Unknown Video has done an excellent job with its new comedy collection series, from a humorous cover concept to the stand-out piano performances by Frederick Hodges that accompany the films. Unusual for a small public-domain video company, Hodges’ custom music is a welcome break from the preexisting recordings culled from LPs or old film soundtracks that are usually found on home video products of similar small-budget pedigree.
Featuring a number of second-tier film comedians from the silent era, this disc is another in a number of collections available to collectors that present the opportunity to view the quality comedy work of Ben Turpin, Stan Laurel, Snub Pollard, Bobby Vernon, Billy Franey and Hank Mann. — Carl Bennett
2006 DVD edition
The Silent Comedy Mafia, Volume 1 (1918-1928), color-tinted black & white, 105 minutes total, not rated,
including Just Rambling Along (1918), black & white, 10 minutes, not rated, The Janitor (1919), black & white, 13 minutes, not rated, All Jazzed Up (1920), black & white, 12 minutes, not rated, The Bath Dub (1921), black & white, ? minutes, not rated, The Big Idea (1924), black & white, ? minutes, not rated, The Prodigal Bridegroom (1926), black & white, ? minutes, not rated, and Idle Eyes (1928), black & white, 18 minutes, not rated.
Unknown Video, no catalog number, unknown UPC number.
One single-sided, single-layered, Region 0NTSC DVD-R disc, 1.33:1 aspect ratio image in full-frame 4:3 (720 x 480 pixels) format, 5.2 Mbps average video bit rate, 192 kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital A52 (AC-3) 2.0 stereo sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, 7 chapter stops; standard DVD keepcase, $18.95.
Release date: 26 April 2006.
Country of origin: USA
This DVD-R collection has been mastered from fine-grain 16mm reduction prints, mostly from the Blackhawk Films collection held by Film Preservation Associates.
Idle Eyes (1928), featuring Ben Turpin and a three-year-old Billy Barty (in what may be his second film appearance), has been mastered from a very-good print that is still a little contrasty, with burnt-out highlights and closed-up shadows. The film includes an intertitle that asks, “Are you experienced?” — Jimi would be so proud.
Just Rambling Along (1918) has been mastered from a good but coarse print from the Blackhawk collection that was beginning to decompose when it was preserved. A good but not great early Stan Laurel comedy.
The Janitor (1919), featuring Hank Mann, comes from a very-good Blackhawk print and holds a moderate amount of image detail and a good range of greytones. We love The Black Doves’ salute of allegiance.
All Jazzed Up (1920), featuring tiny Bobby Vernon, has been transferred from a very-good print, though with much of its highlight detail blasted out. The film features the Angel’s Flight hillclimb railroad that once was in downtown Los Angeles.
The Bath Dub (1921), featuring Billy Franey, transferred from a very-good print that doesn’t hold its highlight details but remains very watchable. An inventor’s automatic bath tub causes hotel havoc.
The Big Idea (1924), with Snub Pollard, has been mastered from a very-good print. Inventor Pollard cleans up the town. How many inventor comedies were there in silent film? Probably too many!
The Prodigal Bridegroom (1926), with Ben Turpin, has been transferred from a very-good print with a broad range of greytones and good image detail. Thelma Hill is a stand-out, as usual.
The disc is supplemented with clips from Ben Turpin films and newsreels (9 minutes), and a stills gallery (37 images).
We are quite pleased with the piano accompaniment by Frederick Hodges as it is well-performed, well-recorded and always an appropriate complement to each film’s action.
We enthusiastically recommend this above-average small-company video collection. A fun disc!
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