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not all great DVDs are in 5.1

Silent DVD Archive


Lubitsch in Berlin and American Slapstick
A column on the world of early cinema by DVDTalk reviewer John Sinnott

After a rather sparse year for silent films being released on DVD, the end of 2006 is turning out to be rather full.  Two weeks ago I covered the three disc set The Films of Jacques Feyder, and this time around I have reviews of four Ernst Lubitsch DVDs and the three disc American Slapstick set.  The Criterion release of G.W. Pabst masterpiece Pandora's Box comes out on 11/28, and I hope to have a review of that as soon as possible.

Ernst Lubitsch was famous for the "Lubitsch Touch" a style of comedy all his own where subtle humor and sophisticated wit were blended with sexual undertones to create a charming whole.  Before he came to Hollywood however and made such classics as The Shop Around the Corner, To Be or Not to Be, and Heaven Can Wait, he was a star director in his native Germany.  Kino has released five of his early German silent films on four DVDs under the banner Lubitsch in Berlin: Oyster Princess & I Don't Want to Be a Man, Sumurun, Anna Boleyn, and The Wildcat, two of these films, Sumurn and The Wildcat feature the wonderful Pola Negri in staring roles.  While the comedies in the group are more appealing than the historical drama, they are all interesting films.

Also this week we have a review of a new set of silent comedy shorts:  American Slapstick.  This set contains 17 rare shorts, none of which have been previously released on DVD.  There are some real gems in this collection as well as some funny shorts that are very rarely screened.  There's a short by Billy West who is universally acknowledged to be the best of the many Chaplin imitators, a Lonesome Luke film, Harold Lloyd's own imitation of Chaplin, as well as films by Larry Semon, Snub Pollard and The Ton of Fun Trio.  This is a great find for fans of silent comedy, and though the image hasn't been restored it's still a wonderful collection.


Sumurun:

Ernst Lubitsch came to America in 1922.  He was one of the first German directors to be recruited by Hollywood, and what's even more impressive is that he was able to work within the studio system and create successful and entertaining films.  He was nominated for three Academy Awards, three of his actors were nominated for films he directed (Lewis Stone, Maurice Chevalier and Greta Garbo), and he was presented with an honorary award by the Academy in 1947 for "his distinguished contributions to the art of the motion picture."  Before coming to America however, Lubitsh made some very good films in Germany.  Kino has released four of these on DVD under the banner "Lubitsch in Berlin."   Sumurun is included in this set of releases, an important movie in Lubtisch's career.  It was this film that impressed Pickford so much when she saw it that she hired Lubitsch and brought him to America.

This film was released in the US as One Arabian Night, but in doing so over 30 minutes were cut out of it.  This is the first time that the uncut film has been released in the US.

A slightly confusing but entertaining story, Sumurun is a love triangle with six sides.  A "love hexagon" if you will.  The Grand Sheikh (Paul Wegener from Golem) is a rich and powerful ruler, and naturally has a very large harem.  When he catches his favorite wife, Sumurun (Jenny Hasselquist), flirting through a window with the man she really loves, the merchant Nur-Al Din (Harry Liedtke), he flies into a rage and is going to kill her.  Fortunately he is interrupted by the announcement that a traveling circus has arrived.  The star dancer is Yannaia (Pola Negri), and the King is smitten with her.  Another member of the troupe, the hunchbacked Yeggar (Ernst Lubitsch in his last film performance), is also in love with Yannaia, and when the Sheik's son sees her, his jeans start feeling a little tight too.
 

Pola Negri and Ernst Lubitsch

The Sheik hasn't forgotten about Sumurun's treachery, but one of the harem women convinces the prince to claim that it was he with whom Sumurun was flirting.   Dad thinks that's okay, just a chip off the old block, and pardons his wife. He also really likes Yannaia, and buys her for his harem.  When Yeggar finds out that his love is being sold to the Sheikh, he takes a potion that knocks him out but makes it look as if he died.  Then Yannaia thinks he's dead, and his body gets stolen and...well, things just escalate from there.

