Tuesday, May 28, 2024


 by JB

Now here’s a Blu-ray disc collection that’s right up my early 20th Century “black-and-white alley.”

Kino-Lorber continues to amaze and delight film fans like myself with its recent release of oodles of silent comedies produced by the less-famous Vitagraph Company between 1907 and 1922. That’s right, gentle readers, short comedies that are all OVER ONE HUNDRED YEARS OLD.

As I have described ad nauseum in the past—on THIS very website—two of my formative childhood experiences:
1) The gift of a Super 8mm projector one Christmas when I was about eleven years old. I would check out silent films from my local library; their magic made me who I am today. And...
2) The reading and frequent re-reading of Gerald Mast’s incomparable book The Comic Mind, also courtesy of my local library. As a youngster, I was incapable of understanding Mast’s heady tome, so I kept checking it out and attempting to read it—over and over and over up to the age of eighteen or nineteen—until I could finally understand most of it.


Back then, silent films were very hard to find and very hard to see. This was so long ago, younglings, that VHS had not yet been invented. My local PBS station would sometimes show silent films; I remember theme nights devoted to Charlie Chaplin, Lon Chaney, and Buster Keaton. Still, you certainly wouldn’t find comedy shorts from the turn of the century in theaters, except perhaps for a few specialized reparatory cinemas on both coasts. When Gerald Mast passed away in 1988 (far too young), he donated his precious silent comedy collection—more than 300 film prints—to the University of Chicago. It’s these type of comedy gems, over 40 of them, which are presented on this new disc... for less than $30. The mind boggles! This is surely one of the “Discs of the Year.”


... Most Intriguing: Jane Was Worth It

...Least Intriguing: In the Clutches of a Vapor Bath

...An Early Reality TV Entry: Get Me a Step Ladder

...Ripest with Nauseating Possibility: His Wife Knew About It

...Most Regrettably Racist: Hindoos and Hazard

...New-Wave Band Name From an '80s Movie: Kitty and the Cowboys

...Probably Mormon Porn: The Lovesick Maidens of Cuddleton
I remember that I was first introduced to actors John Bunny and Flora Finch in the pages of Mast’s book. Their work is represented on the new disc by three short films, all of them new to me. I had read about actor Florence Lawrence in my college days, but I think this new collection gave me my first chance to actually see three of her short films. She is known to history as the first movie star, as her name was publicized along with her films, and as “The Biograph Girl.”
I was completely unfamiliar with Edith Storey, but thanks to this disc and its amazing audio commentaries by Anthony Slide, I enjoyed a mini-lecture on her funny and quirky oeuvre. Frank Daniels (who played a popular character named Captain Jinks) and Mr. and Mrs. Sidney Drew (pioneers of situation comedies focusing on marriage) represent three more holes in my silent film expertise that have now been filled by the fine folks at Kino.

The restorations in this set are from the Library of Congress, and considering the age of the material, look very good. Obviously in our little 4K dream world, we have become spoiled babies, but again, considering the nature of the material at hand... These films will NEVER. LOOK. BETTER.

Disc Contents:

Disc One
The Disintegrated Convict (1907, 6 min.)
The Boy, the Bust, and the Bath (1907, 6 min.) Featuring Florence Lawrence.
Get Me a Step-Ladder (1908, 3 min.)
The New Stenographer (1911, 12 min.) Featuring John Bunny & Flora Finch.
The Lovesick Maidens of Cuddleton (1912, 12 min.) Featuring Edith Storey.
A Regiment of Two (1913, 28 min.) Featuring Sidney Drew.
Jane’s Bashful Hero (1916, 15 min.) Featuring Edith Storey.
The Egyptian Mummy (1913, 15 min.) Featuring Lee Beggs & Constance Talmadge.
Sweeney’s Christmas Bird (1914, 14 min.) Featuring Hughie Mack, & Flora Finch.
A Case of Eugenics (1915, 11 min.) Featuring Mr. and Mrs. Sidney Drew.
Auntie’s Portrait (1915, 13 min.) Featuring Mr. and Mrs. Sidney Drew.
Jane Was Worth It (1915, 28 min.) Featuring Edith Storey.
Mr. Jack Trifles (1916, 14 min.) Featuring Frank Daniels.
Captain Jinks’ Baby (1917, 12 min.) Featuring Frank Daniels.
Captain Jinks’ Cure (1917, 12 min.) Featuring Frank Daniels.
Damsels and Dandies (1919, 15 min.) Featuring Earl Montgomery and Joe Rock.

