Slapstick Festival

Full disclosure: this two-DVD, 35-short set was a gift from Mill Creek Entertainment, one of several they sent me along with a replacement disc, for free, with no request or expectation. It’s not a set I would have ordered, since I’ve already seen six of the nine sets of shorts (as Disc 1 and side one of Disc 2 of 50 Movie Comedy Classics, but with the two Buster Keaton collections combined into one very long 8-short collection in this set). Actually, that’s not entirely true: there’s one more Our Gang short, and it’s possible that some Fatty Arbuckle shorts are different.

The new discs are recent vintage, which means they’re two-layer single-sided discs with full-color covers, rather than the old single-layer two-sided discs with titles in the hub. The DVD menus are also a little classier than the old style. Otherwise, pretty similar—and I’m only including reviews for the three new “festivals.” (See Cites & Insights 9:9, August 2009, for the rest.)

Disc 1

Charlie Chaplin Festival. Three shorts, all starring (and written by) Charles Chaplin in his tramp character, all also featuring Edna Purviance and the tall, menacing Eric Campbell; all silent b&w with unrelated music; two without intertitles, one with. Includes The Cure, 1917, Henry Bergman, John Rand, James T. Kelley, 0:31 [0:19]; Easy Street, 1917, 0:19; and The Rink, 1916, James T. Kelley, Henry Bergman 0:30 [0:20].

Charlie Chaplin was unquestionably a master of physical comedy during this period—although not without a streak of cruelty in The Rink, the earliest of the three. While all three play as aspects of his tramp persona, they’re markedly different.

In The Cure, Chaplin’s a drunkard taking the cure—but doing so with a huge trunk entirely filled with booze. Most of the comedy either involves revolving doors (played to the hilt) or the consequences when an attendant throws all of Chaplin’s booze out the window—and into the well that’s the heart of the cure, with ensuing general merriment. I gave this one $0.75—it was consistently funny and cleverly done.

Easy Street sees the tramp triumphant—down on his luck in a mission, then (on a whim) signing up to be a cop and defeating the street’s master bully. The mass fighting near the beginning doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but the rest of the picture is really very well plotted and carried out. The print’s not as good as it might be, but it’s still a solid short (and the only one that appears to be full-length. $0.60.

The Rink begins in a restaurant, where Chaplin’s a really poor waiter—but the heart of it is in a skating rink, where Chaplin displays superior comedy skating skills along with a mean streak. This is the only one with any title cards; it was also, to my mind, the least satisfying. $0.45

Taken together, this is just under an hour of first-rate physical comedy from a master of the genre, with generally acceptable prints, and I think the overall $1.80 is fair.

Keystone Cops Festival. Four shorts, 0:56 total; I gave it a total of $0.40.

Our Gang Festival. Four shorts, 1:12 total, including one I hadn’t seen before, Waldo’s Last Stand. I gave the other three a total of $0.50. Waldo’s Last Stand is mostly kids doing dance routines; I’d give it maybe $0.15, for a total of $0.65.

Three Stooges Festival. Four shorts, all starring some version of the Three Stooges (Larry Fine, Moe Howard, and either Shemp Howard or Curly Howard), all sound, b&w. (Disorder in the Court includes Curly; the others include Shemp.) Includes The Brideless Groom, 1947, Edward Bernds. (dir.), Dee Green, Christine McIntyre, 0:17; Disorder in the Court, 1936, Jack White (dir.), 0:16; Malice in the Palace, 1949, Jules White (dir.), Vernon Dent, George Lewis, 0:16; and Sing a Song of Six Pants, 1947, Jules White (dir.), Virginia Hunter, Tiny Brauer, Vernon Dent, 0:17, for a total of 1:05.

Some comedians and comedy film groups, such as the East Side Kids, are clearly acquired tastes. If you’d asked me earlier, I might have said I liked the Three Stooges for dumb humor, although I hadn’t seen them in years. In this case, absence makes the heart go wander: I now find that it’s a taste I’ve disacquired. The group seems lame, riding one or two pieces of schtick for all they’re worth. On the other hand, the prints are all quite good—but if you’re a Stooges person, you probably already have these. (Or maybe not: Apparently they’re the only Stooges shorts to fall into the public domain, so are left out of pricier compilations.)

The Brideless Groom has one of the Stooges as a music teacher with a horrendously bad vocal pupil; another one finds that he’s eligible for a huge inheritance—but only if he’s married within the next six hours. Big dumb comedy ensues. Very generously, $0.30.

Disorder in the Court is, if possible, a little dumber, although it does include a nice little dance routine. It’s set in a courtroom, with the Stooges key witnesses to try to save an innocent woman from a murder rap. $0.25.