Though this movie has several different plots all vying for screen time, Lubitsch does a great job at balancing them all and not making it all too confusing.  In the hands of a lesser director this film would be a mess.  While it isn't as amusing as his later works, you can see his style emerging in this movie.  One title card reads "The eunuchs fiercely guard the mighty sheikh's women" and is followed by the image of ten men sitting in front of the harem building trying to stay awake.  There are humorous bits like that sprinkled through the entire film and it helps lighten the drama.  It's actually quite a funny film.

The end of the movie is rather odd though, especially for a light drama.  It's almost as if the writer (this was based on a stage play) just wanted to end it all.  With most of the main characters ending up either heart-broken or dead, the final reel puts a damper on things.

The acting was good, with Lubitsch himself turning in a nice comic performance.  The person who stole the film however was Pola Negri.  Negri wasn't a great beauty but she had a lot of screen presence and just exuded sexuality in this film.  It was easy to believe that all of these men would fall for her, she was down right sexy.  Her dances were tantalizing and she had a playful nature about her.  Your eyes naturally moved to Pola whenever she was on the screen.  It's easy to see how she too received an invitation to Hollywood.

The DVD:


Audio:

The piano score by Javier Perez de Azpeitia was scene specific and generally fit the mood of the film.  It didn't excite me too much, but it was definitely adequate.  Being a recent recording there were no audio defects worth noting.

Video:

This movie has been restored by the F.W. Murnau Stiftung and they've done a fine job.  The image is very clear and the level of detail is fine.  The contrast is generally good.  There is some blooming of the highlights and black objects have very little texture and details disappear in shadows, but this is not major.

This DVD was created from a PAL master, and consequently has the problems associated with PAL to NTSC conversion:  the film plays 4% faster and there is some ghosting.

Extras:

The only extras on this disc are a very short stills gallery and a text filmography of the director.

Final Thoughts:

This was a fun and enjoyable film, even if the end didn't work as well as it could have.  You can see the beginning of the Lubitsch touch in the way this movie was filmed too.  A gentle comedy that earned it's director and star tickets to Hollywood.  Recommended.


Anna Boleyn:

When Ernst Lubitsch was still making films in Germany, he used to alternate between light comedies and historic epics.  After the Arabian Nights fantasy Sumurun, Lubitsch created his most visually impressive German spectacle, Anna Boleyn (released in the US as Deception.)  Based on Henry VIII's affair and marriage to his second wife, this film features large sets, lavish costumes and gorgeous exterior shots.  It was one of Ufa's most grandiose projects with a budget of 8.5 million German marks and over 5000 extras.  Given all of this, it's a bit surprising that the film only partially succeeds.  The film drags in several places and the two hour running length seems much longer than that.

Anne Boleyn, niece of the Grand Duke of Norfolk comes to London to act as a lady-in-waiting for King Henry VIII's wife, Queen Catherine of Aragon.  When Anne's dress gets caught in a door as she's leaving the Queen's chamber, she comes to the notice of the King.  He's instantly infatuated with the young maid, and starts to pursue her.

Anne resists at first, but after Henry divorces Catherine and offers her the crown, she relents and marries the monarch.  Things go well for a short time, but Henry isn't a one woman man and his eye soon starts to wander.  It gets worse when Anne has the audacity to bear him a daughter.  At this Henry wants a divorce; as his interest has since turned to the baby's nurse, Jane Seymore.  As most people probably know, she refuses to give him one and that has disastrous consequences for the young queen.

A lot of work and effort went in to making this film.  To create the grand sets two architects were employed designed and supervised the construction copies of the Tower of London, Windsor Castle and Westminster Abbey.  These large sets gave the film an authentic feeling, and helped create the film's atmosphere.  The costume designs were also excellent and added to the feel of the film.

