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Monday, March 08, 2021

Swallowed By a Sea of Slapstick

 


The Hot Fudge Cake That Is Short Comedy --- Part One


“Binging” is not a welcome word to me, whether food or movies, but I suppose it’s apt where you look at four dozen short comedies in a two-week space. Call it research, object to determine how many two-reelers it takes to become sick of two-reelers. Again is reminder of Glenn’s Tastee-Freez and hot fudge cake fabulous beyond reckoning, a plateful eaten every day for … yes, I think two weeks … shunned since 1978 and for all time. Could too much of similarly good things happen also with short comedy? Moderation in all aspect of life, so say the mature. What to these is difference between slapstick and hot fudge cake? Both are better had by reasoned portion. Time I back from the table then, but not before recounting an odyssey, if random, through thickets of sight humor from creators prominent in their epoch, if recalled less, or altogether forgot, today.



Early-bred fans, after fifty, sixty, years, still demand we “discover” Harry Langdon, Charlie Chase, neglected others. Fact is we've clung to these from first glimpse courtesy Robert Youngson, or glow from an 8mm projector. Langdon and Chase are still world-famed beside some of faces I saw of late. How’s for sampling of Malcolm “Big Boy” Sebastian, Billy Franey, Clyde Cook? Don’t imagine old comedy is buried or lost. Yes, I know much of it is dust, but who of us will live long enough to look at even part of what is so far on DVD, or spinning off You Tube, numbers increased by the week to make keeping up a full-time occupation. I’m no authority, am obtuse enough in fact to be fooled into thinking Billy West really is Charlie Chaplin, so deft is his impression at times. Happy status of slapstick is its being the most democratic of screen categories. We don’t have to “understand” it to have a good time watching (though a Langdon takes adjusting, let alone Musty Suffer). As with so much in life, I’d say die is best cast when young, most fans I know being lifelong ones. Many have been encounters with those who tripped over Buster Keaton or Laurel and Hardy at age eight, or five, pick your date. There is no love like that engendered for banana skins, seltzer bottles, bottomless rain gutters, mustard plasters … wait, stop on that last. What were mustard plasters and why did people use them? For chest congestion, I’m told. Mustard powder and flour that turns to a thick paste when combined with water, which you then put on fabric and apply to your chest. It sticks there and makes for painful removal, especially where comics engage in tit-for-tat. Like stuck-on flypaper they say, and by the way, what the heck’s flypaper, asks anyone born since 1920, save those raised on antique comedy. Apparently mustard plasters are still used. Search me by who. My avoidance of them goes back to seeing Blotto a first time in 1969. It is safe to say that slapstick followers will never resort to mustard plaster, however congested their chests become.



I watch these shorts alone and laugh. Really laugh, having come to realization that I am easier to please now than in youth. Must we forever challenge movies to amuse us? Someone promises their selection is funny, a cue to bow up and show them that no it’s not. People can be cruel this way. I’d rather look at comedy by myself and avoid doubters who think I’ll yuck-yuck at anything, laughter harder won from smart folks after all. Humor being therapeutic is obvious enough. A latest Andy Hardy promises to “Pack Up Your Troubles!” when it’s “Time Out For Laughs!” There was a war then, and everyone had troubles. They needed humor more than ever, which is why Abbott-Costello hit big, and even lesser Laurel-Hardy made the grade. There will always be need for comedy, sometimes a desperate one. The Harold Lloyd estate lately uploaded a clutch of his shorts and features to You Tube for free viewing, all HD. There are oodles here, all terrific, more added each week (latest: Dr. Jack, A Sailor Made Man, Grandma’s Boy). I don’t see how anyone could watch Lloyd and not be boosted. He always surprises me for being funnier than I remember from the last time. Granddaughter Suzanne Lloyd, owner/curator of the lot, has found the key to push Harold back up a pyramid from which he surveyed all of the twenties. Are five-and-eight-year-olds coming upon these at You Tube who will someday keep Lloyd and other comedy torches lit? YT has become the library at Alexandria for vintage humor, a well that is bottomless because it is replenished every day.



