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Early masters of the cinematic pratfall

August 01, 2004|Susan King

Slapstick Symposium

Kino, $30-$35

This "symposium" brings together four DVDs with 29 short films and one feature from silent comedians Stan Laurel (sans Oliver Hardy), Harold Lloyd and Charley Chase. The collaboration between Kino and Lobster Films, the leading film restoration company in Europe, used the best available film materials and state-of-the-art technology to bring these comedies to vibrant life.


Stan Laurel

Stan Laurel without Oliver Hardy? It's akin to Bud Abbott without Lou Costello or Sherlock Homes without Dr. Watson. But in the early 1920s, the angular British comedian was one of the top solo stars in Hollywood, almost on par with the likes of Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin. Laurel was the Little Tramp's roommate and understudy in their vaudeville days with Fred Karno's company.

This two-disc set features 16 rare comedy shorts Laurel made for producer Hal Roach between 1923 and 1925. So don't look for the bowler hat and ill-fitting suit he wore when he worked with Hardy. Unlike the perplexed whiner who would cry at the drop of the hat when Hardy scolded him for getting them into "another fine mess," the solo Laurel is a much more self-assured chap. His uncanny knack for slapstick is evident in these films, but truth be told, they just aren't very funny.

Hardy does appear in the 1925 two-reeler "Yes, Yes, Nanette."

Fans of silent film comedies will want to check these out, but you'll have a better time watching Laurel with Hardy in such classics as "The Music Box" or "Sons of the Desert."


Harold Lloyd

The six Lloyd shorts and his 1922 feature "Grandma's Boy" are breezy, clever fun. Lloyd, who was born in Nebraska, played the handsome, shyly sweet boy-next-door in his comedies. With his straw hat and round black glasses, he had an everyman quality that audiences embraced.

Lloyd was also a master of slapstick -- his dangerous dangling off a building's clock in 1923's "Safety Last" is one of the most famous moments in film comedy history.

In "Grandma's Boy," one of Lloyd's favorite films, he plays a cowardly young man who finds the strength to capture a town bully after his grandmother gives him a lucky charm that his grandfather supposedly used during the Civil War. "Grandma's Boy" is funny and sweet.

One standout among the Lloyd shorts is the 1920 hoot "An Eastern Westerner," about a spoiled young man who is sent to the Wild West, where he falls in love with a young woman (Mildred Davis, who married Lloyd in 1923) and rescues a town from masked bandits. "His Royal Slyness," also from 1920, features Lloyd and his brother, Gaylord, in a delight about a bookish book agent who changes places with his look-alike, a ne'er-do-well prince of a tiny foreign country.


Charley Chase

Few contemporary film comedy fans have probably heard of Chase -- a tall, slender fellow with a pencil-thin mustache -- but he was one of the most popular stars of one- and two-reel comedies produced by Hal Roach Studios. After working both in front of and behind the camera -- for a time he was director general of the Roach Studios -- Chase was given his own series of one-reel comedies beginning in 1923. The six comedies featured in this collection were produced from 1924 to '26 and are wacky fun. In "Long Live the King," he plays a pardoned death-row prisoner who finds himself king of a European country. In "Mighty Like a Moose," he's a bucktoothed husband who saves enough money to have his teeth fixed and gets into all sorts of problems with his new pearly whites.

The extras: Each disc features a photo gallery.

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