Robert Youngson almost single-handedly revived interest in silent screen comedy with the release of his 1958 retrospective The Golden Age of Comedy and its 1960 followup When Comedy Was King.
There are some who believe that by the time he produced 30 Years of Fun in 1963, Youngson had already used the best available clips, and thus was starting to reach for footage that was comparatively less interesting.
30 Years of Fun is filled with wonderful comedy material from Chaplin’s brilliantly edgy Mutual films such as Easy Street and The Rink, long chunks from Buster Keaton’s classic The Balloonatic, and the historically important footage of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy appearing on screen for the first time in Lucky Dog (1918). Other comic greats such as Harry Langdon, Snub Pollard, and Charley Chase are also represented.
Youngson took a somewhat different approach with this film. The clips were constructed in a historical context, like a documentary, rather than a retrospective of scenes. There is interesting news footage from the period, and then some clips showing the comedy that defined each era. The historical significance of this footage helps 30 Years of Fun to be as informative as it is entertaining. Schools would likely help students learn a bit more about the history of the late 19th century and early twentieth century by presenting such a film in the classroom, where historical footage is accented by the movies that made audiences of each era laugh.
Along with the great comedy footage of the teens and twenties and the accompanying historical clips, Youngson includes some interesting moments from some of the earliest instances of comedy in cinema, including some fascinating material from France that dallied in special effects decades before CGI was ever considered.
The DVD screened for this review was released by Televista, who have plans to release much interesting silent comedy footage throughout the next year. Comedy is central to the development of cinema, and the more obscure comedians and films are enjoying greater exposure on DVD from companies like Televista, allowing mainstream accessibility to some truly motion pictures.
The source material for this DVD appears to be a good 16mm print. While it is not remastered 35mm, the image offers good pictorial clarity, albeit a bit bright in spots, and loud, crisp sound. It is well-worth purchasing.
30 Years of Fun is not only recommended for comedy buffs, but it really deserves a place in school libraries for its blend of important newsreel footage along with comedy clips, offering a lesson in history that would be easy for young people to successfully absorb and retain. And I state this not only as a comedy film historian, but as a licensed educator.