Even with all of the effort that went into this film, it's lacking a bit.  Not a bad film, but one that doesn't really excite the viewer.  There are a few too many dry sections were the narrative drags and the pacing is uneven.  This is an interesting story and the contrast between the innocent Anne Boleyn and the overindulgent Henry VIII is very well done, but ultimately this movie comes across as nice to look at but otherwise unexceptional.

One aspect of the movie that is exceptional is Emil Jannings.  He steals the movie as King Henry VIII, giving a strong performance, as he often did.  His Henry was filled with gusto as well as a being a sly and calculating individual.  The movie was most interesting when he was on screen.  Henny Porten was adequate in the title role, but she had a tendency to overact just a bit.  This wasn't horrible, but she doesn't have the screen presence that Jannings has.

This was an interesting choice of a film for Lubitsch to direct.  One can't help but think that the government officials at the state owned UFA studios were overjoyed to hear of this project.  Having one of their strongest directors making a film about an evil English monarch murdering his young, attractive wife must have earned Lubitsch some brownie points so soon after the conclusion of WWI.

The DVD:


Audio:

The piano score by Javier Perez de Azpeitia was scene specific and generally fit the mood of the film.  It didn't excite me too much, but it was definitely adequate.  Being a recent recording there were no audio defects worth noting.

Video:

This movie has been restored by the F.W. Murnau Foundation and they've done a fine job.  The sepia toned image is very clear and the level of detail is fine.  The contrast is generally good.  There is some blooming of the highlights and black objects have very little texture and details disappear in shadows, but this is not major.  The 35mm print that was used was not totally free from dirt and scratches but these were minor.

This DVD was created from a PAL master, and consequently has the problems associated with PAL to NTSC conversion:  the film plays 4% faster and there is some ghosting.

Extras:

Like the other DVDs in this series, there weren't too many extras.  This disc includes a gallery of production stills and a Lubitsh filmography, but that's it.

Final Thoughts:

This was Lubitsch's second film to be released in the US (the first was Madame Dubarry) and it was a success here.  Over 85 years after it was made this film is a little dated.   It drags a bit in parts and though Emil Jannings does a wonderful job, I was never totally absorbed by the film.  I wasn't bored by it either.  The settings, costumes and outdoor scenery make this an enjoyable film even in the slower bits.  Recommended.


The Oyster Princess and I Don't Want to Be a Man:

The Oyster Princess and I Don't Want to Be a Man are both amusing comedies that star Ossi Oswalda, dubbed "the German Mary Pickford."  She and Lubitsch make quite a team, as these two films demonstrate.

The Oyster Princess:

In this broad farce, the spoiled, petulant daughter of a fabulously wealthy oyster baron, Ossi (Ossi Oswalda), can't be controlled.  During one of her fits, the father promises to find her a husband...and no less than a prince.  He contacts a matchmaker who has the perfect candidate; a prince heavily in debt.  When the prince sends his aide to check out this potential mate, Ossi assumes that he is the prince and forces him to marry her right away.

This comedy is the direct precursor to the screwball comedies of the 30's.  It has mistaken identities, absurd situations, and general confusion in addition to some very funny scenes.  Lubitsch didn't go for subtle jokes in this film, they are all over the top, and it works very well.   Near the end of the film for example, Ossi is attending a meeting of "The Multi-millionaires' Daughters' Association Against Dipsomania" when a handsome drunk stumbles in.  The girls all want to 'cure' this poor man by themselves.  Ossi suggests that a boxing match should settle the matter, and the women all retire to the basement to duke it out.

There is a lot of absurd humor in this film, and it works well.  From the foxtrot wedding dance to the wedding ceremony itself, there are a lot of amusing scenes in this film.  It is a comic delight.