I watch Lloyd and am astonished how he strung such pearls a hundred years ago. And so many. I’ll not look up the total number for wanting the supply to be infinite, as if Harold and Snub and Bebe were still back there making these things and uploading them from 1919 to You Tube 2021. I could believe it for image quality alone. Lloyd seems very postmodern, if that senseless term meant ultra-motivated, aggressive, ruthless where necessary. Found out from Annette Lloyd’s book that he and crew did a short each week, Sunday/holidays just part of ongoing blur. Graduation to two-reels made the job marginally easier, then Harold got fingers blown off by what was supposed to be a prop bomb. Don’t let anyone tell you these comics didn’t earn every dime of what they got. I like reading just how rich Lloyd was. Here’s what I sort of wonder, remarkable that it matters considering all of years passed: How did Harold Lloyd and Bebe Daniels lose each other? They seem to me a couple that should have stayed together, or am I too romantic? Word is she wanted a feature career, and he wasn’t ready to commit. Not that Harold would have been a model mate, maybe not Bebe either. Impression from books is that they never fully got over each other, passing only eight days apart during March 1971. Lost love lends shading to what seems knockabout on a surface, part-reason why those conversant on Lloyd’s life enjoy him best.



Comedy excavation is hopscotch played with clowns known by many ... precious few ... or nobody. I sampled some from each category. Lloyd Hamilton was lumpen and prissy, odd but not freaky. Guess if I looked for a Lloyd Hamilton in latter-day midst, there would emerge a few. In fact, there was one I saw yesterday, him grown up in my neighborhood, now walking to-from town slower than a snail, and wouldn’t speak if you told him he was on fire. Could this be a “Lloyd Hamilton”? You wouldn’t figure Hamilton for funny considering hardship he had, but the man was plenty funny. I looked at Careful Please and Breezing Along, both deserving not to be so obscure as they are. LH starts off repossessing furniture in one, winds up with three other guys suspended in a car hung five stories up on a wire. I cannot recall how one led to the other, my viewing days crowded after all. Suffice to say there were laughs, and Hamilton was inventive. He’s another where prints or negatives are mostly gone. Then there was Billy Franey hauling a fire hydrant about town to shake down parking cars (The Water Plug, 1920), a notion not gone stale for lasting but twelve minutes. Franey to me looks like Billy Bevan, who could as easily be Chester Conklin, who might in a next short become Snub Pollard. To think they could all go together into a restaurant, sit down for a meal, and be unrecognized, so long as not mustachioed. So did sameness make them less funny? Depends on gags they were given. My impression is standards were high based on what I've seen.



Robert Benchley is a discovery I have made, not really, because he was familiar all along, but now, and sudden, he is my humorist hero. Is it arrival to stage-of-life where I finally get him? How-ever … he is wonderful and I’m thankful to be in proper receipt. How many more are out there that I may look forward to finding for a first appreciative time? I read Wes Gehring’s splendid bio and bibliography, which has columns Benchley wrote, plus letters to family, various asides. Good as are comic shorts he made (many for MGM from the mid-thirties on, and some for Paramount), it is Benchley’s writing that serves him best, but what a screen personality he became. A boon to features (China Seas, Foreign Correspondent, many more), the buck stopped with Benchley so far as words his screen persona spoke, such leeway a given since no one understood “Benchley” like Benchley. They wanted him as much for his singular outlook developed over years of humor pieces, column presence as in both his own and being quoted often by friends and writer colleagues, plus free-wheeling Broadway reviews he did. Benchley's family would confirm that he was, in "Everyman" observations, much the same person they knew at home. His first single reel for Metro, How To Sleep, won an Academy Award for Best Short of 1935. It plays funny and truthful today as what audiences got then. Son Nathaniel Benchley wrote a biography, also compiled a "Best Of " his father’s writings.



