Warner Brothers, through their direct-to-consumer program
The Warner Archives, have been releasing a treasure trove of early
over the last couple of years. Their
latest collection, Vitaphone Varieties
Volume Two, is another wonderful collection of vaudeville acts,
performances, and short plays that were used to entertain audiences
Like the first
volume and the Vitaphone
Cavalcade of Musical Comedy Shorts set, this collection has a great
assortment of entertainment. It starts off
with a musical short performed
by the Hawaiian group the Kalama Quartet.
Native Hawaiian music was pretty popular in the in the early
part of the
20th century and this short sought to capitalize on both the
and the appeal of having scantily clad women dancing around. While the group itself look like they come
from the South Pacific, most of the dancing girls look like they came
Viewers will find several novelty acts in this set, and we
can be thankful that their performances were recorded for posterity. A written description of Chaz Chase "The
Unique Comedian" can't do him justice.
Chaz' act basically consisted of eating things you wouldn't
could ingest: a lit cigar, a ukulele, a bottle cap, etc.
You really have to see it to get the full
effect. There's also a musical short
featuring Harry Wayman and His Debutantes; their gimmick was that the
totally consisted of women.
There are a couple of other unique musical acts that are fun
to watch. Banjoland features a pair of
banjo player playing duets, and there's also a film featuring Guido
World's Foremost Piano-Accordionist."
While he was accomplished when it comes to playing a squeeze
best remembered as Mae West's first husband.
Who said accordions aren't sexy??
Joseph E. Howard had an act that was a little bit different
from the rest. He sings several popular
(at the time) songs, but the main attraction is that he wrote them. A fixture on Tin Pan Alley, Howard's act
basically consisted of singing snippets from songs and tying them
"and then I wrote this melody..."
One of my favorite shorts showcasing a group was Harlemania
featuring the Norman Thomas Quintette. They are in impressive black act
play some fast, hot jazz, but the drummer steals the show.
He sure is an energetic showman, beating on
his drums while dancing around them and then taps out a beat on the
sliding under a grand piano. Fun stuff.
One of the best parts of watching these shorts is seeing
some famous people very early in their careers.
A very young Joe E. Brown is featured in one of the funnier
shorts, and Fred
Allen, who would become famous through his radio show (and the long
feud his show had with Jack Benny's) stars in Prize
Playlets, a humorous film where Allen tries to get a Broadway
producer interested in one of his many plays, all of the horrible. Fred Allen also co-wrote Faint
Heart a short staring Bert Lahr who most people remember as
the Cowardly Lion from The Wizard of Oz.
Another star who would hit the big time via a radio is
ventriloquist Edgar Bergen with his puppet Charlie McCarthy. (Am I the only one who finds it odd that a
ventriloquist had a popular radio show?
How do you know if his are moving??)
stars in two shorts in this collection, and they're both great.
Silent movie star Blanche Sweet appears in the filmed
mini-play Always Faithful (one of her
three talking films) along with WB stock actor John Litel.
Sweet's husband is an executive with a coal
company and he has to travel to a mine and get some striking miners
work, and it's interesting to see the way that unionized strikers were
portrayed. When Blanche tells her husband
to be careful
he reminds her that he's taking a gun and that he'd "just as soon shoot
those hyenas as light a cigarette."
That's only scratching the surface. There's
something interesting and
entertaining, either the short itself of the people who appear in them,
about every offering in this set. It's a
great collection and well worth searching out.
The shorts included are:
1) Hawaiian Nights (1927)
2) Waring's Pennsylvanians, "The Famous Collegiate Orchestra" (1927)
3) Joe E. Brown in "Twinkle, Twinkle" (1927)
4) The Happiness Boys, Billy Jones And Ernie Hare 1927)
5) Phil Ohman And Victor Arden, The Piano Duettists (1927)
6) Harry Wayman And His Debutantes (1927)
7) Earl Burtnett And His Biltmore Hotel Orchestra (1928)
8) Abe Lyman And His Orchestra, The Maestro Of Syncopated Symphony
9) Eddie Peabody in 'Banjoland' (1928)
10) Joseph E. Howard, America's Popular Composer (1928)
11) Chaz Chase, The Unique Comedian (1928)
12) Roy Fox And His Montmarte Café Orchestra (1928)
13) Guido Deiro, The World's Foremost Piano-Accordionist (1928)
14) Norman Thomas Quintette in 'Harlemania' (1929
15) Blanche Sweet in 'Always Faithful' (1929)
16) Gregory Ratoff in 'For Sale'
17) Ann Butler And Jay Brennan in 'You Don't Know The Half of It'
1) Georgie Price in 'Don't Get Nervous' (1929)
2) Kraft And Lamont in 'Rarin' To Go' (1929)
3) Grace Johnston And The Indiana Five (1929)
4) Fred Allen's Prize Playlets (1929)
5) Bert Lahr in 'Faint Heart' (1929)
6) 'The Operation' With Edgar Bergen And Charlie Mccarthy (1929)
7) Jack Osterman in 'Talking It Over' (1929)
8) Lou Holtz in 'Idle Chatter' (1929)
9) Scott Sanders in 'Scotch Taffy' (1929)
10) The Poor Fish (1930)
11) Shaw And Lee in 'Going Places' (1930)
12) Trixie Friganza in 'Strong And Willing' (1930)
13) The Yacht Club Boys in 'A Private Engagement' (1930)
14) Josephine Harmon in 'Harmonizing Songs' (1930)
15) Pat O'brien in 'Crimes Square' (1930)
16) Edgar Bergen in 'The Office Scandal' (1931)
17) Helen Morgan in 'The Gigolo Racket' (1931)
18) Jack Haley in 'Success' (1931)
This set contains 35 shorts on two 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 very good. 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, but it's never distracting.
The contrast is excellent and the level of
detail is surprisingly strong. There are
a couple of shorts that have very short (less than a minute) sections
missing due to film decomposition. In
those cases an appropriate still is put on the screen while the audio
to play. Aside from those brief scenes
are some great looking movies.
This set represents the 11th and 12th
DVD of Vitaphone shorts I've watched in a little over a week, and I'm
I don't have more to dig through. These
are fun, interesting, and offer a wonderful look back at what
like a couple of generations ago. This
collection works both as a historical document and as an enjoyable way
some time. Another DVDTalk
Collector's Series title.