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When Comedy Was King

when comedy was king

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 /

http://www.vcientertainment.com/index.php?route=product/product&product_id=1096

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Best regards,

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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).

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

-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.

PSThe 2017 Rondo Awards were just announced .

http://rondoaward.com/rondoaward.com/blog/

SCARLET THE FILM MAGAZINE REVIEWS (https://scarletthefilmmagazine.wordpress.com/) was somehow overlooked.

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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 *

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DOWN FROM THE ATTIC (book review)

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Down from the Attic: Rare Thrillers of the Silent Era through the 1950s
By John T. Soister and Henry Nicolella -(McFarland; June ,2016 )248 pages $39.95

 http://www.mcfarlandbooks.com/book-2.php?id=978-0-7864-9831-4

This wonderful follow up to UP FROM THE VAULT: RARE THRILLERS FROM THE 1920S AND 1930S (McFarland ,2010) has author John T Soister joined by Henry Nicolella to track down and view where possible twenty-four films that are ignored and unknown by the majority of genre fans.

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Some are at present lost (i.e. deteriorated nitrate negatives and thus no longer in existence) and others available in truncated forms. Yet that we have still so many of these films for viewing is in itself miraculous, as according to Martin Scorsese’s Film Foundation claims that “half of all American films made before 1950 and over 90% of films made before 1929 are lost forever.”

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Beginning with the silent era and going up to 1951, the pair of author sleuths tracked down films and prints from around the world, viewing whatever prints are still extant, and delving deeply into research about productions and reviews buried long ago in musty volumes and microfilm. Their summaries and plot synopses of the films covered makes one seek to look for many of these films, and some make you wonder why a few of them are not better known. Hopefully, their research may bring a few of these films to being found and perhaps preserved.6676769_1

What also makes this book invaluable is their willingness to seek out films that were made outside of the United States. Movies from The U.K. Germany, the Czech Republic, and South America are also explored, many perhaps for the first time in such detail outside of their borders.

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Plus, they cover the odd career of filmmaker Bud Pollard, responsible for the elusive and obscure THE HORROR (Bud Pollard Productions ,1932) as well as the first sound version of ALICE IN WONDERLAND https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6O8kbTi4WNo .

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Soister and Nicolella have done a wonderful job of finding these films and bringing them to the attention of genre fans. As they point out, not all of the films can be considered classics, but their importance cannot be denied.

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HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

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-Kevin G Shinnick

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Encyclopedia Of Weird Westerns -a SCARLET book review

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ENCYCLOPEDIA OF WEIRD WESTERNS by Paul Green (McFarland, publication February 2016) 320 pages-softcover $39.95 www.mcfarlandpub.com .

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Ever since seeing PHANTOM EMPIRE (1935, Mascot) on television, I have enjoyed westerns that not your typical gunslinger tale. It seems that I am not alone in my enjoyment of these genre mash ups, as author /comic artist Paul Green has tracked down horror, fantasy, sci fi tales of the Old West (or western tinged tales).

Green casts a wide lasso to hog tie in film, stories, games, and comic books that touch on these hybrid tales.

Some of the titles may raise a few eyebrows for their inclusion (STAR WARS, Fox 1977) as Space Westerns, and a few for their omission (THE TERROR OF TINY TOWN, Principal 1938) though the author clarifies why he feels certain titles don’t fall under the definition “Weird Western”. However, where is GHOST TOWN (Empire,1988)? He lists several other Charles Band produced films so I am surprised he missed this one.

 

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(GHOST TOWN disappeared from the book )

Most fascinating was how far back in literature these oddball oaters went. In 1868, “The Huge Hunter or The Steam Man of the Prairies “by Edward Sylvester Ellis was published, featuring a steam powered robot (true STEAM punk!) . Dime novels, pulps, and magazine serials all spun out tales of when the uncanny went West.

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I do recall in the 1960s a lot of comic books have science fantasy and outright horror stories mixed in with the six gun slinging chronicles. Many of these inspired big (and not so big) budget films and tv series such as COWBOYS & ALIENS (Universal ,2011).

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There are even several role playing games for those so inclined ,such as DEADLANDS (Pinnacle Entertainment Group,1996 )and it’s follow ups.

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Author Green choses some pretty choice illustrations for the comic art, giving small bios on artists like John Severin who did a lot of work in the craft. Likewise, he provides some rare lobby cards and photos from the cinematic world.

