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.
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?
The three episodes on volume four are:
Vaudeville Greats: Most of the silent comedians got their starts on the vaudeville circuits or in Britain's music halls. This episode talks about the early theater; Fred Karno's famous acting troupe, which was the training ground for both Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel, and Zigfield's Follies.
There are some great clips of Stan Laurel's early solo work and Harry Langdon's early shorts here. The highlights however are several examples of vaudeville acts that were filmed. W. C. Fields juggling acts (Fields first gained fame as a comic juggler) as well as some of Will Rogers roping tricks are shown. There is also an extended scene from Cops, arguably Buster Keaton's best two reel comedy.
Educational Films: Starting out as a company to create and distribute documentaries and other informational movies to schools and churches, Educational Films didn't make much of a profit until they turned to comedy shorts. During the twenties they released hundreds of films.
One clip that was great to see was Clyde Cook's Misfit.
Though released through Educational, this short was filmed at Buster Keaton's
studio using Keaton's gag writers and supporting cast. It has the
same acrobatic and creative stints that fill Keaton's shorts and has that
Keaton feel. A delightful find.
Charley Chase: Chase was a very talented comedian, one of the unsung stars of the silent era. He started acting with Keystone where he worked with Chaplin on some of his early comedies. While working in front of the camera, he was also busy behind it acting as a gag man and assistant director. Sennett thought the dashing Chase was too good looking to be a comic though, and cast him as the love interest in films. Charlie started directing at Keystone though, and gave up acting entirely.
Chase directed at several studios, and eventually found himself at Hal Roach Studios, directing some of the first Our Gang comedies. He missed acting though, and when Harold Lloyd left the studio, he stepped in front of the camera again as a comic lead, with hilarious results. His films had more complicated plots that had the gags evolve naturally from the plot rather than just stringing them together.
This episode features several of Chases films, both as director and
actor. It also covers comedian James Parrott, Charlie's brother.
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.
Another great disc. The long clip from Misfit was my favotite section, but the scenes with Al St. John and many of Charley Chase clips were also very enjoyable. This is quickly becoming one of my favorite documentary series. Highly Recommended.