Large Association of Movie Blogs
Large Association of Movie Blogs

Friday, June 26, 2020

Charlie Chaplin Days 2020 and Laurel & Hardy on Blu-ray!

Here's some excellent news in this year of unrelenting bad news: there are very cool classic movie related events and Blu-ray releases just around the corner.

The wonderful Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum presents an online version of Charlie Chaplin Days on June 26-28. Since 1979, Chaplin Days has been celebrated in the historic district of Niles now part of Fremont, California. Its origin goes back to 1915, when Charlie Chaplin came to town to work for the Essanay Film Company. During his stay he made five films, including his iconic film The Tramp.

While he was here he watched films in the Edison Theater (now home of the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum), and discovered his leading lady, Edna Purviance, who answered an advertisement in a San Francisco newspaper for a job to work in motion pictures.

Although Chaplin only made a fraction of the over 350 films produced by Essanay during its time in town from 1912 to 1916, Chaplin’s name is the most remembered by the general public, and that tradition continues one weekend a year in Niles. The museum shows the films Chaplin made while in Niles a century ago and also stages activities, including a look-alike contest, while merchants display all things Charlie, and a grand time is had by all.

We at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog have LOVED attending this in the past, but, alas, COVID-19 (lethal yet scoffed at, raging, totally ignored - and still frighteningly out-of-control in the United States) has put the kibbosh on going to see our friends at the museum to enjoy this terrific annual event.

Thankfully, the intrepid and creative Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum staff will be going ahead with an online version of Charlie Chaplin Days for 2020 -and raising it with an online Broncho Billy Silent Film Festival on July 24 - 26.

There will be excellent presentations about the silver screen phenomenon that was Charles Spencer Chaplin both on YouTube and via Zoom. Rena Kiehn of the museum discusses the 2020 Charlie Chaplin Days on the Nitrateville Podcast starting at 14 minutes in.

Here are the lineups of Charlie Chaplin Days presentations for Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Further good news: the great films of the greatest comedy team. Laurel & Hardy shall at long last get an official release on Blu-ray.

"Two supremely brainless men, totally innocent of heart, and outrageously optimistic -- there is no one as dumb as a dumb guy who thinks he's smart." John McCabe

Laurel & Hardy: The Definitive Restorations, curated and presented by Kit Parker Films and The Sprocket Vault, shall dramatically increase the laugh quotient in this troubled world by its very existence.

All of the material on the four disc Blu-ray edition is also included in the six disc DVD version, in different configurations. These discs will all be region-free. All films - including the interview films, the trailers and the audio interviews -- have optional English subtitles.

The theatrical films (including The Tree in a Test Tube and That’s That) have optional commentaries by Hal Roach Studio and L&H scholars Richard W. Bann (for The Battle of the Century and The Music Box) and by Randy Skretvedt (all others). There are also wonderful interviews conducted by the aforementioned scholars with many who worked with Laurel & Hardy on these films.

The question I get regarding Laurel & Hardy is how they differ from other comedy teams.

My answer is that what significantly differentiates the skinny Englishman and the portly American from other teams, such as The Three Stooges, The Marx Brothers, Wheeler & Woolsey, Clark & McCullough, The Ritz Brothers, Olsen & Johnson and (later) Abbott & Costello, Hope & Crosby, The Bowery Boys and Martin & Lewis is that the duo genuinely care about each other.

There is a bond, a warmth and an affection between Stan & Babe, however extreme the slapstick calamities caused by their own incompetence get. This blogger and classic movie fan doesn't get this sense at all from any of the other comedy teams, as hilarious as they frequently are.

The best example of this is the opening of their 1938 feature Blockheads, in which Ollie visits Stan at the home for disabled World War I soldiers. Ollie is shocked to find that his pal appears to have lost a leg and offers to take Stan home. A bit of a tragicomedy ensues, as Ollie's consideration and love for Stan, punctuated by his chum’s utter cluelessness, ruins his life! At one point he carries Stan in his arms. Little does Ollie know, Stan merely bent his leg in a way that concealed it and can walk just fine - but enjoys being carried! This is a sequence we can't imagine with ANY of the other aforementioned comedy teams, just L&H.

