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Mishaps of Musty Suffer Vol. 1, The
Undercrank Productions // Unrated // April 22, 2014
List Price: $19.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Undercrank Productions has dug up some more amazing silent shorts and released them on DVD. The Mishaps of Musty Suffer Volume One contains eight one-reel films starring the unjustifiably forgotten Harry Watson Jr. along with some nice bonus material and new musical scores composed and performed by Ben Model. These films are funny, surreal, and immensely entertaining, everything you want in a silent comedy.
Harry Watson Jr. was a star of vaudeville, half of the comedy duo Bickel and Watson. In 1907 Florenz Ziegfeld tapped them to star in a new show he was planning: The Ziegfeld Follies. The pair was successful enough that they were brought back for more seasons and Watson performed as a solo act in the Follies of 1912 where he shared star billing with Leon Errol.
From here he was tapped for the movies. In 1915 producer George Kleine starred Watson in a five-reel movie, Keep Moving, as a rich young man who is bored with a life of luxury. When he wishes to see the world his hobo-fairy godfather turns him into a tramp, names his "Musty Suffer," and starts him on a series of comical adventures. For reasons that aren't quite clear, Kleine never released Keep Moving as a feature but instead edited it into a number of one-reel comedies. Filming more adventures of the homeless vagabond and releasing a new one every week, "The Mishaps of Musty Suffer" were apparently popular. Three series of shorts (or 'whirls' as they were referred to in the movies themselves) were ultimately filmed between 1915 and 1917.
Given that the star of these whirls is a homeless indigent, and that Chaplin was insanely popular at the time, it would be easy to assume that Harry Watson Jr. was another in a long line of Chaplin impersonators. That's not the case at all. Watson's character may be down on his luck and wear patchwork clothes, but he's not trying to be mistaken for Chaplin at all. Musty doesn't have a funny walk and isn't light on his feet like Chaplin, but what's more important is that their style of comedy is very different. While The Tramp is rooted in reality, Musty Suffer has both feet in a strange, surreal world where taking a bath in beer (while drinking it, of course) is normal, people can switch clothes by dancing, and the exit from a dentist's office is through the chimney.
That's the great appeal of these films... they are wonderfully bizarre. One 'whirl' that is decidedly off-kilter is Just Imagination. Musty takes a job helping two psychologists, Dr. Hickory and Dr. Nut, who put him through a series of strange tests. They sit Musty in front of a table filled with food, but when the poor man turns his head it disappears. The two scientists rush out and congratulate him for eating the whole meal, and pour him a cup of coffee which turns into a live goose while he's holding it. Eventually Musty beats them at their own game, outplaying them in a game of pool although there are no balls. Or cues. Or even a pool table.
My favorite whirl however is the hilarious The Lightning Bellhop. Musty takes a job at a decidedly weird hotel: The Outside Inn. They have an elevator for the convenience of the guests, but it's powered by Musty and the aged hotel clerk who have to pull on a rope to get it to the second floor. The lamps in the rooms are chalk drawings on the walls. When you want to turn off the light, just erase the flame. When someone complains that there is no chair in the room, Musty just paints one on the wall. The gags are creative and funny which makes this a must-see flick.
The shorts included in this collection are:
Going Up (1916) - 12 mins
The Lightning Bellhop (1916) - 13 mins
Just Imagination (1916) - 14 mins
Blow Your Horn (1916) - 12 mins
While You Wait (1916) - 14 mins
Local Showers (1916) - 12 mins
Outs and Ins (1916) - 12 mins
Spliced and Iced (1917) - 12 mins
Ben Model provides the music for these shorts, from scores he composed, and they are great. These tracks fit the subject matter and the music (preformed on both organ and piano) really helps to bring the films to life. There are no dropouts or other audio defects.
The quality of the image is just what I've come to expect from Undercrank Productions. These shorts are just shy of being 100 years old and have been preserved by the Library of Congress. They look very good too. The image is generally clear and the definition runs from good to excellent. There is some minor print damage, scratches and a few spots, but these are minor. Overall these are a good looking set of films.
There are a couple of really nice bonuses on this disc. First up is a real treat, an excerpt from the short Hold Fast where Harry Watson Jr. and his old vaudeville partner, George Bickel, reenact their boxing routine. This was a bit they did in the Ziegfeld Follies and it is really great that not only was the routine filmed, but that it still exists. This was A-List entertainment from over 100 years ago and it's always enjoyable to see what previous generations found amusing.
Harry Watson Jr. and the producer of the Musty films, George Kleine, traveled to Chicago for a live appearance. While there they decided to create a short piece promoting the film series and the result is Capturing Chicago. It shows Watson, dressed up as Musty, meeting the mayor, getting the key to the city, and clowning around in a park with some of the locals. It's a fun bit that is worth watching.
The extras are rounded out with a photo gallery.
This is a fantastic collection of creative, surreal, and funny shorts featuring an unjustly forgotten star. Make it a point of tracking this down. Highly Recommended