I love shorts. No,
they don't have the depth or emotional impact that a good feature has,
best shorts present 10-20 minutes of solid entertainment.
From the old silent one-reelers to Bugs Bunny
cartoons to travelogues I'm willing to watch them all.
After all, if it stinks it'll be over in a
few minutes so the pain is short lived.
Warners print-on-demand DVD service, Warner Archives, has
another complete collection of shorts.
They previously put out the Dogville
Shorts, and now they've released a
two disc set containing all 24 Believe it or Not films staring the
of the famous newspaper cartoon, Robert L. Ripley.
For those not familiar with Ripley, his cartoon was a
sensation for decades (even after he died and it was taken over by the
syndicate) and continues to this day.
Each large panel illustration (similar to The Far
Side's format) would illustrate three or four amazing
'facts', such as the length of the world's longest fingernails or the
with the most blades. The comic was
incredibly popular, being read by 80 million people per day at its peak
(according to Wikipedia... well today's version.)
These panels were collected into paperback
books and kids such as me would scour used book stores for volumes in
pester my parents and friends. "Hey Mom,
did you know that a man once walked all the way across the United States
In 1930 Warner Vitaphone, always on the lookout for new
material for shorts decided to put Robert Ripley in front of the camera
make a film version of his newspaper panel.
There were 24 made in all, and they're great fun, harkening back
more simple time when having someone claim something extraordinary on
screen was enough to make it a fact.
These shorts are all similar in format. There's
some loose frame story, Ripley
attending his college class reunion or a charity fund raiser, where
listen to the man relate some amazing feats or biological curiosities. At some point in the proceedings someone will
ask him to draw the person or event that he's describing and he'll run
a large easel with paper and start to draw.
The camera cuts to a side view, then back to the image which is
My favorite installment had a District Attorney prosecuting
Ripley for "making statements... that appear questionable."
I guess he missed that day in law school
where they talked about the Bill of Rights.
In any case, Ripley has to prove that his claims in his daily
are true (without a defense lawyer, naturally).
When questioned about his statement that there is no lead in an
pencil he explains that the 'lead' is actually graphite.
He shows a picture of the Statue of Liberty
and mentions that it was built on what used to be a military prison. Then they start asking him some more pointed
questions, like his assertion that a person died of 'old age' at the
seven. "If you'll allow me, I'll prove
it to you conclusively." Ripley replies.
He them proceeds to go to a convenient stand with paper and
picture of a young boy who looks old.
(See the screen cap above.)
Wow! I'm convinced.
Then he draws a man-eating tree! It's
pretty definitive alright. (See below.)
Ripley is not an actor, nor is he a born entertainer.
He's very wooden when he speaks and often
trips over his lines (especially the jokes which are very lame.) That just adds to the charm of these
shorts. They're a lot of fun in an
innocent way. They open a door to a
world where Americans still trusted the government and everything they
the papers. (You could even make the
argument that this is a precursor to today's reality TV.)
Ripley would never get on film today, he's
too stiff and unsure of himself in front of the camera, and the show
more rigorous (I would hope) in explaining it's assertions. Still, I wouldn't change these shorts at
all. They're great just the way they
are, believe it or not.
These 24 shorts arrive on two DVD-Rs in a single-width
These have not been restored, and the mono soundtrack does
have some problems. There's some tape
hiss in the background of most of them, and there's a touch of
and there. Needless to say the dynamic
range is very limited, and this is quite obvious during the opening
during the few musical numbers that rarely pop up.
Even so Ripley's voice is easy to discern and
the flaws were never a problem.
The black and white full frame image is actually a lot
clearer than I was expecting. These come
from very early prints, if not the negatives themselves, and while
spots and a tear or two, the image looks great.
The contrast is excellent and the level of detail is pretty
impressive. I was very pleased with
There are no extras on this disc. Ripley
appeared in another Vitaphone short in
1931, the musical Seasons Greetings. That would have been a nice
addition to the collection and it's too bad that wasn't included.
These are a lot of fun.
I really had a great time watching them, zipping through three
at a time until there were no more to screen.
No, I don't believe everything that he claimed (like the man who
grow or shrink his physical height at will) but these were all very
entertaining. The good video quality is
a huge plus too. If you enjoy short
subjects, make sure you order a set of these.