Another area where they differ from the rest is in how the team specifically practices the art of the gag. In Laurel & Hardy comedies, often the big laughs arrive right before and right after the punchline. In their early 1930’s films as HOG WILD, HELPMATES, TOWED IN A HOLE and BUSY BODIES, calamitous destruction, frequently caused by Stanley’s good-hearted but inept efforts to “help,” is invariably followed by Oliver Hardy looking directly at the camera prior in utter frustration and resignation.

Some of this subtle approach, in which the slapstick indignity is not nearly as important as the reaction to it, can be seen in the 1920's films of innovative silent movie comedians Lloyd Hamilton and Harry Langdon, but Laurel & Hardy take the mastery of a gag, preceded by anticipation of disaster and followed by a hilarious reaction, to new heights.

The set includes nine hours of exclusive bonus materials -- thousands of stills, many of which are from Oliver Hardy's personal collection; press sheets and other Hal Roach Studios documents; audio interviews with cast and crew members; filmed interviews; original trailers -- and much more.

Credits for Laurel & Hardy: The Definitive Restorations are as follows. Kudos, bravos and huzzahs to all who contributed to this release.

  • Film preservation by Richard W. Bann, The UCLA Film & Television Archive, The Library of Congress
  • Digital restorations produced by Jeff Joseph/SabuCat and performed by Thad Komorowski/Cineaste Restoration.
  • A.R.T. by Point 360.
  • Final Conforming and Clean Up by The Finishing Touch.
  • DVD and Blu-ray element assembly, design and authoring by Tiffany Clayton.

Disc 1

Feature: Sons of the Desert

Short subjects:

The Battle of the Century, presented nearly complete with original amber tint and a new score by Donald Sosin.

Berth Marks, with original 1929 soundtrack and 1936 reissue soundtrack

Photo Galleries:
Sons of the Desert Publicity Portraits • Scene Stills • Deleted and Candids • Posters and Publicity • Early Script • Dialogue Continuity • Contracts and Documents
Battle of the Century (including Press Sheet and publicity material)

Berth Marks including production stills, press sheet articles, music cue sheets, poster and lobby card art.

Portraits in Costume
Early Career: Stan
Early Career: Babe

Anita Garvin Interview
Joe Rock Interview
Roy Seawright Interview (all filmed by Randy Skretvedt, October 1981; in color)
Ship’s Reporter interview with Babe Hardy, June 10, 1950
Sons of the Desert trailer (in Spanish)

Disc 2
Short subjects:
Brats, with original 1930 soundtrack and 1937 reissue soundtrack

Hog Wild (from full aperture 1:33 source)

Come Clean

One Good Turn

Me and My Pal

Photo Galleries:
Brats • Hog Wild • Come Clean • One Good Turn • Me and My Pal (all including production stills, press sheet articles, music cue sheets, poster and lobby card art)
Babe Hardy’s Vim Comedies Scrapbook
L&H with Hollywood Friends
Catalina July 1934

Audio Interview excerpts 1973-1981 from Randy Skretvedt (accompanied with photo galleries):
Billy Bletcher, actor • Joe Rock, producer • Hal Roach, producer • Anita Garvin Stanley, actress • George Marshall, director • Roy Seawright, special effects designer • Venice Lloyd, widow of cameraman Art Lloyd • Richard Currier, film editor • Bert Jordan, film editor • Walter Woolf King, actor • Lucille Hardy Price, Babe’s widow • Marvin Hatley, musical director (including performances of “Ku-Ku,” “Honolulu Baby,” and “Will You Be My Lovey-Dovey?”)

Disc 3
The Music Box
The Chimp
County Hospital
Their First Mistake
The Midnight Patrol
Busy Bodies

Photo Galleries:
Helpmates • The Music Box • The Chimp • County Hospital • Scram! • Their First Mistake • The Midnight Patrol • Busy Bodies (including production and candid stills, press sheet articles, poster and lobby card artwork, call sheets and production reports, music cue sheets)

A Short History of the Hal Roach Studios
Supporting Players
Crew Members
Studio Hijinks
Snapshots from the 1932 UK Vacation

