The Race is On!
After rearranging the contents from the eight original volumes into ten, Image Entertainment was left with a short-changed Volume 9. This volume lost two shorts, leaving just four and the shortest running time of any volume in the set. As the volume's title indicates, these four shorts are frantic and dizzying, as they rely on wild chases and death-defying acrobatics.
Sid Smith stars in "Water Wagons" (1926) and "Outbound" (1924). In the former, he plays a go-getter sailor who helps Andy Clyde build and race a speed boat. And in the latter, he gets a job driving a truck. When he backs up the truck, however, his cargo (two telegraph poles) slides through the neighbor's window and picks up a bed--along with the neighbor!
"Chasing Choo Choos" (1927) is an excerpt from a feature-length comedy by Monty Banks. The excerpt is fairly uneventful until a chase scene begins, and then some truly astounding comedy takes place. Banks performs some incredible stunts aboard a moving train. He hangs precariously onto the side of the railroad cars, and he runs across their tops while water from a tower gushes just inches behind him. It's surprising he wasn't maimed in the process.
"Danger Ahead" is a relatively slight comedy. It's almost like a home movie. It was part of the Hairbreadth Harry series, which typically lampooned Victorian melodramas, but it features a wonderful sight gag: through judicious use of a double exposure, several people appear to hide behind a single telephone pole. The camera focuses on a single telephone pole and then the heads of several people suddenly poke out in all directions.
Tons of Fun: The Anarchic Fringe
Volume 10 of "Slapstick Encyclopedia" focuses on the small, independent studios. During the silent era, the independent studios cranked out droves of one- and two-reel comedies every year. Many of these comedies were cheap knockoffs, but occasionally the independent studios produced some real gems, such as the comedies you'll find on this video.
Charley Bowers created some of the wittiest, most visually imaginative comedies of the silent era; however, you'll have to look hard to find his name mentioned in even the most extensive histories of screen comedy. Bowers' "Now You Tell One" (1926) is filled with incredible images as Bowers plays an inventor who has created a process "to graft anything." In his laboratory, he has grafted an ear of corn to an orange and cloves of garlic to bunches of grapes. He even grows an eggplant with a hard-boiled egg and a salt shaker inside. Bowers was a wildly inventive comedian who deserves to be more widely known.
Among the other comedies on this video, you'll find an hilarious short called "Family Life" (1924) that stars Mark Jones and Ruth Hiatt. This comedy features both wild knockabout comedy and some sophisticated satire (which takes aim at pre-fabricated houses and family vacations, among other things). Many of the sight gags are ingenious: for example, when the rear axle of the family car gets knocked forward, the vehicle does wheelies every time the father's foot touches the accelerator.
This video also features shorts by several more unheralded comedians, including Larry Semon, Billy Bletcher, and three massive comedians billed as "A Ton of Fun" (Frank "Fatty" Alexander, Hillard "Fat" Kerr, and "Kewpie" Ross). Larry Semon stars in "The Grocery Clerk" (1920) as the title character. This is a wild comedy filled with pratfalls as molasses, flour, fly paper, and many other household goods create havoc at the general store--thanks to Larry Semon. In "Dry and Thirsty" (1920), Billy Bletcher is just looking for a drink of alcohol, but he gets thwarted at every turn. But for the most anarchy per pound, you should try "Three of a Kind" (1926), as the "Ton of Fun" comedians play entertainers at a restaurant. In short order, however, a skirmish breaks out between the entertainers and their audience--with tables turned over and dishes smashed.
Amid the comedies by several small studios, Kino has also sneaked in a Mack Sennett comedy: Ben Turpin stars in "Yukon Jake" (1924) as a "wriggly eyed" sheriff who must confront Yukon Jake and the Purina Kid (the latter is described as "more dangerous than home-brew"). In the comedy's wackiest scene, Turpin dreams about encountering a bevy of snowball throwing lovelies (the Mack Sennett Bathing Beauties) who emerge from igloos and start cavorting. An elaborate parody of Jack London-style Northern adventure, "Yukon Jake" is one of the craziest comedies in this entire set.
It's fitting that this set ends with a collection of lesser know comedians for this is one of the greatest virtues of this set: it introduces us to a wide range of comedians who we might otherwise never encounter. If you're looking for the comedies of Buster Keaton or Fatty Arbuckle or Charlie Chaplin or Laurel & Hardy, there are other more extensive collections available, such as Kino's superb "Art of Buster Keaton" or Hal Roach and Image Entertainment's "The Lost Films of Laurel & Hardy." However, there is wealth of comedy outside the masters that deserves greater recognition. And nowhere will you find a better introduction to these treasures of silent cinema than in the "Slapstick Encyclopedia" set. This is essential viewing for all cinema lovers.