Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Latest Treasure Trove For Classic Comedy Geeks by Paul F. Etcheverry

Firing up that Beatles classic Revolver album for the annual ceremonial listening of George Harrison's Taxman and pondering when I will attend The Stanford Theatre's Tribute to Elizabeth Taylor, this blogger must call attention to some recent additions to the category of now available cinematic rarities: these DVD releases, combined with last fall's epic Chaplin At Keystone box set, present nothing less than a classic comedy bonanza.

First and foremost, there's The Ernie Kovacs Collection. Arguably, Ernie Kovacs, who first hit the airwaves almost 20 years before Monty Python and a quarter century before Saturday Night Live and SCTV, is still the most brilliant, forward-thinking comedy auteur to have ever worked in television.

On the heels of Tuesday night's Kovacs tribute at Manhattan's Paley Center For Media, the 6-DVD box set will be officially released by Shout Factory on April 19.

We can think the wonderful singer-comedienne (and Ernie's wife) Edie Adams, who bought all the Kovacs footage she could, for the very existence of this DVD. Edie's son, Josh Mills, elaborates:

Ken Tucker, prolific writer on 20th century pop culture over the years, has penned a glowing review of the new Ernie retrospective in Entertainment Weekly. David Bianculli followed suit on NPR's Fresh Air from WHYY.

This 6-DVD box set, curated by film historian and silent film accompanist Ben Model, concentrates on Ernie's NBC shows of the 1950's, which (with the exception of a brief run on Comedy Central in the early 1990's) have rarely been seen since their original broadcast and never were issued on VHS or laserdisc. Those who pre-order the set will get a 7th DVD in the bargain.

Not to be outdone, Warner Archive released a 4-DVD set of the historic and often quite funny Vitaphone Varieties one-reelers on April 12.

This compendium of 60 short films from 1926-1930, restored from the last surviving film elements known to exist and never before released on DVD, is quite the "dawn of talkies" (A.K.A. the "boom microphone in the plant" era) time capsule - filled with musical novelty acts, nutjob comics, vaudevillians, opera singers and stage character actors picking up a little extra dough.

Alas, your correspondent is still catching up to last year's Warner Archive releases, especially the pre-Code "showgirls n' surrealism" packed Vitaphone Cavalcade Of Musical Comedy Shorts

As well as the Classic Musical Shorts From The Dream Factory box set.

And then's more. . .

Those ultra-geeky (in the best sense of the phrase) dyed-in-the-wool film buffs who have a multi-region DVD system which will play discs other than NTSC, specifically the the PAL broadcast standard, will love Edition Filmmuseum's riotously funny retrospective of Hal Roach Studio comedies starring Yiddish comedian-character actor Max Davidson.

The Max Davidson series was Leo McCarey's pet project at Roach in 1928, between his very successful stints writing and co-directing outrageous comedy shorts featuring Charley Chase and Laurel & Hardy.

All of the above present the entertainment equivalent of crack for incurable classic comedy and vintage movie geeks.


Don J. Long said...

Wonderful, Paul, as soon as my bank account allows for it, I will be ordering these terrific cinematic and television gems. Thanks for your as-always cleverly-worded, articulate write-up about them!

paul etcheverry said...

Don, it sounds like you and I are in the same boat! I will, however, be scoring various Warner Archive titles, one at a time. Also just released by Warner Archive: The Boyfriend, Ken Russell's wonderful and very British take on Busby Berkeley, starring Twiggy in the Ruby Keeler role.

I also check eBay periodically, where bargains on multi-DVD sets can sometimes be found.