American Slapstick
R1 - America - Image Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Noor Razzak (21st February 2007).
The Film

Since the advent of DVD we've seen many rare classics make their way into the homes of movie fans, nearly a decade into the format, there has never been a better time for the availability of such films from the silent era. You'll find Charlie Chaplin collections, Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton films restored and with plenty of extras that provide a history behind each title (of course there are also a lot of cheap public domain editions that present the films in terrible condition with no extras as well). The majority of these films have never been available before and thanks to the popularity of DVD we can see them, some for the first time in nearly 100 years.
I must admit that since I started collecting DVDs I have endeavored to expand my film palette and over the last few years have begun to explore the plethora of wonderful films made in the early 1900's, Chaplin was an obvious starting point and then onto other known masters of pantomime such as Fatty Arbuckle, Laurel and Hardy, Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton, his 1927 film "The General" is a phenomenal effort that ranks among the top silent films ever made. So having had my feet wet I am anxious to discover more and this collection of "American Slapstick" from All Day Entertainment is the perfect place to continue my search for rare and funny films from a time long ago.
The majority of the silent comedy shorts were in many ways a product of the time, America was seeing an influx of immigrants all trying to grab their piece of the American dream. The characters in these films occasionally reflected those types of people, the hard working and often downtrodden trying to make a living and survive. The combination of cheap entertainment and the ability to relate to the characters made the picture shows a huge success (of course other factors were at play including the fact that this was a new form of entertainment that was quickly gaining popularity over Vaudeville shows).
This collection of slapstick shorts features some of the era's biggest stars in early appearances as well as some little known performers in rarely seen films, including a film directed by Charlie's brother Syd Chaplin.
Some of the films include these players in uncharacteristic roles, one such example is in fact Syd Chaplin in his film "A Submarine Pirate" (1915) in which it turns out his character is not the typical hero that one would expect. It's also a rather humorous film that exhibits the elder Chaplin's talents, something that he found difficult to prove considering the success of his younger brother and having to be compared to him.
This collection includes some of Charlie's early work, including an interesting promotional film he made in support of the war effort against the Kaiser, the film "The Bond" (1918) promotes the importance of buying war bonds to help keep the troops armed. Other films in the collection include the brilliant "Lizzies of the Field" (1924) starring Billy Bevan and features some special effects and camera tricks that even had me guess as to how they achieved the gags and considering the film was made in the twenties it's an impressive effort. It was also one of the true gems in this collection, the lengths these performers went through to get a laugh is truly admirable and the result is great little film.
You'll also find some rarities from Harold Lloyd such as the 1916 film "Luke's Movie Muddle", which features Lloyd pre his glasses character that he made famous in such films as 1923's "Safety Last!".
This collection has also introduced me to Snub Pollard, his film "Sold at Auction" (1923) is one of the most fantastic offerings and features some ridiculous set-ups and brilliant pay-offs in what can be described as a calamity filled spectacle. The stunt work and practical effects are ingenious and remarkable. The booklet that accompanies this DVD set reads: "...I dare you to watch it and not demand an entire Snub Pollard set!" well they were right...where is my Snub Pollard collection?
I could go on and on about the greatness encompassing this set, but truth be told there are an equal amount of films that can be considered mediocre at best, I wasn't all that taken by the Chaplin films, "Caught in the Rain" (1914) in particular, which was the first directed by him wasn't up to snuff compared to his other more well known productions. His later films were much more impressive. "Beauty and the Bump" (1927) starring Perry Murdock wasn't particularly inspiring and the idea of analyzing one's head for bumps in order to work out compatibility among couples is simply strange...although it may not have been back then (?).
Overall this collection of films is a mixed bag, with some films funnier than most, but each one provides a unique and truly fascinating window into a time that most us have never seen and are perfectly viewable from a curiosity stand point. Aficionados of silent films will find much reverence in this set and newcomers may also be surprised as to what they might discover. I can't see this collection appealing to the mainstream public, considering these films are in black and white, feature no sound other than music and don't have any explosions or any of the other distractions that modern cinema has to offer. However if you do consider yourself a member of the mainstream public and want try out some silent film comedies then this a good place to start.

