I'm a fan of short subjects films, commonly known as
shorts. Not only are they mini-movies
where the whole story is wrapped up in 20 minutes, but they were a
filmmakers to learn their craft. Back in
the studio system days directors, technicians, and actors would often
making shorts where they'd work with experienced people, some who were
their prime but still full of knowledge and others who never quite made
feature films. There was such a demand
for shorts that a whole industry developed with many smaller studios
on cranking out enough product to meet demand.
Some of these, like Disney, even went on to make features
Of these independent production companies, one of the most
famous, as well as most successful, was The Hal Roach Studios. Starting in the early days of silent film,
Roach made comedies and they did it well.
They introduced the world to Laurel and Hardy, the Our
Gang Comedies, and were home (at one time or another) to such
luminary talents as Harold Lloyd, Will Rogers, and Charlie Chase. One of the things that made Roach so
successful was his constant search for new talent that he could groom
solo act or part of a team. Edition
has just released a wonderful two-disc collection of Hal Roach shorts,
entitled Female Comedy Teams. This
set features 13 shorts, each staring a
pair of women comedians. While none of
the pairings reached the heights of Roaches most famous teams, these
never the less funny, entertaining, and well worth watching.
The first pair of shorts are silent films, my favorites in
the set. Feed 'Em and Weep
(pieced together from a few incomplete
copies. It's still not whole, but the
missing sequences don't ruin the effect of the film) and A
Pair of Tights. These both
stared Anita Garvin and Marion Byron, and are hilarious.
Byron stole every scene she was in, and I'm
astounded that she didn't make a bigger splash in the movie business. The diminutive comedienne (she was 5' tall)
looks like a female Harry Langdon and has impeccable timing. It's a shame that after she left Roach her
career petered out.
The Garvin and Byron films were obviously inspired by Laurel and Hardy
first film presented here at least.
Instead of a short and fat pairing, this team is short and tall
was 6'), but neither were very competent at what they were doing,
thought they were. In Feed
'Em and Weep the duo are hired as
temporary waitresses for a restaurant at a train depo. They're
expecting 100 customers when the train
arrives at lunch time and only have a short amount of time to feed them
all. Needless to say Garvin and
especially Byron make a mess of things in the most hilarious manner
A Pair of Tights
is also a great film, but they've strayed from the dumb and dumber
Laurel and Hardy in this short. Byron's
boyfriend is bringing his boss over to meet Garvin.
The men at really cheap however (the 'tights'
from the title) and are hoping to spend some time with the women
to spend anything. They're women have
different ideas and convince them to go out for dinner, and on the way
stop for ice cream at Marion's
insistence. She runs into a shop to get
some for everyone, but managing four cones is difficult and she drops
them. Her date ponies up some more cash
for another round but the same thing happens (albeit under different
circumstances) again, and again, and again.
It's too bad that Garvin and Byron's sole other pairing Going Ga-ga (they only made three films
together) isn't included also. It's
still being restored, and a clip is included as an extra.
Next we advance (though some would say devolve) to the early
sound era and another female duo, this time Thelma Todd and ZaSu Pitts
latter's first name is pronounced "Say Zoo" according to the actress
herself.) This was a great pairing, with
the gorgeous Todd playing nicely off of Pitts' confused, scatterbrained
persona. Pitts gets most of the laughs
but she needs Thelma's calm, Mary Tyler Moore-like "I'm going to make
attitude to do it.
One of the best shorts in this series is Show Business,
where Todd and Pitts have a vaudeville act involving a trained monkey. They get a call from their agent at the last
minute to replace an act in a touring show and have to pack in a hurry
to the train station. Once there they
run into the star of the revue, Anita Garvin playing herself in a
over-the-top performance as a spoiled star, something she probably had
a lot of
real life examples to draw from. Once on
the train, the pair continue to get in the star's way, and when their
escapes, things just get worse.
When ZaSu Pitts left Roach, Thelma Todd was paired with
Patsy Kelly. This was the most
successful pairing, the two made shorts together until Thelma Todd's
death in 1935. Ironically these shorts,
while good, aren't quite up to the quality of the Todd-Pitts films.
at the size of that print! Why you can
hardly read my name! That type of thing is
alright for Ethyl Barrymore or Gloria Swanson but not for Garvin!"
Thelma Todd is still gorgeous and still plucky, and Patsy
Kelly's tough-talking, wise-cracking, but not too smart character is
the two don't mix quite as well at the other pairings in this set. One good example of this is in the funny
short Beauty and the Bus. In
this adventure the girls win a brand new
car in a raffle, but get into a minor scrape when Thelma bumps the car
of her at a stop light. The
mild-mannered owner of the car they hit indignantly asks for their
information since they've so grievously wrecked his car.
While Thelma tries to calm the man and
convince him that his car isn't really damaged, Patsy goes ahead and
for him, ripping off a fender. This is
followed by a classic 'escalating violence' routine, the type that
Hardy made famous in Big Business
(possibly the funniest short ever committed to film).
The big difference however is that Thelma doesn't
enter into the mayhem. She spends her
time pleading with Patsy to stop her destruction and bemoaning the
that's being done to her newly won car.
Viewers really have to suspend their disbelief for comedy shorts
this one, and that's harder when Todd is behaving like a rational
than diving right in and enjoying the chaos.
The destruction is still funny, and there are a lot of laughs in
short, but with a few tweaks it could have worked better.
Things work better in Babes
in the Goods. Here Todd and Kelly are working in a department store
they're asked to stay late and demonstrate a new dish washer in a
display "as long as you have an audience."
When a drunk take a shine to the pair of girls in the window, he
long after everyone else has departed, causing the women to get locked
display window overnight.
This set contains the following films:
Feed 'em and Weep - 1928 - Directed by: Fred L. Guiol
A Pair of Tights - 1929 - Directed by: Hal Yates
The Pajama Party - 1931 - Directed by: Hal Roach
On the Loose - 1931 - Directed by: Hal Roach
Show Business - 1932 - Directed by: Jules White
Asleep in the Feet - 1933 - Directed by: Gus Meins
The Bargain of the Century - 1933 - Directed by:
Beauty and the Bus - 1933 - Directed by: Gus Meins
Babes in the Goods - 1934 - Directed by: Gus Meins
Maid in Hollywood - 1934 - Directed by: Gus Meins
The Misses Stooge - 1935 - Directed by: James Parrott
Top Flat - 1935 - Directed by:
William Terhune, Jack Jevne
This two-disc set is imported from Europe
but it is region free! The video is in
PAL format however so potential buyers need to be sure that they are
display that type of video ordering a copy.
The two channel mono soundtrack has been cleaned up and
sounds very good for films this old.
There is some background noise but it's at an appropriate level
doesn't distract. The dialog is clean
and easy to make out.
These restored shorts have never looked better. They
really did a great job on them. The
contrast is good, the picture is sharp
and common video defect such as blooming or washed out images aren't
all. A wonderful looking collection.
The only video extra is a five minute clip from Going Ga-ga,
the only Byron/Garvin film not included in this set.
In addition to that, there are several
DVD-ROM features including original scripts to two of the films, a pair
essays on performers appearing in this set, and three photogalleries.
Taken as a whole, this set is a great addition to any
collection of shorts. They range from
amusing to outright hilarious, and it's a rare chance to see some
actresses at work. Highly Recommended.