Larry Semon and Stan Laurel are chased by separate bears in 1918’s Bears and Bad Men. They are incidentally members of a feuding hillbilly family. There is no indication of why they feud. People assume all of us in the South feud, and so leave well enough alone. Thing I like is real bears being used, except when one climbs up a chimney or jumps off a roof. Semon was built to take punishment. That and a nervous breakdown plus tuberculosis finished him in 1928. Cloudy prints are for most part his legacy, us caring less for Larry than his giving support to Laurel, or later, Hardy. Several of these shorts turn up in a recent Blu-Ray set of L or H comedy made prior to teaming. Like Clyde Cook? I watched him not three nights ago, but could not tell you what he looks like. Cook is The Misfit (1924) in a way Chaplin was The Tramp, as in always so for purpose of clowning. Cook begins as beleaguered hubby with shrew wife who tells him to “paint the bathroom floor,” which he does, muffs the job, then goes and joins the Marines, good a way as any to occupy a second half of one reel. Edgar Kennedy in Baby Daze (1939) thinks wife Vivien Oakland has given birth when she is actually out for groceries. Someone else’s infant prolongs the misunderstanding. This one was sillier than I could forbear. For a while anyway, the Kennedys will be on probation in this house.

Part Two of Comedy's Caravan is HERE.

22 Comments:

Blogger Filmfanman said...

I've only been able to see Harold Lloyd's films - and they are great - over the past ten years or so, though I knew of him and had seen stills and excerpts before; and, much to my surprise, while recently (March 2021) re-watching Howard Hawks' 'Bringing Up Baby' for the first time in fifteen or so years, I found my enjoyment of it lessened somewhat by my new familiarity with Lloyd's work, as I noticed for the very first time that Cary Grant's character - especially while wearing his glasses - was an obvious "homage" to, or rip-off of, Lloyd's screen "look".
So it is that due to my new knowledge of Lloyd's work, Cary Grant's performance in 'Bringing Up Baby' has now become - for me - a Harold Lloyd imitation, and has thus lost some of its previous charm. That film as a whole is still pretty good, though - it's just not as good as I once thought it was.

9:23 AM  
Blogger Dave K said...

Gosh, you are cranking out one terrific post after another! Can't wait to hear more on this subject. Am really interested in your observation that you enjoy savoring these comedies by your lonesome. Would love to hear what experiences my fellow Sons of the Desert maven Scott MacGillivray has had in programing a 'lesser' two reeler for a live audience and watching the damn thing go over like gangbusters. As a kid, I couldn't stand the Laurel & Hardy talkie BE BIG. Saw it on TV. Three reels to put on and take off a boot! Then I watched it with a large audience (albeit all fans.) Magically the same short was now hilarious... and to me as well!

Mustard plasters! Seltzer bottles! Gopher bombs! The weight-lost-machines-with-the vibrating-exercise-belt-that-goes-around-the-fanny! Things I grew up thinking only existed in slapstick comedies!

9:25 AM  
Blogger Scott MacGillivray said...

John, your Charley Chase masthead implied that you were having a marathon of Columbia comedies. I would advise caution if you were to try that. Ann might yell at you. If you were daring enough to attempt it, you might at least mix them up -- Chase, Keaton, Stooges, Shemp Howard, Andy Clyde.

Filmfanman, I recall reading that Cary Grant was having trouble nailing down his paleontologist character in BRINGING UP BABY, and asked Howard Hawks for advice. Hawks said, "You're familiar with Harold Lloyd, aren't you?"

Dave K, it's been my pleasure to revive Laurel & Hardy pictures and other vintage comedies for 43 years, and I still love to watch the audience reaction. I remember a double bill of Laurel & Hardy's SWISS MISS and Chaplin's MODERN TIMES in the late 1970s. SWISS MISS is regarded in some quarters as lesser Laurel & Hardy, but it went like a house afire, and I remember gleefully thinking, 'Oh boy, if SWISS MISS is doing this well, the second feature will kill them!" Wrong again. The Chaplin film got exactly five laughs -- I counted them.

