"This act's a variety 'cause that's just what it's going to
be one big surprise after another in fact just one darn thing after
Songs and Impressions featuring
Marlow and Jordon
And that's exactly what you get with Vitaphone Varieties
(1926-1930), just one big surprise after
another. This wonderfully entertaining
collection of 60 shorts from the earliest days of sound movies has been
released by Warner Brothers through their Warner Archive MOD program,
well worth tracking down. There's a
little bit of everything in this set, nicely showing what a wide range
entertainment was coming out of Hollywood
in the late 1920's.
If you've read my review of the Vitaphone Cavalcade of Musical Comedy Shorts you'll
know that I really enjoy early cinema and vaudeville acts, and this
collection is packed to the gills with more of that type of
entertainment. The best part of working
your way through
these nearly forgotten treasures is discovering new entertaining acts
performers, and realizing how funny and offbeat a lot of these acts
Just about all of these actors came from vaudeville and
stepped into the Vitaphone studio for a quick couple of bucks. Little did they realize that over 80 years
later, the films that they created would still be in circulation and a
archive of what the masses had for entertainment in those years between
wars. I had only heard of a couple of
the people featured in these shorts before popping the discs in, so I
a lot of great acts.
In general, each act was a mini-variety show: The
comics will dance, the musicians goof
around, and they all sing. These acts are
polished and well timed, honed from years and years on the circuits. Not only are they tight, but when they do
mess up it's hard to tell if it was intentional or not.
Everyone had flubbed lines before and knew
how to recover. For the comics, the
patter was surprisingly fast-paced.
These rapid-fire jokes don't follow a typical set up/punch line
either, but one punch line would be a set up for the next, as in this
from Val and Ernie Stanton's funny short Cut
Yourself a Piece of Cake where one brother asks the other about his
Do you play be ear?
No, I only play by request.
Oh, what a shame, you must be terribly out of practice.
Two of my favorite shorts were done by the team of Born and Lawrence. They had a unique style of delivery. One was silent (except for singing) and the
other would tell jokes while his brother hammed about.
Their first short, The Country Gentlemen, had
me laughing out loud to their slightly
odd personalities and delivery. At one
point they run into a friend they met while in France
during WWI, or "over there"
as the gentlemen refers to it. The
fellow remarks that it was quite a time, and Born replies "yeah, we
fought, and fought... but we still had to go."
They do a song-and-dance routine where they use hand gestures to
illustrate the words in the song and it's absolutely hilarious, but
gag is Lawrence's
groan inducing impersonation of "milk."
You have to see it to believe it.
In the second Born and Lawrence
short, English as She is Not Spoken
from 1928 they do the 'split the money' routine that Abbott and
I'm sure others) performed. (You know
the one, where two guys are splitting some cash... there's one for you
for me. Two for you and one, two for
me. Three for you and one, two, three
for me...) I'm pretty sure that this is
the earliest film of that classic.
Some of the acts are a bit dated. (Okay, they all are... but
some more than others.) The short Dream Café features Jimmy Clemons as a
drunk who encounters a couple of women who each dance for him. While the first one is kicking up her heels
Jimmy yells "she's got a fly on her knee" several times.
That went right over my head and I still don't
Another performer who did a drunk act (you just don't see
those anymore... they used to be pretty popular even as late as the 70's
Foster Brooks appearing on a lot of variety shows) is Fred Ardath. In These
Dry Days, which was filmed during prohibition, a man and woman come
Ardath soused in the park. At one point
the woman informs him that alcohol is unnatural and that other
Woman: Take the
jackass. If you give him a bucket of
beer and a bucket of water, which will he drink?
Ardath: The water.
Ardath: That's 'cause
he's a jackass!
These aren't all vaudeville acts however, as the title
proclaims, it's a variety. There are
several short plays too, some of which were very good.
Death Ship takes place on board a vessel where a plague has taken
the crew. Only two men are left, the
captain and a mate, and one woman, a passenger.
Both men have fallen in love with the girl and the captain
kill his rival while they're out at sea where no one will ever be any
wiser. It's surprisingly dramatic and
There are also novelty acts like Charles C. Peterson,
"Billiard Champion of Fancy Shots." As
he introduces the short he explains that he's going to "entertain you
scientific art of billiards." He does
some pretty impressive shots, but he also misses quite a bit. One shot he attempts three times and then
gives up. He retains his cool mostly,
lightly saying "This one I usually make on the second try" and such,
but at one
point it's obvious that he looses his cool and they have to cut the
Another great thing about this collection is that some
familiar actors turn up. Actor Montague
Love (he fought John Barrymore in the famous sword fight at the end of Don Juan) has a short, Character Studies,
where he performs
several scenes and shows that he has a wide range when it comes to the
roles that he can play. Silent star
Gladys Brockwell gets top billing in Hollywood
Bound, but oddly she's just a supporting actor, only really having
The most surprising person to show up however is the
beautiful Ann Howe in The Wild Westerner.
