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 seven are:
Family Fun: This
installment of SlapHappy traces today's TV sitcoms all the way back to
silent comedies. There were a number of popular family oriented series
in the silent era that have the look and feel of a modern sitcom.
The most famous of these are the Our Gang comedies that Hal Roach released,
but there were many others.
One of the funniest clips in this show are sections from Mr. Wife. This short predates the movie Mr. Mom by several decades, and has the same premise. Neil Burns plays a man who is roped into babysitting a toddler and young puppy who are both teething. The dog manages to chew up a couch and fill the living room with the feather stuffings and Burns has a harder time cleaning up than he anticipated. He gets out the vacuum, but the dog attacks that too, ripping up the bag. When Burns finishes in the living room, he discovers that all he's succeeded in doing is transfer the mess into the dining room. This goes on for a while, with every plan just moving the mess to some other room in the house.
Great Gags 2: This episode is another look at some of the best gags in the silent era, many of which involve automobiles. Highlights include the 1920 Harold Lloyd film Get Out and Get Under where Harold buys his first car. He has a lot of fun racing down the street in his shiny convertible, until a cop tries to give him a ticket. This starts an uproarious chase scene where Lloyd gets the better of the law.
Another very classic clip is from The Champion
Chaplin's 1915 look at boxing. Charlie need to make some money, so
he gets hired to be the Champs sparing partner. After he sees what
happens to the other men who signed up for the job, Chaplin comes up with
a way to even the odds.
One short that most people haven't seen is the Clyde Cook comedy Misfit. Cook had been making comedies for Fox for a number of years when he made the short for Buster Keaton's production company in 1924. Being a new recruit, Cook gets the unwanted job of guarding the brig, something that is much harder than it seems. This was one of two shorts that Cook made for Keaton, using Keaton's crew and gag writers. This comedy certainly had the Keaton touch.
The Keystone Studio: The first movie studio that was dedicated to making comedies, Keystone was the training ground for many of the era's top comedians. Though it was only in business for five years, this studio's name is still synonymous with mad cap chases and slapstick comedy. This episode of SlapHappy presents a quick guide to the influential studio.
The highlight of this episode, and the disc itself,
is an extended clip from Tango Tangles filmed in 1914. This
one reeler features Charlie Chaplin before he came up with the Tramp character,
along with Ford Sterling (the star at Keystone at that time) and Roscoe
"Fatty" Arbuckle. The film is built around some footage that was
filmed at a ball. Sennett was always looking for free extras and
this ball was a great backdrop. Sending some actors anda film crew
out to the event, Chaplin and Sterling start a comic fight, making up the
gags as they go. The dancers stop, of course, and laugh along with
the two great comic talents. The rest of the movie was filmed later
at Keystone's studios, creating a plot to work in the ball sequence.
Despite its haphazard creation, this is a funny bit.
There are also clips of Mack Swain, Mabel Normand, Bobby Vernon and, of course, the cross-eyed Ben Turpin.
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. Much of the film is from 35 mm prints, but a minority of them looked like they originated from 16mm reduction prints, but even these looked 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 "Slap Happy" 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.
I'm really having fun watching this series. It was interesting
seeing Chaplin improvise in Tango Tangles, and I was laughing out
loud to Mr. Wife. Every episode has clips that I really enjoy.
Another Highly Recommended DVD from this series.