I Don't Want to Be a Man:

The young lady Ossi (Ossi Oswalda again) has it tough.  She wants to play poker, smoke, and drink like the guys do, but her guardian won't let her.  She thinks her chance for freedom arrives when her guardian departs, he has to go to America for an extended time on business, but that's not to be the case.  Another guardian is appointed, and this one is even more strict.  Being sent to bed early one evening, Ossi laments that she should have been born a boy, and this gives her an idea.  If she dresses like a man, surely she'll be able to have all of the freedom that men enjoy.  She embarks on this course which results in predictable comic mayhem.

This was the film Lubitsch directed before making his first feature length film, and it shows that he was ready for the leap.  While it isn't as humorous as The Oyster Princess, the movie has a lot of charm and wit.

Of course these two films both contain some of the characteristics and traits that Lubitsch would refine and use successfully in his American films; headstrong women and mistaken identity.  Ossi Oswalda does a great job in both films.  She has a lot of screen presence and plays a shrewish, spoiled girl with gusto and spirit.  She really makes these two movies with her energetic personality.  She (along with Pola Negri) is the cinematic fore-bearer to such actresses as Claudette Colbert and Carole Lombard.

The DVD:


Audio:

The scores by Aljoscha Zimmermann (Oyster Princess) and Neil Brand (I Don't Want to Be a Man) were scene specific and generally fit the mood of the film.  I thought Brand's music was fine, but Zimmerman's music was too over the top for my tastes.  Even the smallest jokes were accented with comic music and that grew tiring after a while.  Being a recent recording there were no audio defects worth noting.  The intertitles are in English.

Video:

This movie has been restored by the F.W. Murnau Foundation and they've done a wonderful job.    The image is very clear and the level of detail is fine.  The contrast is excellent.    The 35mm print that was used was not totally free from dirt and scratches but these were minor.  There was some trouble with cross colorization in The Oyster Princess, especially when Quaker is wearing a pinstriped suit.

This DVD was created from a PAL master, and consequently has the problems associated with PAL to NTSC conversion:  the film plays 4% faster and there is some ghosting.

Extras:

Like the other DVDs in this series, there weren't too many extras.  This disc includes a gallery of production stills and a Lubitsh filmography, but that's it.

Final Thoughts:

These films are a lot of fun.  They are funny and entertaining, and they also show some of the characteristics that Lubitsch would later develop to create the "Lubitsch Touch".  Ossi Oswalda was a strong actress and it is too bad that more of her films aren't available on home video.  This disc gets a strong recommendation.


The Wildcat:

The Wildcat was the last time that Pola Negri and Ernst Lubitsch collaborated before they both went off to Hollywood and, like the previous movies they made together, it was a very successful pairing.  During this period of his career, Lubitsch alternated between comedies and costume dramas and this one is definitely the former, but with a twist.  It's a humorous bergfilme, or mountain film.  This usually serious movie genre that involves mountain climbing was very popular in Germany in the 20's never took off in America.  (There are many examples available on DVD however including White Hell of Pitz Palu, Storm Over Mont Blanc, and The Blue Light.)  For this film Lubitsch takes Pola and his crew up the side of a mountain for a comic spoof of the military and military life.

Lieutenant Alex (Paul Heidemann) is popular with the ladies... a little too popular.  He's had an affair with just about every eligible woman in the town (and several that aren't eligible), so his commander sends him off to a remote post as a punishment.

He's supposed to report to Kommandant der Festung Tossenstein (Victor Janson) but on the way to his new assignment Alex gets captured by a group of bandits.  They want to kill him for his nice undergarments, but the bandit chief's daughter, Rischka (Pola Negri), falls in love with him and lets him escape.

Finally arriving at the remote outpost, the Kommandant has Alex lead a raid on the bandits.  The young officer gets together everything he'll need for a successful attack, mainly a good band to play inspiring music, and sets off to a horrible, if comic, defeat.

