Jay Ward and Bill Scott, the creators of Bullwinkle the Moose, George of the Jungle, and Dudley Do-Right, among many others, had several cartoon programs, but only created one live action show: Fractured Flickers. This weekly half hour parody of silent movies aired in 1963 and only lasted one season of 26 episodes. But it is still mentioned in silent film circles, often fondly and sometimes with disdain, but the show certainly made an impression. Now VCI has gathered the complete series and released them on a three DVD set.
Fractured Flickers was the Mystery Science Theater 3000 of the sixties. Like Woody Allen would do a few years later in What's Up Tiger Lily?, the idea was to take old silent movies (licenced from the controversial Raymond Rohauer) reedit them, and then add voices and sound effects to turn the work into a new comic skit. The result was always outrageous and often hilarious. Douglas Fairbank's Mark of Zorro became The Barber of Stanwick, with Fairbanks playing Zeke the barber who would carve his initial in all of his costumers. "The only place in the world where you can get your hair cut and face disfigured at the same time." Valentino's Blood and Sand was changed to Death of a Traveling Salesman. In probably the most uproarious fracture that they ever came up with, The Hunchback of Notre Dame turns into Dinky Dunstan, Boy Cheerleader.
The program was hosted and dubbed by Jay Ward players from his previous series. Hans Conried was the host in addition to doing some of the voices, and he was joined in the dubbing studio by Bill Scott, Paul Frees and June Foray, all voices that you'd recognize from other Jay Ward Productions.
Conried was the prefect person to act as host of the wacky show. He looked dignified, but his demeanor and attitude lets the audience know that nothing should be taken seriously. In the opening show he invites viewer to take a trip "down memory lane, with axe and crowbar." And that's what the show did each week.
The typical show consisted of a major movie being 'fractured' a couple of shorts, and an interview with a star. All crammed into half an hour. As you would expect from the creators of Rocky and Bullwinkle and George of the Jungle, there are a lot of jokes wedged into each show. The show would open with a different one liner, ("Tonight's program is brought to you by the makers of...mistakes.") and after the credits Hans would appear for one last zinger. ("The biggest waste of time since the Bullwinkle show.") In between, it was constant mayhem.
Even the short interviews were comic gems. While most comedy shows would have an interview segment in an attempt to raise the level of the show and add a touch of class, Ward and Scott did the opposite. They often used the guests to make fun of the show. When Fabian was on, Hans explained that the concept of the show was to reedit silent movies and add amusing dialog to which the teen star asked "Why?" The show never took itself seriously either. Gypsy Rose Lee was interviewed as an "expert in pantomime" since she could hold an audience's attention without saying a word.
Some people don't like the show because they take serious and artistic films and use them to create crass humor. While I can see these critic's point I don't agree with it. As a fan of silent movies I don't think that adding humorous dialog to a film lessens the quality of the original to any degree, and may even spur someone to search out the original.
The only qualm I have with the show, is I feel the quality of the production went down after the first dozen or so shows. While the program was still funny, I didn't think there were as many belly laughs as the program progressed. Whether this was due to running out of ideas, a tighter production schedule, or the fact that they had already spoofed the best material is anyone's guess. The latter half of the show was still funny, just not as uproariously so as it started out. In any case it's still fun to see how many movies, shorts, and stars you can identify.
The entire 26 episode series comes on three DVDs which are housed in a double width Amaray case. There is an insert listing the episodes (by guest interview) and a text piece on Jay Ward and Bill Scott which ironically doesn't mention Fractured Flickers at all.
The mono audio track is sufficient, though it's not outstanding. The dialog and sound effects are clear and easy to hear though the audio is very flat, as you'd expect from a 60's TV show. There is a little bit of hiss, and some distortion in a couple of places, but this shouldn't stop anyone from purchasing the set.
The black and white image looks pretty good taking into consideration the age of the show. The host segments have a good amount of detail, but there isn't a lot of contrast. Host Hans Conried's black jacket shows no texture and often seems to merge into the background creating a 'floating head' effect. The old silent movies vary quite a bit, with most of them being scratchy and faded but still watchable. This is about as good as this show is ever going to look.
The only extras are text biographies.
I found myself laughing a lot while watching this show. It is wonderfully irreverent, and should appeal to fans of Mystery Science Theater, Kung Pow, and other such titles. It is great to have the entire collection in one set. Highly Recommended.