GREAT GUNS, definitely a lesser Laurel & Hardy, always gets huge laughs during the inspection scene with Laurel stashing a live crow down Hardy's pants. Never fails. Likewise AIR RAID WARDENS, which has long, arid stretches of silence when you watch it alone, always comes to life with a house, and that's why I defend it as good wartime Laurel & Hardy.

I saw BLOCK-HEADS in a theater once, packed house, with about half of it Laurel & Hardy/Sons of the Desert people and the other half general admissions. The fans of course had seen the movie umpteen times, but this crowd actually turned back the clock. The first-time viewers were laughing so enthusiastically that it caught on with the veteran viewers, and everybody just let go for an hour. Every gag got a laugh. Really exhilarating.

Biggest thrill from an audience, in my experience, came from Buster Keaton's PEST FROM THE WEST, when I rented it from Kit Parker in 1985. It received howls of laughter and finished to cheers -- not just applause, but cheers! I hope Buster heard them!

1:37 PM  
Blogger James Abbott said...

Would it be possible to provide a full list of the shorts you watched and where you streamed them from?

3:42 PM  
Blogger tmwctd said...

Robert Benchley - love him, have not seen all of his shorts though. But one of my favorite antagonists/sidekicks in Astaire movies - "You´ll Never Get Rich" and "The Sky´s the Limit" which includes one of his great monologues ("I guess I must have used the wrong chart"). Also great in "The Major and the Minor".
Makes me just laugh thinking about him and his droll delivery...

4:09 PM  
Blogger William Ferry said...

Scott, thanks for sharing those wonderful screening stories! As much as I enjoy rewatching comedy shorts ad infinitum, I regret never having been able to see them in a filled theater. I guess it's really true that great (and even passable) comedy comes to life with an audience sharing the universal fun.

4:18 PM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

First time I ran Benchley's "How to Sleep", my daughter (then roughly 11 years old)laughed hysterically all the way through, often pointing to the screen and saying, "That's what I do!"

Did you ever see the cut-down Laurel & Hardy shorts? Two reelers slashed to 1, features only 10 minutes long? Drove me nuts the way channel 27 would mix them in with the "real" shorts.

I wish today's comedians would do a movie like "New York Stories", with three separate stories each running 30 or 35 minutes. I think it would play well today's short-attention span audiences.

And Harold Lloyd postmodern? I think the crown belongs to Harry Langdon, the Andy Kaufman of the 1920s.

4:43 PM  
Blogger DBenson said...

Alone, laughs come mainly when something unexpected pops up (even in a whodunit). I'll watch a familiar comedy mostly in silence, just savoring favorite gags and reaction shots, and then something forgotten pops out of nowhere. Even an unremembered slap in a Three Stooges short can set me off.

In an audience, laughter really is contagious. Comedies that drag on TV were timed for big, noisy houses. I've seen "Safety Last" kill in a packed picture palace, getting laughs AND screams. I've also seen favorites before small houses, never reaching the critical mass for loud laughter but instead just producing a laid-back amusement.

Combining the two, surprising a big audience is gold. "Pest from the West" is a surprise to those who read that Keaton's talkie shorts were as unworthy as L&H's post-Roach features. For those who don't know Keaton at all it's 100% surprises. There was a moment in time when "Animal House" was a blast of fresh air. Now its comedy is dampened by our exposure to countless lousy imitators.

I saw "Blazing Saddles" with my parents. None of the gags had become cliches yet; I still remember my parents roaring at the infamous campfire bit. It may have helped that the first feature on the bill was the painfully bad "The Klansman". (Richard Burton and Lee Marvin in a sex-crazed, racist south). The crowd was almost desperate to laugh, so we had a little of the WWII effect there.