When the Lieutenant returns, he embellishes what happened just slightly and turns the rout into a terrific victory.  Tossenstein is so pleased, that he offers, nay insists, that the attractive officer takes the hand of his only daughter in marriage.  Needless to say, this isn't the reward that Alex was hoping to receive.  When Rischka hears that the object of her affections is about to be wed, she gathers the bandits and launches an attack on the fort, with humorous consequences.

This is a broad farce, with lots of prat falls and wild slapstick.  It holds up well and is still funny after all these years.  The scene where Alex leaves his original post is hilarious.  He climbs into a waiting car as a sea of women break through the police cordon in order to wish him farewell.  The crowd is only dispersed by releasing a bag full of mice.  Just before leaving Alex waves to a large group of children shouting "Bye Daddy."

Pola Negri is wonderful in this film, even if it is a bit different from the vamp roles she's usually associated with.  In this film she's a spitfire, but a comic one.  Negri is able to fall in the snow just as often as the other cast members and gets some of the bigger laughs.  This is because she really throws herself into the role, overacting just slightly for comic effect.

Lubitsch must have been very confident of his ability to direct this type of movie because he uses this film to experiment a bit.  He plays with the shape of the frame a lot.  The shots that are composed in a 4:3 rectangle are actually in the minority.  He has doesn't just use circles for close-ups, but all types of shapes; ovals, parabolas and odd curving closed figures define the frame for much of the film.  Sometimes this works well; a diagonal slash of a frame has women running from the top of the screen to the bottom and gives the illusion of a large crowd and also makes the action more urgent.  Unfortunately this doesn't as well as the director was hoping.  More often than not it distracts from the movie itself.   Viewers spend more time looking at the shape on the screen than the action that is taking place inside of it.

The DVD:


Audio:

The score by Marco Daphane was played by the Playground Ensemble, was scene specific and generally fit the mood of the film.  An average silent film score, it was definitely adequate.  Being a recent recording there were no audio defects worth noting.  The intertitles are in English.

Video:

This movie has been restored by the F.W. Murnau Foundation and they've done a very fine job.  The original negative was used for the restoration, but unfortunately the intertitles no longer exists.  These were recreated from censor notes.  It's a shame that the original script hasn't turned up since there were noticeably fewer jokes in the intertitles.

The image is very clear and the level of detail is fine.  The contrast is generally good.  There is some blooming of the highlights and black objects have very little texture and details disappear in shadows, but this is not major.  The 35mm print that was used was not totally free from dirt and scratches but these were minor.

This DVD was created from a PAL master, and consequently has the problems associated with PAL to NTSC conversion:  the film plays 4% faster and there is some ghosting.

Extras:

Like the other DVDs in this series, there weren't too many extras.  This disc includes a Lubitsh filmography, but that's it.

Final Thoughts:

This is a funny film.  Not Chaplin or Lloyd funny, but still entertaining.  Negri does an excellent job as the willful daughter of the bandit leader and shows that she has good comic timing.  This, along with The Oyster Princess, is one of the more accessible films in this series of Germany Lubitsch movies that Kino has put out.  If you're not sure which title to get, this would be a good start.  Recommended.


American Slapstick

When people talk about silent comedians only three names are ever mentioned:  Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and Harold Lloyd.  That's unfortunate because there were many, many comedians who made one and two reel movies in the silent era, but most of them have been forgotten.  There are a lot of reasons for this.  A majority of the silent clowns never graduated to feature films the way the 'big three' did, many didn't have a single identifiable character like the little tramp or the glasses character, and others, like Billy West, made a career out of imitating Charlie Chaplin and never moved out from under his shadow.

The sad fact is that most of the silent comedians have been forgotten.  This is unfortunate since many of their films are funny, but without name recognition there is little incentive to restore their films and almost no economic reasons to put them out on DVD.  That's where American Slapstick comes in.  This three DVD set collects 17 silent era comedy shorts, all of them new to DVD, and presents them in a nice three disc set.  All Day Entertainment in association with Reel Classic DVD have released this set through Image, and they've collected some rare and wonderful comic gems.