All and all, a pretty good research book on this subgenre of sage brush strangeness.

Kevin G Shinnick

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Fantastic Films of the Decades – Volume 2: The 30s

Front Cover only-1Fantastic Films of the Decades – Volume 2: The 30s by Wayne Kinsey .
256 pages. Limited run 500 copies . ORDER NOW Only £32 + p&p
http://peverilpublishing.co.uk/fantastic-films-of-the-decades-the-30s/

Following is one person’s take on The Good, The Bad and, uh, The Neutral of Fantastic Films of the Decades – Volume 2: The 30s by Wayne Kinsey.

First comes a mainly here-nor-there random observation. Readers of Volume I will feel comfortable with the first portion of Volume II. The early 30s are full of films that redid characters and themes from the silent era. To wit, right off the bat we have Alraune (1930), The Bat Whispers (1930), The Cat Creeps (1930) and The Gorilla (1930) not to mention a couple of Fu Manchu movies, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931), Dracula (US and Spanish versions from 1931 and both essentially Nosferatu redone) and, of course, Frankenstein (1931).

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Actually, rather than log that item as a neutral, maybe it should be entered slightly to the Credit Side of the Ledger insofar as the reader can pick out trends like this; these volumes are well organized.

That leads us to the rest of the “Good” of Volume II. A genre fan can certainly learn a lot from it. For instance, I’m not sure I’ve ever even heard of the all-but-lost Gorilla film called Ingagi (1931 and one of the few early 30s pictures not redoing material) and read the full page write-up eagerly. A number of pages later is a fine ½ page bio of Gorilla impersonator extraordinaire Charles Gemora (yes, he played in Ingagi) which was equally illuminating. The author has definite a knack for giving appropriate coverage; the more key the topic or individual, the more words are spent. Boredom is minimized.

Some other items among many that rate as personal highlights: the coverage of production starts and stops of The Invisible Man (1933), The “Did you know?” tidbits of The Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933), the lowdown on changing censor ship guidelines in the United States and the United Kingdom during the 30s, the recycled props of the Flash Gordon serial and on and on.

Another aspect that I enjoyed is that if the film under discussion was an adaption of a book or play or was later done in film and other media, it’s noted.

Like the previous Volume, this one is generously illustrated with some fine color.

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Now, on to the “not so good”. When I think of the term “fantastic” in regards to moving pictures, I think of three sub-genres: Horror, Sci Fi and Fantasy. Despite the fact that the 30s experienced a famed cycle of horror films, Volume II seems even more unbalanced in its coverage than Volume I when it comes to the non-horror entries.

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As a glaring example, I – as a sci fi geek – was left wondering after reading Volume I whether the well-known futuristic 1929 film High Treason might be covered in Volume II (since it was both a sound and silent film). It was not and even director Maurice Elvey’s Volume II mini-biography compounded the oversight with “Despite his long CV, his genre films were few; The Lodger [1932] and The Clairvoyant (1934)”. It seems that if “Gold” is of the “Haunted” variety as in Haunted Gold (1932) coverage is warranted but the well-known dual-language science fiction based Gold (1934) with Genre Queen Brigitte Helm is neglected. A quick glance at a recent Sinister Cinema Catalog in the “Science Fiction and Fantasy” section indicates other obvious omissions: La Fin Du monde / The End of the World (1931), F.P. 1 Doesn’t Answer (1931 in French, German and English), Der Herr der Welt a.k.a. The Master of the World (1934) featuring an enormous electric robot, yet another Maurice Elvey (!) s.f. work called Transatlantic Tunnel (1935) and its earlier German parallel Der Tunnel (1933), Gibel Sensatsii a.k.a. The Robots of Ripley (1935) and Bílá nemoc a.k.a. The White Plague (1937 based on famed a work by S.F. author Karel Capek). That’s quite a lot of heavy hitters to be excluded. Perhaps if the basically superfluous 10 full pages devoted to News Headlines of the Year had been jettisoned, room for these items may have been available.

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When someone has a passion and possesses an affinity for a topic, it’s always refreshing. It seems clear that the author possesses same toward the horror genre but it seems equally clear that his interest in the other genres is only in passing. Whether this book is right for you depends on where your interests lie as well.

Fantastic Films of the Decades – Volume 2 is limited to only 500 copies and only available direct from http://www.peverilpublishing.co.uk

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