WHEN COMEDY WAS KING (VCI) DVD $19.99 DVD | 1 DISC | 81 minutes | 1960 | B&W | NR | English language | 1.37:1 | Dolby Digital Mono | All REGION /
Back before the easy availability of YouTube, Turner Classic Movies, and Home Video, it was not always easy to see classic films. You had to scour the television guides and hopefully a classic film would be airing on one of the smaller channels. If you lived in a larger city, you might have a revival movie house that would for one or two days show a film made long before you birth.
Robert Youngson was a documentary film producer who loved bringing the past to movie goers. From 1948 to 1956, he produced a series of nostalgia laden short subjects for Warner Brothers, most often using old silent movie clips. They were popular enough to win Youngson Six Academy Award Nominations for Best Live Action Short Films (One Reel), winning two in the process.
Youngson made a feature length historical documentary in 1950 for Warner Brothers called FIFTY YEARS BEFORE YOUR EYES. Rumored to have taken three years to make, the look back over the first half of the Twentieth Century was narrated by Arthur Godfrey and came and went with little fanfare.
When Warner Brothers and the other studios began shutting down their short subject departments, Youngson decided to chance another full-length feature. With his contract with Warner Brothers over, he at first contracted with a small distributor, Distributors Corporation of America (DCA). DCA existed from 1952-59, beginning as a releasing company for foreign films like ALRAUNE (1952) and ANIMAL FARM (1954). The company folded after it released PLAN NINE FROM OUTER SPACE (1959). Before that happened, they released Robert Youngson’s THE GOLDEN AGE OF COMEDY (1957). The compilation was later picked up and got a wider distribution from Twentieth Century Fox.
The film was successful enough that it brought a renewed popularity for Laurel & Hardy who featured strongly in the documentary. Sadly, Oliver Hardy died in August of that year, and Stan Laurel retired, so they didn’t personally get to take advantage of this renewed interest, though their films were now being shown regularly on television.
Three years later, WHEN COMEDY WAS KING was released (by Twentieth Century Fox) and was again a popular success. Once again, the film opened with Chopin’s Etude Op. 10, No. 3 that was used under Youngson’s credit on his films from 1957. Many feel that this is the best of his compilation films , though I would say that this and DAYS OF THRILLS & LAUGHTER (Fox,1961,also available from VCI on DVD http://www.vcientertainment.com/index.php?route=product/product&product_id=507 ) which covers a wider range of films are tied for his best , but it is nit picking on my part.
Once again, Youngson put together a wonderful collection of clips from the golden age of silent comedy. While there are clips of Chaplin, Keaton, Laurel & Hardy, the film also brought Ben Turpin, Harry Langdon, and Mabel Normand among others back into the public view. The movie was well reviewed (“Here’s a toast to this sort of comedy !”-Bosley Crowther, NY Times, March 30,1960) and financially successful.
Youngson made six more feature compilations before his untimely passing at age 54 in 1974. His wife Jeanne Keyes Youngson, by the way, has had an interesting career of her own. An animator and documentarian, she produced a short called “MY NAME IS DEBBIE” about a post-operative male to female as well as helping to found The Count Dracula Fan Club in 1965.In 2000 they changed their name to The Vampire Empire.
V.C.I. has done a marvelous job on this release. Sprocket Vault and Kit Parker Films went out and retimed and corrected footage from the original 35 mm negative (which had been in a series of mislabeled film cans. Having worked in a film storage house, I saw firsthand how common this problem was and how easy it was for films to get lost or dissolving Nitrate films).
I know that Kit has a lot more classic films coming down the pike, so I just want to make sure he gets the credit, where credit is due.
The picture quality of this DVD is as perfect as one could hope (some film deterioration had already started happening from the original silent elements that Youngson had used, and so this compilation is also important as film PRESERVATION as well).
A nice new addition is a very informative running commentary by Richard M Roberts, a collector and silent film historian who I first heard of as programmer for Slapsticon, where many a rare two reeler was unspooled. Not only does he speak about the films shown, but also about director Youngson. I kept smiling at our common reference points like Blackhawk Films, where many a collector could buy many a classic film on 8mm and 16mm. I also chuckled at how his detestation of collector Raymond Rohauer is palpable. Rohauer (or as my friends referred to him*** You Raymond Rohauer”) was falsely claiming to own rights to certain classics, which kept many like Universal’s THE OLD DARK HOUSE (1932) out of the public eye, as well as nuisance lawsuits on films like BIRTH OF A NATION (D.W. Griffith/Epoch,1914).
If that was not enough, Richard M Roberts has added three rare bonus short silent, with a piano score by Donald Sosin, who has been providing music for silent films for 45 years! Roberts provides more informative commentary on these shorts.
AN ELEPHANT ON HIS HANDS (Security ,1920) Hughey Mack gets a letter that he is getting an inheritance which turns out to be TWO elephants. The title card is different from the rest of the titles, making me think that it was from a 16mm home collector release. His wife is not amused. This film is not restored, but is such a rarity I am grateful that it exists at all. Dot Farley plays a comic maid.
FAST & FURIOUS (Educational,1924) seems to be complete with original titles. Director Norman Taurog had a long film career, including directing several Elvis movies! Star Lige Conley somewhat resembles Chaplin when he was out of his Tramp makeup and does some amazing physical work, including a high fall from a ladder onto a countertop. . Nothing to do with later Vin Diesel films, Conley works in a store and his misadventures. There is a cute bit of stop motion in the short. The films second half earn the film its title with chase by motorbike, car and even atop a moving train (so maybe it did inspire Vin Diesel =)). It reminded me of the short PLAY SAFE (Pathe,1927) starring Monte Banks that appears in DAYS OF THRILLS & LAUGHTER.
Finally, A TON OF FUN in HEAVY LOVE (Standard,1926), a Joe Rock produced comedy. Joe Rock, a former stunt man/comedian, he had produced several of the early Stan Laurel solo comedies. The Three Fatties (as they were referred to) Frank Alexander, Hilliard Karr and Kewpie Ross are carpenters. The big men do some very physical comedy that belies their size, though their weight is often the catalyst for much of their comedy. This film seems to be in the best shape of the three (some frame jitter appears). It reminded me of the Buster Keaton comedy ONE WEEK(Metro,1920).
You must play the three shorts in order, without the option of picking and choosing. A minor problem, as you will want to see them all.
If you are a lover of classic silent comedies, or want to introduce someone to them, WHEN COMEDY WAS KING is the film you need.
-Kevin G Shinnick
March 8,2017 UPDATE : I gave VCI most of the credit for this new release. However, I was informed that most of the credit for this new DVD release should go to Kit Parker’s new DVD LABEL : THE SPROCKET VAULT .
VCI did work with Kit to digitally restore the new HD master and authored the DVD, but this is a Sprocket Vault release. Thank you to those involved for the correction .
VCI is the releasing company of DAYS OF THRILLS AND LAUGHTER though.
Kit Parker, I am also told, has a lot more classic films coming ,and I look forward to seeing.
PS– The 2017 Rondo Awards were just announced .
SCARLET THE FILM MAGAZINE REVIEWS (https://scarletthefilmmagazine.wordpress.com/) was somehow overlooked.
When you vote, would you write in SCARLET THE FILM MAGAZINE REVIEWS ( https://scarletthefilmmagazine.wordpress.com/)
under the category #17 BEST WEBSITE OR BLOG ?
Thank you .
Deadline to vote April 17,2017.
*REST IN PEACE ROBERT OSBORNE *