If you're a student of silent comedies or have seen the SlapHappy collection of DVDs (reviewed here), you'll recognize many of the stars of these shorts.  There's a Ton of Fun film, Billy Bevan makes an appearance, so does Charley Chase, and there are examples of the work of Larry Semon and Snub Pollard not to mention previously unreleased shorts of Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd and Stan Laurel.  There are also some obscure comics that I've never encountered before.  Anyone recognize the names Jack Duffy or Perry Murdock?

This is a good set of films.  David Kalat of All Day Entertainment (yes, the same David Kalat who provided the wonderful commentaries for the Dr. Mabuse films of Fritz Lang) has selected a wonderful series of shorts that showcases these forgotten comics but also presents some rarer films of Lloyd and Chaplin.  Just about all of the films are funny at least part of the time, and while a couple do fall flat (Beauty and the Bump, I'm looking at you) even these have their interesting points.

There were many films that I was excited to see.  The Lonesome Luke picture was one, a true rarity since most of them perished in a fire in the early 40's.  The Syd Chaplin short was also interesting.  I knew Syd did some solo work, but I had only seen him in his younger brother's films before this.  The Snub Pollard film is a highlight of the collection, a wild film that's funny and inventive.

The bone I have to pick with this set is the way that the films are presented.  At the beginning of just about every short a card pops up  that states "This motion picture is presented in memory of Bob Lee, founder and president of Essex Films."  That's fine to remember a lost loved one, but does this card have to be before every film?  Seeing it 10 to 15 times is a bit of overkill.

Another creative choice that I didn't like was crediting Reelclassicdvd.com as the producer of these films.  While I have no problem at all with giving credit to Reelclassicdvd for providing the prints, but on a few occasions the original title card is replaced by one that seems to imply that this 21st century company created the film.  That smacks of Raymond Rohauer's efforts to put his name before Buster Keaton's on as many of Keaton's classic films that he could find. (And securing the copyrights in his (Rohauer's) name.  While I don't think Reelclassicdvd is up to anything so sinister, I assume that since this was only done on selected shorts that there were missing their opening tiles, I don't like the practice.  The occasional "RCDVD" bug that pops up in the corner is also irritating.

Aside from those critiques, I really enjoyed this set.

Disc One:

Caught in the Rain – Charlie Chaplin (1914):  This was the first short that Charlie directed when he was under contract at Keystone, and it's a typical Mack Sennet short.  There are a lot of prat falls, over the top sight gags and a chase with the Keystone Cops.  Chaplin is in his tramp outfit at this time, but he still doesn't have the character down yet.

Laughing Gas – Charlie Chaplin (1914):  Charlie plays a dentist's assistant.  You can imagine the rest.  A rough and tumble short, but Charlie manages to steal a kiss from the girl.

A Submarine Pirate – Syd Chaplin (1915):  Most people don't realize that Charlie's older brother Syd made films too.  Syd was actually and actor first, getting a job in England with the famous Fred Karno.  He convinced Karno to let his young brother Charlie join the troop and the rest is history.  As David Kalat says in his audio commentary to this film, if Syd did nothing else in his life, he would still be remembered for getting Charlie his first acting job.

This short is a little unusual.  When I first saw it, I didn't really understand Syd's character.  (I was happy to hear on David Kalat's commentary track that he had the same experience.) Syd is a waiter who overhears a couple of people plotting to use a submarine to rob a ship that is carrying a lot of gold.  The waiter manages to trick his way on board the sub and then proceeds to use it not to save the gold bearing ship, but to rob it.  The fact that the star wasn't a good guy was a little odd, but this is still an interesting film.  The exterior shots of the submarine, a real US Navy vessel (used with permission), were an unexpected surprise.

