Most people have at least heard of the three big silent comedians. Charlie Chaplin is a household name even today, and Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd are well remembered by even casual silent film buffs. In the 1910's and 20's however, there were literally thousands of comedy shorts made staring comedians who are all but forgotten today. How many people know of the work of Lloyd Hamilton, Andy Clyde or Larry Semon? To learn more about these comics, and many others that history has passed over, you need only turn to SlapHappy.
SlapHappy is an exhaustive 30 episode series that searches out the forgotten comics and studios of the silent era and gives them a moment in the spotlight again. More than just a documentary though, these shows present extended clips from silent shorts in addition to background information about the stars. This lets you see for yourself how funny and creative many of these forgotten silent clowns were. It also gives you the background on these forgotten stars; how they got their start, who they worked with, how popular they were, and often why their star faded.
One of the things I really like about this series is the fact that there is only sparse narration. The narrator gives the background of the comic who is on the screen, sets up the piece, and then falls silent. This lets the viewer concentrate on the comedy on screen, instead of having to process a lot of information. There is even an option to view the shows without any narration at all.
Though this series is very informative, the strength of this show is the rare clips that they've chosen to fill out the half hour. Some of the clips only last a few seconds, but the majority of them are minutes long, some going on for five minutes or more. This really gives viewers the chance to see how gags were set up and executed, as well as how the comics progressed on to the next gag. By cutting out the plot points of the shorts, as well as the minor gags, SlapHappy is able to present the funniest parts of the shorts as well as being able to give a good overview of an artist's work through several shorts.
Another great strength of the show is that there isn't a laugh track. This show gives the viewer credit for knowing what's funny and what isn't.
Each volume of The SlapHappy Collection presents three half hour episodes. Overall, this is a very informative and funny show, and the DVDs look great. Where else can you get more laughs than a feature length movie and learn something at the same time?
Volume One starts off with 3 Funnymen. They aren't the three your thinking of either. This show looks at three men who were very famous and successful comics in their day, but almost forgotten now: Charley Chase, Lupino Lane, and Lloyd Hamilton. Told solely through stills and clips of their films with only the barest of narration, this episode illustrates why these three were so popular.
Next up is The Fun Factory a look at the mayhem and hi-jinx that
were filmed at the Mack Sennett studios. This show quickly traces
Mack's start in film working under D. W. Griffith and then launches into
some of the wild comedies he made in California. Sennett's style
that was long on action and short on plot was just what the public was
looking for, and his studio quickly became a powerful producer of one and
two reel comedies. He was the person who gave Charlie Chaplin his
start in films, and also launched the career of Fatty Arbuckle. He
created the Keystone Cops, and employed stars Mabel Normand and Harry Langdon.
Through the clips in this show, you'll see the reason his studio was so
The show also covers Sennett's decline, unable to change sufficiently as audience's tastes evolved.
The first volume finishes up with Great Gags: a look at some of the innovative gags that were so common in silent comedies. One of the highlights of this episode is a clip from Bumping into Broadway; the first Harold Lloyd two reeler featuring his 'glasses' character. There is also a short bit from a rare Gaylord Lloyd comedy. Gaylord was Harold Lloyd's brother, and the comparisons between these two shorts clearly show why Harold went on to fame and fortune while Gaylord didn't.
No show about gags would be complete without Buster Keaton, and this
includes a creative bit where he walks along the inside of a paddle boat's
wheel as it steams down a river. There is also an extended section
from the Monty Banks film Play Safe, where Monty has to rescue his
girl from a fast moving train while avoiding the bad guys. An extremely
funny sequence, some of the harrowing stunts had me howling with laughter.
Each disc in this series comes in a keepcase and contains three half hour episodes on a single DVD-R.
The two channel soundtrack sounded very good. The music for the series is composed of up beat Jazz music courtesy of Stomp Off Records, and it works very well. They old time sounding Jazz scores fits with the antics on screen though the music wasn't composed specifically for the clips. There are some sound effects added, the slamming of a door, or a gunshot, and these accentuate the action without becoming intrusive. Being recent recordings, there is no hiss or other audio defects.
The image quality ranges from good to excellent, with most of the clips being very good. There are no blurry, faded, scratchy prints used in the series that I've seen, and I was very pleasantly surprised. Since many of these clips are from more minor stars and studios I was expecting a poor quality image, but luckily that isn't the case. Some of the source material is from 35mm prints, though much of the film comes from high quality 16 mm reduction prints. Both of which look very good. For film that have been ignored for 80 or more years, the quality is outstanding.
The only qualm I had with the picture is that there is a light "SlapHappy" bug in the lower right hand corner during the entire show. This is a minor annoyance at best though.
There are no extras on this discs.
These three episodes are a good introduction to the series. Filled with hilarious clips, this disc has more laughs than most modern comedies. If you are interested in silent era films at all, this fun series belongs in your collection. Highly Recommended.