When one wants to truly appreciate screen comedy, it is important to investigate some of the medium’s earliest practitioners. Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and Harold Lloyd are wonderful, of course, but stopping at that point is like limiting your appreciation of rock and roll’s pioneers to Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, and Chuck Berry. OK, I love clumsy rock and roll analogies, but you get the point. Imagine what you’d be missing!
So we have saviors like David Kalat of All Day Entertainment, who gathers rare films from his own resources and those of other long time collectors, and offers them on DVD for those of us who appreciate screen comedy’s rich history.
AMERICAN SLAPSTICK 2 does not feature anything with Charlie Chaplin, but it does have some great stuff by the remarkable Chaplin imitator Billy West ( I defy anyone who has never heard of West to tell the difference), some of these featuring Oliver Hardy years prior to his teaming with Stan Laurel. Along with Harold Lloyd, this three-disc set also features some rare films with Harold’s brother Gaylord Lloyd.
Female comedians get little attention in most collections, but this set offers some great material with the hilarious Louise Fazenda (including the early talkie FARO NELL) and the even funnier Alice Howell (in her best film, CINDERELLA CINDERS).
Lloyd Hamilton is one of the most maddeningly unsung comic greats of the 1920s, mostly because a fire at Educational Studios, where he worked, destroyed a huge chunk of his filmography. Two of his funniest — JONAH JONES and BREEZING ALONG — are included here. Other comedians represented include Snub Pollard, Paul Parrott (Charley Chase’s brother), Neil Burns, Larry Semon, Syd Chaplin (Charlie’s brother), and Billy Bevan.
I think I got the most laughs out of the Bevan short, a Sennett production entitled BE REASONABLE, that I had heretofore never seen. Lots of typically outrageous gags are featured in this breathlessly fast-paced comedy. I was also pleased to finally see Syd Chaplin’s version of CHARLEY’S AUNT (the only feature-length film in this collection of otherwise one and two reelers), and footage from the rare Pat Sullivan cartoons of Charlie Chaplin.
The quality varies from film-to-film. Nearly all of the 30 subjects look great, including some truly rare items like BLISS with Harold Lloyd, which appears to have been saved from the first stages of decomposition. BREEZING ALONG for instance, looks like it was shot yesterday, as does the Snub Pollard boxing comedy LOOKING FOR TROUBLE. However the print of Larry Semon’s KID SPEED was pretty ragged.
Musical accompaniment is great, provided by such contemporary masters as Ben Model, Blaine Gale, Andrew Earle Simpson, Eddie Uslan, Jay Warren, and David Drazen. Inappropriate scores can ruin a silent movie, and these composer/musicians actually enhance each entry in this collection. A couple of the films do have generic silent movie music, the type which was found on most 16mm silent comedies featuring musical accompaniment, but the majority of the films here have scores composed by the accompanist.
The talkies provided here are few including, besides the aforementioned FARO NELL, an early comedy featuring Monty Collins (who would later be a staple in Columbia two-reelers, including playing the Three Stooges’ mother in CACTUS MAKES PERFECT), and a comedy featuring Willie Howard, who enjoyed some popularity during the 1930s.
Further historical value is provided by introductory sequences with narration by Andria Kozica.
AMERICAN SLAPSTICK 2 is a terrific three-disc collection of some rare, fascinating, historically important, and hilariously funny comedy films that feature hard working, talented performers whose work remains relevant and should always remain in circulation. We thank organizations like All Day Entertainment and the various collectors, historians, and archivists who work hard to make these terribly essential films accessible.