Cupid's Rival – Billy West (1917):  Charlie Chaplin was incredibly popular in the silent era, but also very slow when it came to putting out new films.  If the real Tramp wasn't going to make the movies that people wanted to see, then imitators would.  Chaplin had many people trying to copy his style, dress, and comedy, and the best of those was Billy West.  This West comedy shows how close he was to the real thing.  It costars Oliver Hardy.

The Bond – Charlie Chaplin (1918):  A promotional film that Charlie did with his usual costars (at the time) Edna Purviance and Mack Swain to raise money for the war effort.  Excerpts are often taken from this short and you've probably seen the clip of Charlie hitting the Kaiser over the head with a giant hammer that says Liberty Bonds.  The entire short is included on this disc.

Disc Two:

Golf – Larry Semons (1922):  Larry Semons is probably best known for his silent adaptation of The Wizard of Oz featuring Oliver Hardy.  He was a silent clown though and was very popular in his time.  He had some of the best stunt men in the business on his payroll and his shorts were often filled with creative stunts and elaborate gags.  In this film, Larry is a golf fanatic who has trouble on the links with Oliver Hardy.

Lizzies of the Field – Billy Bevan (1924):  Appearing in literally hundreds of silent and sound movies, Billy Bevan was a regular on the Sennet lot in the 1920's.  This typical Bevan film has him entering a free-for-all motor race with a $250 prize.  Mayhem ensues.

Heavy Love – Ton of Fun (1926):  Roscoe Arbuckle, Oliver Hardy and other hefty comedians got a lot of laughs in their time.  Producer Joe Rock figured if one large guy was funny, three would be hysterical.  To test his theory he teamed together Frank "Fatty" Alexander, Hillard "Fat" Kerr, and "Kewpie" Ross to create the "Ton of Fun".  Billed as the "three fattest men on the screen", the trio made low budget comedies for poverty row studio Standard Photoplay and had a moderate amount of success at the end of the silent era.  In this short the group goes to work at a construction site with predictable results.

Uppercuts – Jack Duffy (1926):  Duffy started out in vaudeville, was hired by Larry Semon to appear in his films, stared in a series of his own shorts, and eventually became a make-up artist.  This film has Duffy playing an old man who arranges a fight, only to have the event raided by the police.  What a perfect way the start a chase!

Beauty and the Bump – Perry Murdock (1927): Another poverty row comedy featuring Perry Murdock and Nita Cavalier.  This was the first of a very short series of only five films that teamed these two comedians.  After the partnership was dissolved, Nita retired after one more film role, but Perry continued in Hollywood playing small parts in low budget westerns.  He eventually turned his talents to set design, and continued working in that capacity until the early 1970's.  In this rare film, Murdock takes his girl to an amusement park where he manages to get a thug chasing him.  A rather uninspired film, it was interesting to see the park and rides.

Reckless Rosie – Francis Lee (1929):  Cute, perky, and sexy, forgotten comedienne Francis Lee is great in this risqué comedy.  She is entrusted with getting a rare teddy to the underwear show downtown.  After watching this it's hard to tell what the main selling point is, the comedy or the women prancing around in underwear.  I'm guessing the later.

Disc Three:

Luke's Movie Muddle – Harold Lloyd (1916):  A rare Lonesome Luke short.  Before Lloyd became a huge star with his 'glasses character' he had a successful series of shorts as a Charlie Chaplin imitator.  Lloyd always talked these shorts down in later years; he wanted people to remember him for his original creations, but this is does have some laughs in it.

Pay Your Dues – Harold Lloyd (1919):  This was one of the very last one-reel films that Harold Lloyd made.  He's in his glasses character here, and is mistaken for someone who wants to be initiated into a fraternal order.  Blindfolded, Lloyd gets put through some crazy initiation stunts.  The interesting thing about this film is that foreshadows some of Lloyds thrill pictures, but without the actual thrills.  In one scene the blindfolded Lloyd is told to climb to the top of a tall building and walk across the roof.  This, unbeknownst to Lloyd, actually takes place inside and the rigged ladder only gives the illusion that he's climbing up high.  It's funny to think that in a few years he'd be doing similar stunts on the side of a building.

