when they try to cut in line. The
escalating violence is truly outragous.
next film, When Comedy was King, was just as hilarious. This
time the Charlie Chase film Movie Night is used as a framing sequence
to present the clips, which is a good idea and works very well. This
time some of the bigger names in silent film are featured, and the movie
starts off with some of Charlie Chaplin's work that he did while he was
at Keystone. There's the famous snippet from 1914's Kid Auto Races
at Venice where Chaplin first tries on the big shoes, tight pants,
and a cane that he would eventually turn into "The Tramp" as well as other
clips from his early days in film. These aren't Chaplin's best bits,
but Youngson didn't have access to Chaplin's features and other shorts.
Buster Keaton gets a section in this film. His funniest short,
Cops, is shown nearly in its entirety. This laugh-out-loud
funny picture has Buster accidentally throwing a bomb at the mayor during
a police parade. With the entire force after him, it's up to Keaton's
nimble body and mind to outsmart and out think the coppers. It's
interesting to note that during this short Youngson names Keaton as one
of the three great comic talents of the silent age. While that's
not surprising at all, the fact that Harry Langdon is on the list along
with Charlie Chaplin is.
again Laurel and Hardy steal the film with an extended clip (nearly complete
as far as I can tell) from Big Business. This is the film
where the boys are door-to-door Christmas tree salesmen (as if that wasn't
absurd enough in and of itself...) who get into a battle with James Finlayson
when he snubs them. Like with Two Tars, the violence escalates at
a rapid pace until Finlayson's house lay in ruins. One interesting
note about this short: The story may be apocryphal, but according
to Hollywood legend, Roach made an agreement to film this movie at a house
that was going to be demolished. They let loose breaking windows
and generally trashing the place and it wasn't until the homeowner arrived
that they discovered that they were at the wrong house.
Like the first film, this one is filled with laughs and some classic
slapstick. (I loved the Snub Pollard clips...he deserved more
recognition.) Together these films are a great introduction to the
world of silent comedy.
The full frame video quality was very good over all. Youngson
had access to the Hal Roach vaults and most of the clips look great.
The contrast is superb, the image sharp, and the level of detail excellent.
The blacks are generally solid and there isn't any blooming and details
don't disappear when a shadow falls over someone. Yes, there is some
print damage to some of the films, spots and the occasional scratch, and
one segment, a Will Rogers clip, had started to deteriorate just slightly
but these were fairly rare, especially when taking into consideration that
this film was compiled before computer restoration was even a valid concept,
much less a reality.
are some slight digital artifacts in the films. There's a touch of
dot crawl on the opening titles to both films, but it is very minor.
In the second feature there is a problem with digital noise however.
This is most notable in the wide shots of the theater screen that opens
each chapter of the film. The walls jiggle and move like they are
alive. Though it is present in several spots, it never gets to be
Since the image looked so good, I was surprised at the mediocre quality
of the audio tracks. Granted these were recorded nearly 50 years
ago, but I was expecting a bit more. The two channel mono soundtracks
to both films had very little range with both the highs and lows being
clipped. This was most evident in the music that accompanied the
shorts. What's worse is that there was distortion in more than one
scene with the narrator's voice cracking and words sounding slurred.
In all probability this was on the master that was used for the transfer,
but it's still unfortunate.
I was really disappointed that there weren't any extras on this disc.
A couple of silent shorts featuring Billy Bevan or Ben Turpin would have
These two films went a long way towards keeping silent comedy, and silent
comedians, alive through the sixties and seventies. Filled with hilarious
slapstick, these are both great films that give a great overview of some
of the many comic stars from the early days of film. Not just focusing
on Keaton, Chaplin, and Laurel and Hardy, there are also clips from many
lesser known but nearly as talented clowns as Snub Pollard, Harry Langdon,
Billy Bevan, Andy Clyde, and Ben Turpin. A great collection that
is well worth the price of admission. Highly Recommended.