On the matter of over-binging, I wonder if "Blockheads" would have gotten the same response if "Modern Times" ran first. The audience may have been exhausted after that industrial strength concentration. On the commentary for "Bugs Bunny Superstar", the producer talks about how he determined one solid hour of Loony Tunes was the optimum before audience burnout. Consequently the movie delivers that hour, gently padded with amusing but less intense interviews and such to achieve feature length. The romantic subplots interrupting the Marx Brothers at MGM were likewise carefully calculated. Despised by modern comedy buffs, the young couples and cute kids crowding all the master comedians may have been welcome breathers for the original audiences.

I've been through binge periods on all the short subjects I could get my hands on: comedy, musical, musical comedy, cartoon, Traveltalk, True Life Adventure, Pete Smith Specialty, Crime Doesn't Pay, and serials. There was a time when I'd whip through a serial in a few days. Now I'm strolling though "Jungle Girl", only taking a chapter as prelude to a movie of similar vintage.

5:06 PM  
Blogger Scott MacGillivray said...

Mr. Benson raises an excellent point about over-binging. I remember when I was first entrusted with programming the Boston Sons shows, I came up with a 100% Laurel & Hardy bill as a special holiday program: two Laurel & Hardy features plus BIG BUSINESS. The group had never had a 100% L & H program before in its then 10 years of existence, and I thought this would be a tremendous success.

I wore out my audience! They were laughing so steadily throughout the first half of the show that there was nothing left for the second half. Since then, I only attempted a Laurel & Hardy twin bill when the films had nothing to do with each other: like renting THE DEVIL'S BROTHER and THE BULLFIGHTERS for the same night, and the combination played very well. These days I complement the Laurel & Hardy features instead of compounding them. PARDON US goes great with MINSTREL MAN, for example.

I'm with Mr. Benson on serials. My favorite serials are always good for multiple chapters in one sitting.

6:32 PM  
Blogger StevensScope said...

The 1950's. Southern California.


LAUREL & HARDY on television could only be found on Channel 2-KNXT, LOS ANGELES. Almost all of the films,
(mostly their features) aired around 2:AM on " THE LATE, LATE SHOW", or, for some other folks, 'THE EARLIER EARLY SHOW'! Sometimes they would show a bunch of shorts, usually the short FEATURE DIGESTS, and some of these, badly edited. Anyway, point is, we loved them NO MATTER; and WHENEVER KNXT wanted to show them--that was just fine! All of us here in SoCAL were lucky,and because of THAT TV STATION, I grew up knowing LAUREL & HARDY!

12:34 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Dan Mercer takes up the topic of Harry Langdon ...


Any “demand” to rediscover Harry Langdon is ill considered. Langdon goes over only if a person has a working knowledge of gags or at least a sense of “funny.” Everything he does is an inversion of comedy. He is like a cruel boy holding a steak before the chained dog of his audience, letting the audience jerk itself silly against the chain without ever getting a taste. A typical Langdon gag is having someone absentmindedly pouring spoonful after spoonful of sugar into a cup of coffee, and then forgetting about the cup altogether. The payoff is that there is no payoff. To those with a sense of the absurd, this could be hilarious. The same will prevail for born masochists who enjoy being tantalized in this manner. For most people, though, the immediate reaction will be confusion, followed closely by frustration and then despair. I experienced a college showing of “The Strong Man” in a screening room more than half full and could count the titters on one hand. Of guffaws, there were none. Now, I like Langdon—I like him a lot--but then, I have no sense of humor. I might laugh out loud every five years or so. The last time was when I was reading that biography of Edward D. Wood, “Nightmare of Ecstasy,” and got to the part where Tor Johnson asked a waitress for some…well, something entirely inappropriate. That scene struck me as being funny. Even with Langdon, though, the most I can manage is a wry smile at the realization of the curtain of existence having been pulled back for a moment. I am grateful for that, but I have a feeling that such a discovery is a highly personal one, which someone should encounter as though by accident or, perhaps, through the agency of a mischievous friend.

6:58 AM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

Dan Mercer: Your description is exactly why I consider Harry Langdon the Andy Kaufman of his time. I predict Langdon will undergo a major rediscovery eventually, the same way certain movies and record albums that went unappreciated in their time have become respected by subsequent generations.

