Saturday, September 8, 2007

The Poor Soul

This post is part of the First Annual 2007 Slapstick Blog-a-thon organized by Film of the Year.

About a year ago Looser Than Loose released their “Ham, The Lost Magic of Lloyd Hamilton” DVD set. I purchased it as soon as it came out, and at the time, I posted a review on Alt.Movies.Silent and later on at With the Slapstick Blog-a-Thon weekend going on, I figured it was time to post it here, something I had been planning to do for quite some time anyway. And this time I can add some screen captures.

After going through 5 discs in less than 24 hours, I am pleased to say they did a very impressive job. “Ham” Hamilton’s reputation with silent comedy buffs has been validated. Previous to this, I first saw MOVE ALONG on Herb Graff’s PBS show in the late 60's or early 70's, and loved it. Then I purchased a Blackhawk print of BREEZING ALONG which was quite mediocre and disappointing. A few years ago I picked up 2 Grapevine tapes (one including talkies), and there was some okay stuff on it, but I wasn’t blown away. But I always hoped to see some more really impressive films, because even in his less interesting movies, Lloyd Hamilton always had a unique, off-kilter personality and way of reacting that intrigued me.

Anyway, the set (which arrived 2 days after ordering on their website) consists of 5 discs, one of the early Ham & Bud shorts, 2 discs of Hamilton’s starring silent shorts, 1 disc of talkie shorts, and a disc of extras including various odds and ends. The bulk of the key stuff is on discs 2 and 3, and the set overall may be a bit of overkill, but I enjoyed the whole thing for the perspective it gave me of his entire career. With one exception, the prints were as good as can be expected for obscure films that were scattered all over the world, often remaining available only in 16mm. The sound tracks consist of vintage recordings from the time period of the films, and are very well mastered, and well integrated into the’s not one of those cases where it just looks like somebody had their old jazz CDs on shuffle, as is sometimes the case. They did a superb job of it. I was impressed with the production and will definitely order stuff from Loose Than Loose again ( they also have a Larry Semon DVD set out).

Now as to the films themselves...well, Ham and Bud is still far from my favorite comedy team. Often the ideas behind the shorts are funny, often in a very sick way (The SAUSAGE FACTORY and PHONE CANNIBAL especially) but they do not seem especially well done, and Hamilton had not really found an interesting character. It was nice to see enough of them together that I had some kind of feel for the films but if this was all Hamilton had made we wouldn’t have much reason to remember him today. Aside from the two mentioned above, I also liked LOVE MAGNET, which was very inventor creates a magnet which makes Women chase after the possessor. Ham and Bud each get one, and there is a chase seen where women from all over chase after the two of them. It almost seems like a precursor for the climax of SEVEN CHANCES.

The discs 2 and 3 as mentioned contain solo starring shorts. Disc 2 contains 3 complete 2 reelers, JONAH JONES, CAREFUL PLEASE and NOBODY’S BUSINESS. It also contains the first reel of an incomplete short NOTHING MATTERS, and a bonus Ham and Bud short. The 2 reelers are very funny, with a unique sense of humor and personality. I especially like the early scenes of Hamilton as a bill collector in CAREFUL PLEASE and the wonderful NOBODY”S BUSINESS, which begins with a very funny gag with Hamilton unknowingly walking around with a clothes rack attached to his coat (later borrowed by Dick Van Dyke for his silent comedy tribute, THE COMIC) and the spectacular lunch wagon/roller coaster scene which raps up the film. There is also as an extra the first reel of a short called NOTHING MATTERS, which ends abruptly just about the time Anita Garvin appears, unfortunately. Also as an extra is another Ham & Bud short.

Disk 3 includes the 2 reel surviving version of the feature film HIS DARKER SELF, which frankly is not very good. Then there is another superb short, CRUSHED, which has some wonderful scenes on a subway. After this there is MOVE ALONG, which is a great short as mentioned before, but unfortunately they did not have access to a good print, or even a bad one, and had to use a video source, so the picture quality is pretty low. There are extras of another, short fragment, HOOKED, and another Ham & Bud short.

Disk 4 includes talkie shorts. Hamilton is funny, and his voice is fine, but the storylines and gags are for the most part pretty weak, though there is some nice double exposure trick photography in DON”T BE NERVOUS. Also a Hollywood on Parade short featuring Hamilton as an extra, and another Ham and Bud Short.

Disk 5 is all extras....including 2 complete Ham and Bud shorts, the fragment of another, fragments of 2 solo starting shorts and a press sheet, a glass slide show and a photo gallery of Ham’s films. There is also an audio recording of the Lloyd Hamilton them played by Ben Model. Anyway, summing up the whole thing is a very nice package. There remains some highly-regarded solo shorts that still have to be issued (THE VAGRANT, A TWILIGHT BABY, GOOD MORNING) so we can hope there will be more DVDs later on. Also, hopefully Grapevine may see put to reissue the Hamilton shorts they had in VHS on better DVD copies.

At any rate, it is great to see the amazing quantity of silent materials that have beencoming out from different companies the last few years: Kino, Image/David Shepard, Lobster, Milestone, Laughsmith, ReelClassicDVD, Unknown Video, Sunrise) and now it’s a pleasure to add Looser Than Loose to the list. I never would’ve imagined 4 or 5 years ago that I would have multi-disc DVD sets of Charley Bowers, Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, and Lloyd Hamilton!

Highly recommended!

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