Disc 4

Feature: Way Out West

Short subjects: Towed in a Hole
Twice Two
That’s That
The Tree in a Test Tube

Photo Galleries:
Way Out West: Portrait Stills • Scene Stills • Candid Stills • Pressbook Articles and Artwork • Poster and Lobby Card Artwork • Original 1913 Sheet Music • Script and Synopsis • Dialogue Continuity, Music Cues, etc. Towed in a Hole • Twice Two • (including production and candid stills, press sheet articles, poster and lobby card artwork, call sheets and production reports, music cue sheets) • That’s That • The Tree in a Test Tube

Portraits out of Costume
Laurel & Hardy and Golf
Special Occasions
Odd Publicity Shots
Stan in Retirement

Marvin Hatley music tracks (from Sons of the Desert, Them Thar Hills, Way Out West, Block-Heads, A Chump at Oxford and Saps at Sea) Original Trailers for Beau Hunks, Pack Up Your Troubles, Babes in Toyland, Way Out West, The Flying Deuces, A Chump at Oxford and Saps at Sea

We thank everybody involved with making this set a reality and also tip our battered brown derbies to the gentlemen in the following photo from the set of BELOW ZERO (1930): Stan and Babe, flanked by director James Parrott and fellow Hal Roach Studio star (and James' brother) Charley Chase.

Thinking of Stan, Babe and the Parrott brothers brings to mind the question, how do you thank someone for a million laughs? Buy the L&H: The Definitive Restorations Blu-ray, which is available for pre-order now and officially released on June 30.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Happy Father's Day from Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog

There's only one Father's Day animated cartoon I can think of offhand, and it's A Bear For Punishment, the following Warner Bros. masterpiece by Chuck Jones. It stars the incredibly, staggeringly dysfunctional "3 Bears" family, first seen in Bugs Bunny & The 3 Bears.

Chuck Jones made cartoons that could be simultaneously hilarious and brutal - and this followup to The Bee-Deviled Bruin and Bear Feat is among the most hilariously brutal of them all.

It's a pleasure to see this great classic cartoon with commentary by Michael Barrier, the erudite film historian and author of Hollywood Cartoons: American Animation in Its Golden Age. Mr. Barrier interviewed many of the great animators while one could, back in the early-to-mid 1970's.

The comedy and timing throughout A Bear For Punishment, courtesy of such outstanding Jones crew animators as Ken Harris, is quite brilliant. Big time assists go to story man Mike Maltese and voice actors Billy Bletcher, Stan Freberg and Bea Benaderet.

Happy Father's Day!

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Happy Birthday, Stan Laurel!

On his birthday, Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog pays tribute to arguably the single funniest comedian of the 20th century, the great Stan Laurel. Yes, Chaplin was the most graceful and elegant, Langdon (who influenced Stan) the most original and Keaton downright brilliant but nobody could get laughs like Stan.

Born Arthur Stanley Jefferson on June 16, 1890, Stan Laurel was the son of an actor and theater manager. Stan made his show business debut at Pickard’s Museum, Glasgow in 1906, and would later be part of the celebrated Fred Karno theatrical troupe, kings of the music halls known as Fred Karno’s Army. At one point, Stan was the understudy of Charlie Chaplin.

After the Karno tours to America in 1910 and 1913, Laurel toured in vaudeville with his first wife, Mae Dahlberg, and headlined comedy short subjects as early as 1917. The characters Stan plays in the 1917-1924 comedy shorts he appeared in - at times rather aggressive, at other times meek - are far afield from the extremely dunderheaded yet good-hearted and well-meaning “Stanley” from the Laurel & Hardy films.

Stan headlined short films for Bernstein Productions, the Hal Roach Studio, Gilbert M. Anderson (a.k.a. Broncho Billy) and Joe Rock Productions. Among his first appearances in movies would be roles as a supporting player in three breathless comedy short subjects starring ultra-wacky Vitagraph Pictures slapstick-meister Larry Semon (1889-1928), an extremely popular and prolific comic in the teens and early 1920's.

The first response watching these 1918 short subjects is that the extremely goofy supporting player, Stan, is exponentially funnier than the headliner. Oliver Hardy was also a frequent co-star, often serving as the "Eric Campbell" uber-heavy in Larry's Vitagraph series (and later in the notorious 1925 version of The Wizard Of Oz). Stan and Babe, as far as we know, were not supporting players in the same Larry Semon Vitagraph comedy.

