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?
The three episodes on volume five are:
Dynamite Teams: The comedy duo had been a popular attraction in vaudeville houses and music halls long before films were made, but the silent movies took the idea and really ran with it. This episode looks at some of the funniest, and unfortunately now forgotten, comedy teams of the silent era. As with all of the episodes in this series, there are some great comedy included in this show.
Snub Pollard and James Parrot (brother of actor/director Charlie Chase) team up in Dear Ol' Pal. Competing for the same girl, they decide to work together when her string of pearls is stolen during a picnic. Tied together for a three-leg race, the pair chase the crook in a hilarious sequence.
There is also a clip from the Ton of Fun series which started in 1925 and ran for four years. This series involved the comic misadventures of three overweight men Hillard Kar, Frank Alexander, and Kewpie Ross. Billed as the fattest men working in show business, this rotund trio didn't skimp on the slapstick, as can be seen in the clip here from Three Missing Links.
My favorite clip in this episode was from Whispering Whiskers staring Billy Bevins and Andy Cline. The pair star as two down on their luck men who are trying to hop aboard a passenger train, and then avoid the conductor. Ending up in the kitchen, the pair wrestle with an overactive fish and end up chasing it through the passenger seating with an axe and butcher knife.
There is also a clip from one of my favorite Keystone shorts, The Rounders staring Fatty Arbuckle and Charlie Chaplin. Watching these two comic geniuses work off of each other is a treat.
The most famous comedy duo, Laurel and Hardy, is mentioned in the show, but there aren't any extended sequences from their films.
Funshops: There were a large number of independent movie companies in the teens and twenties, and many of them made one and two reel comedies. This episode looks as some of the better films to come out of these small time studios.
One of the most expensive two reel comedies to be made during the silent era was Larry Semon's The Sawmill. All of the money was up on the screen though, as a mill was created, and demolished, to make this hilarious short. Semon is great as a befuddled man trying to put his pants on only to have trees falling where ever he goes.
Another great short is The Cloudhopper. Larry Semon stars in this one also, along with his wife Dorothy Dwan. The two try to capture a couple of crooks, only to end up chasing them in an airplane. There is some great wing walking in this that will have Harold Lloyd fans in stitches.
Buster Keaton: One of the truly great silent comedians, Buster Keaton gets an episode devoted to his carefully thought out brand of comedy. Keaton could get more laughs with his stone faced expressions than most comedians could get with their most elaborate prat falls.
This episode includes an extended clip from Keaton's first appearance in a movie, Butcher Boy. This Fatty Arbuckly short is really funny, and Keaton steals the show as a customer trying to buy some molasses.
The Goat has Keaton accidently being identified as the escaped outlaw Dead Shot Dan. Everyone believes that Keaton is the villain, and Buster has no idea why everyone is running from him, or why the police are following him. There is an extended clip from this classic comedy that really showcases Keaton's comic talent. His blank looks really make the film.
There is also a good bit from The Balloonatic, where Keaton gets lost in the wilderness, and Paleface where a tribe of Indians wants to kill Buster. The sequence where the Indians try to burn Buster at the stake is very simple, but in Keaton's hands the basic gag becomes hilarious.
This episode is a very good introduction to Keaton's work. It doesn't cover his feature films very much, but it does let you discover why he is so fondly remembered today.
If you enjoy Keaton, be sure to check out the collection of shorts he made with Fatty Arbuckle that are available on DVD.
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.
This is another great volume in the series. If you haven't tried
these out yet, I really recommend that you give them a shot. This
disc is one of the best so far, but then I'm a big Keaton fan and therefore
a little biased. Another Highly Recommended DVD from this