This collection of "American Slapstick" features 17 short films, they are:

- "Caught in the Rain" (1914) and runs for 13 minutes 30 seconds.
- "Laughing Gas" (1914) and runs for 11 minutes.
- "A Submarine Pirate" (1915) and runs for 26 minutes 33 seconds.
- "Cupid's Rival" (1917) and runs for 28 minutes 19 seconds.
- "The Bond" (1918) and runs for 9 minutes 10 seconds.
- "Golf" (1922) and runs for 26 minutes 53 seconds.
- "Lizzies of the Field" (1924) and runs for 14 minutes.
- "Heavy Love" (1926) and runs for 20 minutes 23 seconds.
- "Uppercuts" (1926) and runs for 11 minutes 8 seconds.
- "Beauty and the Bump" (1927) and runs for 16 minutes 21 seconds.
- "Reckless Rosie" (1929) and runs for 11 minutes 21 seconds.
- "Luke's Movie Muddle" (1916) and runs for 10 minutes 13 seconds.
- "Pay Your Dues" (1919) and runs for 13 minutes 24 seconds.
- "The Nonskid Kid" (1922) and runs for 11 minutes 17 seconds.
- "Sold at Auction" (1923) and runs for 21 minutes 32 seconds.
- "Smithy" (1924) and runs for 13 minutes 44 seconds.
- "Forgotten Sweeties" (1927) and runs for 20 minutes 50 seconds.

Video

All these films are presented in 1.33:1, these films range from 93 years-old to 78 years-old so it's fair to say that the quality will not be as great as films produced today. The black and white images are occasionally faded, sharpness is not the best and the images are occasionally plagued with scratches and other imperfections in the print. However, a lot of the problems associated with this transfer such as softness in the image and lack of depth have more to do with film stocks used in that time, the damage and dirt is something that cannot be avoided either considering a lot of these films were likely not stored properly. Despites these problems for films of their age they hold up well and are entirely watch able.

Audio

A single music Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track is included, these films feature newly recorded music accompaniments, keep in mind that music tracks were never recorded for these films as live music would have been played in theater while the films played. As expected they are front heavy but suit each film appropriately. Other than that it's hard to say anything else about these tracks.
These film include their original dialogue inserts in English, other than that no optional subtitles are included.

Extras

All Day Entertainment has included an audio commentary, a bonus short film, some text notes plus some DVD-ROM content. Below is a closer look at these supplements broken down per disc.

DISC ONE:

First up is an audio commentary by film historian David Kalat on "A Submarine Pirate", in this track Kalat provides a decent amount of information regarding the elder Chaplin's career, some background on this film as well as the Chaplin family and their Hollywood years. Kalat talks at a motor's pace trying to fit in as much as possible during this film's short runtime and does a good job of breaking down the film and its star illuminating the audience with information about Syd's directing career and what ultimately ended it so abruptly.

Next up is "Getting Ahead" a super secret short film that runs for 5 minutes 20 seconds, this clip shows the 71/2 maxims for crossing the threshold of success as various clips from silent films are used to demonstrate this.

When accessing each films from the menu you will be taken to a page of text notes that places the film in context and provides some history behind it and its stars.

Rounding out the extras on this first disc is a DVD-ROM section, when popped into your DVD drive in your computer you an access Chaplin's original 1916 promotional booklet in PDF format.

DISC TWO:

The only extras on this disc are the text notes, when accessing each films from the menu you will be taken to a page of notes that places the film in context and provides some history behind it and its stars.

DISC THREE:

The text notes also appear on this disc

Included in the case is a 2-panel booklet which features an essay by David Kalat as well as a listing of the films featured in this collection.

Packaging

This 3-disc collection is packaged in an oversized keep case.

Overall

The Film: B- Video: C+ Audio: B Extras: B Overall: B

 


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