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Charley Chase Shorts - Vol 01

Sony Pictures Choice Collection // Unrated // January 15, 2013
List Price: $20.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by John Sinnott | posted March 21, 2013 | E-mail the Author
The Shorts:
Though he was never as big as Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, or Harold Lloyd, Charles Parrott, better know by his stage name of Charley Chase, was a very talented comic.  He wasn't only funny in front of the camera, but he was a gifted director, writer, and editor as well.  He directed the Three Stooges, and was Director-General at Hal Roach's studio, basically running the whole show for a time.  Though he's not very well known today, a fair selection of his silent work is available on DVD.  Unfortunately, few of his sound shorts have been released... until now.  Thanks to Sony's MOD program some of the talkies that he did in at Columbia have seen the light of day.  They look beautiful, the gags are funny, and there's even a rare short featuring vaudeville comedy team Joe Smith and Charlie Dale that Chase directed.  What more could you want?

Charles Parrott started out working for Al Christie's studio in 1912 and by 1915 moved up to Mack Sennett's outfit.   There he honed his skills, both in front of and behind the camera, taking the name Charley Chase when he appeared in films.  In 1920, having worked for several studios by that time, he joined Hal Roach Studios and a year later he was running the place.  As Director-General at Roach, he oversaw all of the productions with the sole exception of Harold Lloyd's films. 
When Lloyd left Roach in 1923, another comic was needed on the lot and Parrott went in front of the camera once again.  Directing himself for a time, Leo McCarey eventually took over the directing of his shorts and the two created some amazing and hilarious movies before McCarey went on to cast a tall thin Roach actor (Stan Laurel) together with a much larger man who usually played the heavy (Oliver Hardy) and made movie history.  He managed to make the transition to sound without any problems (he had a nice singing voice that he would show off whenever he could in his films) and was one of the most popular comedians still doing shorts in the 1930's, alongside another Hal Roach hit, Laurel and Hardy.
In 1936 Roach stopped making shorts.  Chase was put into a feature film, and when that turned into a disaster (it was eventually edited down to a two-reel short and released as Neighborhood House), Chase left the studio he had been with for 15 years.  He found work at Columbia and there he teamed up with veteran director Del Lord for a series of shorts that are still funny today.  Unfortunately the pair only had four years to work together before Charley died of a heart attack in 1940 at the age of 47.

It's interesting to see how Chase integrated himself with the wild and wacky style that the Columbia shorts (and director Del Lord) were known for at that time.  His work at Roach usually started somewhat realistically and proceeded from there.  Chase wasn't a daredevil like Lloyd or an acrobat like Keaton.  Though he was at home doing slapstick, his films were more situational comedies rather than maniacal slugfests that made The Three Stooges stars.  At Columbia he came up with a nice compromise... his comedies there still had one foot grounded in reality (or at least they tired) but the situation would become increasingly bizarre (and funny) as the movie went on.
It took Chase and Lord a little bit of time to come up with the right mix, but they hit on the formula fairly quickly.  The first film in this set, Man Bites Lovebug, is a good illustration of this process.  Chase plays a marriage expert, Charles Clayfoot Chase, who is good friends with a scientist, Theodore (played by John T. Murray).  The scientist doesn't have time for his wife, Imogene (Mary Russell), and feels sorry that he's neglected her.  When Chase comes to visit for the weekend, Theodore has a great idea:  Charles will pretend to flirt with Imogene and then Theodore with catch him in the act of wooing her and fly into a jealous rage, thereby proving that he still loves her.  The only catch is that the Indian servant isn't in on the plan and doesn't take kindly to an interloper trying to breakup the marriage.  The short starts off calmly enough, with Charles complimenting Imogene while the servant glares at him, but before long Charles is being chased by both a gun wielding butler and his ex-friend.
These early shorts aren't as good as Chase's silent work, but they're still very entertaining and will give some good laughs.  Yes, the situations are absurd (my teenaged son had trouble suspending his disbelief on some of them) but that's the nature two-reel shorts. And are they any more outrageous than today's sitcoms?  (The hilarious Big Bang Theory is populated with successful research scientists who live with their mothers or have to share an apartment...yeah, right.)

Chase usually portrays a good-intentioned man who just happens to be a bit of a dolt, but he plays a very different character in the best short in this collection, The Heckler.  It's one of the last films that he made before his untimely death, and he's firing on all cylinders.  Chase plays a loud, obnoxious sports fan who is attends a baseball game and manages to distract the home-team players so much that they loose the game.  When some gamblers see the result of his work, they figure that they can make a buck off of his presence, but an untimely chest cold complicates things drastically.
This is a hilarious short.  Chase's character is so insufferable and irritating that it's impossible not to laugh.  The short starts off well, with Chase attending, and ruining, a tennis match and goes from strength to strength.  If I wanted to show someone just how entertaining early sound short can be, The Heckler would be on my short list.
This set also includes a Smith and Dale short, A Nag in the Bag, one of two the pair did for Columbia (both of which were directed by Charley Chase).  Though very obscure today, the duo were big stars in vaudeville and performed together for an amazing 70 years.  The Neil Simon's play The Sunshine Boys was based on the team and it's great to see one of their movie appearances; they only made a handful of films.  Their act is a bit dated, and result isn't anything great but it does have its moments.  (And silent comedian Chester Conklin makes an appearance too!)
The films included in this collection are:
Man Bites Lovebug (1937)
The Mind Needer (1938)
The Chump Takes a Bump (1939)
Rattling Romeo (1939)
Skinny the Moocher (1939)
The Awful Goof (1939)
The Heckler (1940)
South of the Boudoir (1940)
A Nag in the Bag (1938)
The DVD:

These nine shorts arrive on a single DVD-R in a standard keepcase.
The two-channel mono soundtrack sounds very good for movies that are 70-75 years old.  Though limited by the technology of the time, there isn't any distracting background noise or egregious flaws.
The full frame video is very impressive.  Restored from 35mm negatives these all look like they were filmed yesterday.  The image is clean and clear and there's an impressive amount of detail.  Viewers will be very pleased.
Unfortunately, there are no extras.
Final Thoughts:
This is a very good collection.  It doesn't include the best Chase shorts, those were done years earlier, but even these slightly lesser offerings are fantastic.  Well crafted and funny, fans of early cinema will be very pleased with this set.  Highly Recommended.
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Highly Recommended

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