You won't recognize her name, and I'm
probably the only one who would be excited about her appearance, but
the maid in Charley Chase's Mighty Like a
Moose. It's one of my favorite Chase
shorts and I always thought she had a lot of appeal.
This is her second and last movie
appearance. I have no idea what happened
to her, but she dances and crack jokes in this lovely short.
While these are very entertaining, viewers should be warned
that they are not PC. There are acts in
black face, jokes are made about various minorities, and there are more
couple of things that modern audiences might find offensive. In She
Who Gets Slapped, for example, a hen-pecked husband is told to slap
wife when she gets out of line. You just
have to remember that these were filmed over 80 years ago, and it was a
The shorts in this set are:
The Morrisey and Miller Night Club Review
Colin & Glass in "Sharps and Flats"
Earl Burtnett and His Biltmore Hotel Orchestra
Val and Ernie Stanton in "Cut Yourself a Piece Of Cake"
Brown and Whitaker in "A Laugh Or Two"
Jimmy Clemons in "Dream Cafe"
Bert Swor in "A Colorful Sermon"
Gladys Brockwell in "Hollywood Bound"
Jay C. Flippen in "The Ham What Am"
Harry J. Conley in "The Book Worm" mini-play
Dora Maughan With Walter Fehl in "Song Impressions"
Henry B. Walthall in "Retribution"
Dick Rich and His Synco-Symphonists
Montague Love in "Character Studies"
Kjerulf's Mayfair Quintette in "A Musical Melange"
Val Harris with Ann Howe in "The Wild Westerner"
Eddie White in "I Thank You"
Marlowe and Jordan in "Songs and Impressions"
Val and Ernie Stanton in "English as She is Not Spoken"
Jack Waldron in "A Breath Of Broadway"
Florence Brady in "A Cycle Of Songs"
Earl Burtnett and His Biltmore Hotel Orchestra
Mitchell Lewis in "The Death Ship"
al Lyons and His Four Horsemen in "My Musical Melange"
Robert Emmet Keane in "Gossip"
Born and Lawrence in "The Country Gentlemen"
The Rangers in "After The Round-Up"
Arthur Pat West in "Ship ahoy!"
Born and Lawrence
in "Pigskin Troubles"
Frank Whitman "That Surprising Fiddler"
Ann Codee and Frank Orth in "A Bird in The Hand"
Bud Harris and Frank Radcliffe in "At The Party"
Harry Fox and His Six American Beauties
Fred Ardath in "These Dry Days"
Jack White With The Montrealers
Dooley and Sales in "Dooley's The Name"
Albright and His Rodeo Do Flappers
Charles C. Peterson, Billiard Champion Of Fancy
Hobart Cavanaugh,Regina Wallace in "Sympathy"
Mel Klee in "The Prince Of Wails" - black face
Harry Fox and Bee Curtis in "The Bee and The Fox"
Coletta Ryan and Duke Yellman in "Songology"
The Gotham Rhythm Boys
"Poor Aubrey" By George Kelly With Franklin Pangborn,Helen
Ferguson,Clara Blandick Andruth Lyons
Billy "Swede" Hall & Company in "Hilda"
"Revival Day" With Slim Timblin
"Niagara Falls" With Bryant Washington and Helen Jerone Eddy
John T. Murray and Vivien Oakland in "Satires"
Jans and Whalen in "Two Good Boys Gone Wrong"
Carlena Diamond: Harpist Supreme
Anderson and Graves in "Fishing around"
"Surprise" With Tom Dugan and Barbara Leonard
"What a Life"
"Pack Up Your Troubles" With Douglas Stanbury and The Lyric Quartet
"She Who Gets Slapped" With Tom Dugan
Betty and Jerry Browne in "Let's Elope!"
Joe Frisco in "The Songplugger"
This set contains 60 shorts on four DVD-Rs. They
arrive in a single-width keepcase and
each disc has its own page (none of that overlapping DVD crap here).
As with the other Vitaphone shorts I've recently reviewed,
the mono audio track to these sounds very good for films of this age. There's a touch of background noise in some
shorts, but nothing distracting. The
voices are generally clear and it's easy to discern what's being said.
This full frame image is pretty amazing. The
quality is generally very high, and I
wouldn't consider any of these bad or hard on the eyes.
There's some very minor print damage (spots
and dirt) here and there, and just one or two have some evidence of
decomposition, but that's it. The
contrast is excellent and the level of detail is surprisingly strong. Overall these are some great looking movies.
This is another wonderful set of Vitaphone shorts.
Historical, entertaining, and incredibly
amusing, there are a lot of great surprises hidden in this collection. A DVDTalk
Collector's Series title.