9:39 AM  
Blogger Cliff.Balcony said...

I read Mr. Benchley each and every day and quote him so often that I may be soon going into partnership with Dorothy Parker. The short that goes over like gangbusters when I show it is The Sex Life of the Polyp. Don't miss it.

One of Benchley's books was entitled "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, or David Copperfield" - How can you not love the guy?

10:18 AM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

"On the commentary for "Bugs Bunny Superstar", the producer talks about how he determined one solid hour of Loony Tunes was the optimum before audience burnout. Consequently the movie delivers that hour, gently padded with amusing but less intense interviews and such to achieve feature length."

When I began organizing 4 hour animation marathons luckily I had not been told only one solid hour of LOONEY TUNES would work.

The key to everything is variety. With a body of work so inventive that is easy to do. Yes, some people did leave as they had had enough. Observing that I programmed in one hour segments which I promoted. Part One: In the beginning, 7pm. Part Two: Getting a grip, 8pm. Part Three: The Stars Are Hatched, 9pm. Part Four, Climax, 10 pm is one example.

The surprise in the beginning was to see films I had read were not particularly funny with an audience that did not know that.

I had read that Langdon's non-Capra films (the ones he, himself, directed) are not very good. The audiences I shared them with didn't know that.

What I read, of course, stirred my interest in seeing these works but I swiftly learned to leave subjective opinions behind.

This post has stirred my interest in seeing these films.

11:15 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

More musings from Dan Mercer re Harry Langdon:


The only one of Langdon's sound shorts that I've seen is "The Head Guy," which was made for Hal Roach and released in 1930. TCM showed it a few years ago. Langdon plays a nobody who works at a train station and becomes temporary station master after the official station master, Edgar Kennedy, is called away. He has not a clue about what he is doing, which becomes clear when a trainload of vaudevillians comes into the station. It was really rather good, if you like Langdon at all. His character was just the same as in the silents, in manner and appearance, but I was struck by the high pitched voice he affected and the nonsense syllables he spouted. It seemed the perfect vocal accompaniment for that character and very different from what he did in later sound features, like "Hallelujah, I'm a Bum," "There Goes My Heart," or "Zenobia," where the voice was to a degree more natural, if a trifle fey.

1:18 PM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

Dan: "The Head Guy" is the most Kaufmanesque of the Langdon movies I've seen. As if Andy had studied it.

4:18 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

To James Abbott:

All of the comedies I watched were from either DVD, Blu-Ray, or You Tube. None were streamed from anyplace else.

4:56 PM  
Blogger Scott MacGillivray said...

My favorite Langdon short is:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bLjGE-oqXMU

Vintage 1938. He abandons the "wide-eyed baby face" and adopts a middle-aged Caspar Milquetoast character. His timing is as sharp as ever. Disregard the main title, which is dark, and shows a portrait with a phony mustache pasted on Langdon's face.

6:23 PM  
Blogger Tbone Mankini said...

Know what you mean about the somewhat inconsistent availability of TV showings of L&H,as well as WC Fields, etc. back in the Mid 60s.... I probably wasn't savvy enough to winkle out the less obvious showings i.e. LATE LATE SHOW etc.even though, according to my mother, I devoured the TV GUIDE each week....whereas the Stooges and various OUR GANG repackages were all over the tube for years, I don't remember much L&H on Detroit TV until the late 60s/ early 70s, when the nostalgia vogue really kicked in, when I saw SONS for the first time... prior to that, it was only the Youngson compilations... and Fields came to me via Toledo TV, which we could pick up with a huge tower,being about midway betwixt the 2 cities... HONEST MAN, SUCKER & BANK DICK on successive Monday nights, no doubt due to some "objectionable" network fare the local affiliate was pre empting....

6:18 AM  
Blogger DBenson said...

Nonshort comment on shorts.