Disc Two
The Flat Dwellers: Or, The House of Too Much Trouble (1907, 6 min.)
The Haunted Rocker (1912, 8 min.) Featuring George Ober & Clara Kimball Young.
Kitty and the Cowboys (1911, 11 min.) Featuring John Bunny.
In the Clutches of a Vapor Bath (1911, 7 min.) Featuring John Bunny.
The Deceivers (1915, 13 min.) Featuring Mr. and Mrs. Sidney Drew.
His Wife Knew About It (1916, 14 min.) Featuring Mr. and Mrs. Sidney Drew.
A Horseshoe for Luck (1914, 13 min.) Featuring Sidney Drew.
The Professional Scapegoat (1914, 14 min.) Featuring Mr. and Mrs. Sidney Drew.
Beautiful Thoughts (1915, 11 min.) Featuring Mr. and Mrs. Sidney Drew.
Boobley’s Baby (1915, 14 min.) Featuring Mr. and Mrs. Sidney Drew.
A Safe Investment (1915, 14 min.) Featuring Mr. and Mrs. Sidney Drew.
A Telegraphic Tangle (1916, 13 min.) Featuring Mr. and Mrs. Sidney Drew.
Bullies and Bullets (1917, 13 min.) Featuring Hughie Mack & Patsy De Forest.
Captain Jinks’ Evolution (1916, 12 min.) Featuring Frank Daniels.
Captain Jinks, the Cobbler (1916, 12 min.) Featuring Frank Daniels.
A Little Ouija Work (1918, 13 min.) Featuring Edward Earle & Agnes Ayres.
Mr. Jack Ducks the Alimony (1916, 13 min.) Featuring Frank Daniels.
Mr. Jack, the Hash Magnate (1916, 12 min.) Featuring Frank Daniels.

Disc Three
Hindoos and Hazards (1918, 10 min.) Featuring Larry Semon.
The Grocery Clerk (1919, 27 min.) Featuring Larry Semon.
The Head Waiter (1919, 19 min.) Featuring Larry Semon.
School Days (1920, 25 min.) Featuring Larry Semon.
The Bell Hop (1921, 29 min.) Featuring Larry Semon.
The Sawmill (1922, 26 min.) Featuring Larry Semon.
THE BIG QUESTION: Will my readers actually find these short films funny?

That’s hard to say. I did. I found myself laughing a lot, sometimes in spite of myself. Most of the time I was laughing with the filmmakers, during such shorts as Jane’s Bashful Hero and The Sawmill. Occasionally, I was laughing at the audacity of the filmmakers of that time. For example, The New Stenographer gets most of its laughs from the exaggerated reactions of three big businessmen when they hire a new, very unattractive secretary. Obviously, such subject matter would never be a source of comedy in today’s more politically correct studio fare. Like a troublesome twelve-year-old child, I found myself laughing at both the performances within the film AND the audacity of a film to make “How ugly was she?” its theme.

Yes, I feel guilty.

No, not all the humor on this 3-disc set falls under this category.
So, let’s raise a glass and drink a toast to all these fine comedic actors: John Bunny, Flora Finch, Florence Lawrence, Edith Story, Frank Daniels, Mr. and Mrs. Sidney Drew, and Larry Semon (the original Scarecrow in the first film version of The Wizard of Oz!)


1 comment:

  1. Well, looks like another 30$ is coming out of my pocket