The Nonskid Kid – Eddie Boland (1922):  Boland was a regular in many Hal Roach comedies and appeared in many shorts with Harold Lloyd.  In this staring role, Boland shares the screen with Earnest "Sunshine Sammy" Morrison, a child actor who was one of the original "Our Gang" kids.  Morrison was a talented actor even at an early age and steals the picture.  He was the first black child movie star and in later years he would be cast as a regular in the Dead End Kids/ East Side Kids films.

Sold at Auction – Snub Pollard (1923):  Snub was another regular on the Roach lot who graduated to his own series of shorts.  His films were often filled with inventive gags and unusual props, and this one is no exception.  Poor Snub has to retrieve a houseful of furniture that was sold at auction and goes to some great lengths to get it back.  This outrageous short was directed by Charlie Chase under his real name, Charles Parrot.

Smithy – Stan Laurel (1924):  This Stan Laurel solo effort has him discharged from the army and getting a job at a construction site.  Stan plays a character that's similar to the one that would make him famous when he was teamed up with Oliver Hardy.  The plot, involving mishaps while building a home, is also one that the team of Laurel and Hardy would get a lot use from.  A funny short.

Forgotten Sweeties – Charley Chase (1927):  If you've seen the Kino collection of Charlie Chase shorts, you'll know that he was a talented and gifted comic.  While this isn't his best short, it is very enjoyable.  Charlie's ex-girlfriend and her new husband move in across the hall.  This doesn't please the jealous husband or Charlie's wife.

The DVD:


Audio:

These films are accompanied by original piano scores written and performed by Ben Model, with the exception of The Bond (Bernie Anderson on organ), and The Submarine Pirate (piano accompaniment by Ray Brubacher.) Cupid's Rival has vintage music playing over the film which is not scene specific.  These stereo tracks all sounded good, there were no audio defects (with the exception of Cupid's Rival) to mar the production and the music fit the subject matter well.  A nice sounding set of films.

Video:

Unfortunately these films have not been restored.  Of course the image quality varies from short to short, but it generally ranges from 'okay' to 'not so good.'  The transfers were all made from 16 mm reduction prints and they have seen better days.  All of the prints have scratches and dirt and the image was generally very soft, almost blurry at some points.  The contrast is generally not too good either.  Details disappear into shadows and highlights, and the level of detail isn't great.  Having said that, there really is not much economic incentive to restore these films, so their shortcomings can be forgiven and even expected.

Extras:

There are a couple of bonus items included with this set, all to be found on the first disc. First is the short Getting Ahead.  This is an odd mixture of sound and silent film clips that, well, you just have to see it for yourself.

Viewers with a computer with a DVD-ROM drive can access a .pdf file of "The Chaplin Book", a 1916 picture book about the little tramp.

The most enjoyable bonus item however was the commentary track to the Syd Chaplin film The Submarine Pirate by David Kalat.  David is a very entertaining speaker and gives a lot of background on the Chaplin brothers including their work with Fred Karno, coming to America, and Syd's leaving show business.  Though the track isn't scene specific, he only talks about the film a little, it is a lot of fun.  (I especially enjoyed David's description of Charlie Chaplin's older brother:  "Syd kind of looks like the unholy love child of Charlie Chaplin and Shemp Howard.")

Final Thoughts:

This is a very good selection of rare and seldom seen silent shorts.  This wouldn't be the best collection to introduce someone to the world of early screen comedy, a Chaplin or Keaton film would be best for that, but fans of the genre will be overjoyed that a collection such as this has been released.  It's too bad that these films weren't restored, as the video is a little rough, but if you go in expecting older 16mm prints I'm sure you won't be disappointed.  This set gets a strong Recommendation, especially for comedy fans.



Comments?  Suggestions? Feel free to send me an e-mail.

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