Malice in the Palace involves a huge diamond, adventurers and schtick; that may be insufficient, but other than a restaurant sketch suggesting that the chef was serving up cats and dogs, it’s hard to remember even 12 hours later. $0.20.

Sing a Song of Six Pants has the Stooges as failing tailors, which allows for lots of their kind of comedy based on beating the crap out of one another. $0.25.

You know what? All those ratings are generous, based on the possibility that you’ll find this stuff funnier than I do. It seems to add up to $1.00, but I’d rank it lower than that.

W. C. Fields Festival. Three shorts, all starring W. C. Fields, all sound, b&w. Includes The Dentist, 1932, Leslie Pearce (dir.), Marjorie Kane, Arnold Gray, Dorothy Granger, Elise Cavanna, 0:21; The Fatal Glass of Beer, 1933, Clyde Bruckman (dir.), Rosemary Theby, George Chandler, Richard Cramer, 0:21 [0:19]; and The Golf Specialist, 1930, Monte Brice (dir.), Shirley Grey, John Dunsmuir, Al Wood, 0:20.

OK, so I do like W.C. Fields—and although I’ve seen these three before (but can’t remember when), I enjoyed seeing them again. All good prints, good enough so the tacky rear projection in Fatal Glass of Beer is as obvious as Fields wanted it to be.

The Dentist is Fields at his most irascible (and mildly foolish), with some remarkable physical comedy during the dental scenes (and some funny golf stuff). $0.50.

The Fatal Glass of Beer is what it is—a classic satire on cheaply-made studio melodramas. Fields is a Yukon gold prospector going back to his frozen homestead (but with a big gold nougat, at least the way he pronounces it). We get his musical charms along the way (the titular song) and the no-good son who returns to the flock. That, and a running gag that, for some reason, never gets old. ‘Taint a fit night out for man nor beast, but it’s a funny, funny short. $0.75.

The Golf Specialist has Fields as a con man, a hotel dick’s wife who is always hot to trot, the world’s most annoying caddy…well, it’s another charmer, if you like Fields. $0.50.

That comes out to $1.75. Fields was unique, perhaps the slowest-paced physical comedian in the business, and I found this hour quite satisfying.

Disc 2

All previously reviewed, with the Buster Keaton Festival (nearly three hours!) split into two parts:

All-Star Extravanza. Three shorts, 0:55 total, with a variety of casts. While I gave it a total of $0.75, one of the shorts—La Cucaracha—is the first live-action three-strip Technicolor film and interesting on that account.

Buster Keaton Festival. Eight shorts, 2:49 total. As presented on the earlier set (split into Festival and Classics), I gave this collection a total of $3.10—which is too high for one “picture,” but an indication that there’s some great stuff here from a master of silent comedy. Let’s call it $2.

Fatty Arbuckle Festival. Three shorts, 0:44 total—and one of three barely has Arbuckle in it at all. $0.50. (Note: This might be different shorts—I didn’t bother to look.)

Stan Laurel Festival. Three shorts, 0:65 total. $0.75.

So what do we have? Disc 1 seems to add up to $5.60, Disc 2 to $4 (or more). Is there really $9.60 worth of slapstick here? Well, there are 35 shorts, including a handful of true classics; you can probably stream all or most of these from the Internet Archive or elsewhere, but you can get it for $4.36 via Amazon (indirectly)—although, since it’s apparently been discontinued, that may not be true for too long.

Normally, I post each disc’s worth of old movies as a blog post–and then publish reviews for half a collection (or a tenth of a collection, for the 60-disc Mystery Collection, or the entire collection for sets of six discs or less) in Cites & Insights as an Offtopic Perspective.

I don’t plan to do that this time–there’s just not enough new to bother with.

I also don’t plan to keep the discs–and, since it turns out that the entire set of 20 Hitchcock flicks is included in another (somewhat misnamed) 50-movie collection that Mill Creek sent me for free, there’s very little reason to keep that set.

So here’s the deal: I’ll be at Midwinter 2010 (big shock there!), staying in the Westin Boston Waterfront, there from Friday morning (I’m taking a red-eye) through Monday evening. If you’re going to be at either the LITA Happy Hour (assuming there is one and it’s in a convenient location) or at the OCLC Bloggers Salon (assuming there is one), you could be the proud owner of one of these small sets of public domain stuff.

I’ll ask appropriate prices: “thanks” for the Slapstick Festival, a glass of wine for the Hitchcock collection.

If you’re going to be at ALA Midwinter and one of these shindigs, and if you want one of these sets, let me kn0w–first come, first served–in a comment or via email.

Now, on to Disc 5 of the Mystery Collection, which is four more Sherlock Holmes movies–three with Basil Rathbone, one with Reginald Owen, and one full feature length. I wish I could say I’m excited about seeing four more Holmes flicks…ah, but that’s another post, one that probably won’t get posted.

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