Mr. Mankini's observations mirror my own in and around San Jose, CA. Stooges and Rascals always had a time slot somewhere, although by the late 60s the kiddie show hosts were vanishing. A goodly package of Paramount comedies, headlined by Hope, Fields and the Marx Brothers, were perennials on UHF stations. I remember Abbott and Costello movies as getting heavier play early on, and then fading. But no shorts beyond Rascals and Stooges.

Laurel and Hardy shorts (real and hacked from features) were off the local airwaves by that time, and more or less intact features were even harder to find beyond "March of the Wooden Soldiers" during the holidays (although the post-Roach titles sometimes infiltrated the generic afternoon movie time slots). I did have access to Laurel and Hardy silents, thanks to the county library stocking an assortment of 8mm titles. That led me to Blackhawk Films. But that's another long story I'm sure I've related before.

Bottom line is, old theatrical shorts as a whole were very rare birds from the 60s pretty much until home video. Yes, comedy shorts by biggest names got some television time and screenings at colleges and revival houses. And cartoons of course where everywhere. But Roach beyond L&H and the Rascals, or Columbia beyond the Stooges? Mysterious, taunting titles and stills in books and articles.

"Warner Night at the Movies" was as least attempted in VHS days, but I was unwilling to put down then-serious money for a Bette Davis melodrama just for the cartoon and short. There were multiple packagings of L&H shorts; I found several of the Nostalgia Merchant brand at a local supermarket. I got in the habit of searching every bargain bin, sometimes finding a public domain or gray market treasure like Keaton shorts or some Keystones. In time nicer (and sturdier) releases appeared, but by and large those were still confined to the usual suspects. Remember, tracking stuff down was not so easy pre-Internet.

DVDs changed everything. Low cost, high capacity, small and cheap to ship, and easy access (Remember fast-forwarding through a tape of cartoons to get to a specific one?). The demand for content led to obscurities getting decent (and affordable) releases. The main beneficiaries have been features and television shows. I've learned to welcome Hollywood reboots and remakes, however ill advised, because they frequently entail quality releases of the originals (Hello, Batman serials and Nancy Drew). But even with that emphasis, we now have shorts -- not only comedy, but all genres -- from Roach, Columbia, RKO, Warner, and MGM that were long unseeable beyond random sightings on TCM.

There are still items on the wish list. It used to be that L&H silents were fairly easy to come by while the L&H talkies were bottled up by disinterested ownership. Now -- in America, anyway -- there are two fat sets of the talkies while the silents are out of print. We're only now getting more of the Hal Roach talkie shorts. And Warner Archive, source of several glorious grab bags, still has whole series of unreleased shorts, but with a weakening market for them. There's precious little from Universal (and its Paramount holdings). Disney put out the True Life Adventures as a now-pricy limited edition while the People and Places series remains in the vault (along with "featurettes" that usually doubled as TV episodes). And I've seen nothing of "The March of Time" beyond an intriguing sampling on TCM.

Let us hope that the people in charge see fit to air their shorts.

4:50 PM  
Blogger Tbone Mankini said...

When I relocated to San Jose from Detroit in 1975,about the only thing left was THE LITTLE RASCALS package on ch44,introduced by Dr Don Rose IIRC....Think even the Stooges were a bit thin on the ground by that point.... the independent TV stations, like ch36 and ch2 from Oakland might throw up an occasional gem, most probably a feature but by the end of the decade,even the early morning cartoon shows never used live action shorts,most likely to the general aversion to B&W in an age when colour TV had taken over....imagine preferring washed out colour prints of 3rd rate cartoons to a great 30s short, no matter what condition it was in...

5:43 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Since the pandemic ,I've the big wave of classics now on You Tube from Our Gang and early black cinema to cult and spaghetti westerns...I've been enjoying seeing the Silents comedies and laughing at them anew after 1970s burnout..and the joy of reading the comments of new commers seeing these for the first time and saying the same things I did at their nostalgic discovery in the,60s and 70s..The love never dies it seems..Every new generation will discover these treasures as one does fine art or classic music..

2:44 PM  

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