Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Mayhem-Filled "Mishaps Of Musty Suffer" - Now Available For Viewing For The First Time Since 1917!

"Take one hapless tramp who dreams of bathing in bathtubs of beer, suffers from tenacious hookworms, and regularly goes reconstructive surgery with blunt instruments but always lives to tell about it in the next episode, and you have The Mishaps Of Musty Suffer." Steve Massa

"It’s a most welcome addition because anyone who loves silent film comedy, clowns, circus, vaudeville, performance art, avant-garde film or surrealism will inhale this DVD and booklet." Ben Robinson

The World War I years saw quite a phenomenon in comedy filmmaking with the unprecedented rise to international stardom of Charlie Chaplin.

Although Vitagraph's marital farces known as Bunnyfinches, co-starring corpulent John Bunny and priggish Flora Finch, had been extremely popular with moviegoers in 1910-1914, Chaplin Mania swept the world, much as Beatlemania would a half century later.

The new goal for all comedy film producers since, granted, there was only one Chaplin: out-Mack Sennett Mack Sennett - and be quick about it! Henry "Suicide" Lehrman left Sennett and took over-the-top Keystone Cops chief Ford Sterling with him to Universal. Hal Roach started his new company to make wacky comedies and enlisted former Sennett supporting player Harold Lloyd to star as "Lonesome Luke".

Vitagraph, bastion of sophisticated farce, hired cartoonist Larry Semon to write and direct fast-paced, insane comedies for resident headliners Frank Daniels and "fat comic" Hughie Mack.

The result of Keystone's popularity would be something tantamount to silent comedy punk rock: louder, faster and shorter. Leading the "how low can you go" brigade - the appalling yet weirdly funny antics of Kalem's scummy bum team, "Ham & Bud", L-Ko scoundrel-star Billie Ritchie and Lehrman's frenetic Fox Sunshine Comedies (debut film: Hungry Lions In A Hospital).

Yet, the wildest, the loudest, the most surreal and the funniest of them all may well have been the Mishaps Of Musty Suffer series, produced by George Kleine for Essanay in 1916-1917 and starring rubber-faced circus clown and Zeigfeld Follies performer Harry Watson, Jr.

The humor is as wild and crazy as it gets - frequently more along the lines of a Tex Avery MGM cartoon than 1916 Sennett-style knockabout, but periodically throwing some 19th century style vaudeville for good measure.

The Mishaps Of Musty Suffer DVD by Undercrank Productions includes new HD transfers of Musty's "greasepaint and surrealism" packed misadventures, preserved by The Library Of Congress and featuring jaunty musical scores by Ben Model. There's also an informative 47 page booklet penned by scholar Steve Massa outlining everything you every wanted to know about Harry Watson, Jr. and Musty Suffer but were afraid to ask.

This is the first time the Musty Suffer films have been available to be seen the general public after their theatrical release 97 years ago. The off-the-wall humor and sight gags prove wonderfully cartoony - Musty is on the receiving end of indignities reminiscent of a Famous Studios Herman & Katnip hurt gag fest - and in some respects quite Monty Python-esque in their utter outrageousness.

For more info about the films and the DVD, check out this review by Ben Robinson, as well as the official Musty Suffer website.

The DVD and the companion guide are available on Amazon.


Ben Robinson said...

The note of 1914 and Chaplinmania and then a half century later of Beatlemania is well-taken and an observation I had hope dot offer in my piece, but found it non essential. I like it as placed here! Thanks for including my quote.

Paul F. Etcheverry said...

Thanks, Ben, from one comedy buff to another!