Note: Larry Semon, whose gags and routines remind this writer of The Benny Hill Show 55 years later, may be the single most rampantly politically incorrect of all silent movie comics. It's one of several reasons the cartoony comedian, as imaginative as he and his way-out gags and elaborate set pieces could be, remains not as well remembered as his contemporaries. That said, he and Stan work extremely well together in the following 2-reeler, FRAUDS & FRENZIES, and there are very funny gags throughout.

Even early on in his solo series, it was apparent that Stan was a very funny guy.

Most successful among Stan's solo starring vehicles were a series of movie parodies.

The best of Stan's solo comedies would be DR. PYCKLE & MR. PRIDE (1925), a very funny short in which an uber-dastardly Mr. Hyde wreaks a reign of terror with deeds which are definitely not dastardly.

After completing HALF A MAN (1925), the last of the Joe Rock Productions starring series, Stan switched to a behind-the-camera role, writing and directing films in his second stint with the Hal Roach Studio in 1926. Some starred Oliver Hardy and future L&H nemesis Jimmie Finlayson.

Stan would continue as a writer-director-gagman (credited or uncredited) through the team’s 14 years making movies for Hal Roach.

Stan was a fellow who enjoyed the craft of molding comedy for movies, in the editing room and behind the camera.

He even gets "A Stan Laurel Production" credit on their features, Our Relations (1936) and Way Out West (1937).

After Laurel and Hardy signed with Fox, Stan would be treated more as a contract player than comedy creator, much as Buster Keaton was at MGM - and much to his chagrin.

Closing this tribute, we at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog could not recommend Randy Skredtvedt's tome on L&H more highly. It is outstanding and includes many interviews with the team's collaborators and co-stars.

Can finish this post with some good news; a new release of L&H talkies on Blu-ray and DVD shall be officially released at the end of this month.

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Not Inventive Inventions, or The Blunder Of Technology

Pondering how our society and infrastructure were built using products by the Acme Corporation . . .

Failed inventions, crazy inventions and the worst inventions shall be today's topic du jour.

After all, we don't have a soup du jour - and not even James Bond looked good wearing a jet pack.


Ambitious but conceptually flawed aviation experiments, starting at 2:15, dominate the following compendium of "better luck next time" efforts.

For every ingenious invention that won WW2, there were weapons and countless inventions that failed, including the Mickey Mouse Children's Gas Mask. Still don't know what the following Nazis wearing Mickey Mouse ears were trying to accomplish. Were they incurable Mickey Mouse fans?

In animated cartoons, at least in the 1920's and early 1930's, the viewpoint towards the latest and greatest technological innovations is frequently rosy.

After all, the Fleischer Studio built their animation empire, which preceded the rise of Walt Disney, on cool and innovative inventions.

In other Fleischer cartoons, well-intentioned inventions could go spectacularly awry.

And, speaking of Acme Corporation Products, auteur of Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies Chuck Jones, often in collaboration with storyman Michael Maltese, made the revolt of recalcitrant machines - and the difficulties in figuring out how to use any modern contraptions - a key and overriding theme driving the comedy, while vexing Wile E. Coyote no end.

Wrote about The Wonder Of Technology In Animated Cartoons back in 2018, and for some reason thoughts since then have gravitated repeatedly to the phenomenon of "the baby conveyor belt." This is a concept that turns up in WB cartoons as early as 1933.

The baby conveyor belt would be the cornerstone of one of the funniest animated cartoons ever made, Baby Bottleneck, directed by the one, the only Bob Clampett. That said, there's a baby conveyor belt Merrie Melodie made in 1935.

Have a sneaking suspicion that Bob was a storyman on this and could well have contributed gags to Shuffle Off To Buffalo as well. One imagines Bob suggesting to Friz Freleng that The Woman In The Shoe resemble Jean Harlow - and immediately getting exiled to Termite Terrace, along with Tex Avery and Chuck Jones.

Back to ridiculous inventions. . .

We finish today's post with a great invention for treatment of harrowing post-overindulgence headbangers, 10% more effective than three slugs of tomato juice + Worcestershire sauce and 27% more effective than two viewings of Bridesmaids and The Hangover - The Hangover Mask! No doubt it is enshrined in The Museum Of Failure.