During the 1930s and 1940s, movie lovers were able to build private film collections through 16mm prints that were marketed exclusively to the home entertainment market. Many of these films were silent productions from the 1920s – and while these flicks had no commercial value for theatrical re-release, they were sought out by people who happily recalled the pre-sound movie era.
As luck would have it, a number of these silent films survive today only because of these 16mm prints – the original 35mm nitrate prints either deteriorated or were thrown away. This DVD collection, which is being positioned as the first in a new series, brings together nine silent shorts (including seven one-reel comedies) that exist today only because of extant 16mm prints. All of these titles are being made available for the first time in too many years, and their return deserves to be celebrated.
The gems of this DVD include “Mechancial Doll,” a previously lost 1922 Max Fleischer “Out of the Inkwell” cartoon featuring Koko the Clown. This romp finds the happy clown eavesdropping on telephone calls before falling in love with a life-sized female wind-up doll. There is also some unexpected gay humor here, as a pair of male clown musicians becomes too friendly while dancing together.
Another title worth noting is the 1920 romp “The Water Plug,” with the long-forgotten Billy Franey as a Chaplinesque miscreant that masquerades as a cop in order to shake down drivers by writing bogus parking tickets. There is also a hitherto unknown industrial film from the Elgin Watch Company called “The House of Wonders,” which provides an interesting tour of the company’s manufacturing facility and output.
Some of the humor presented in the comedy shorts is based on hoary stereotyping – a notoriously cheap, kilt-wearing Scot is at the center of the 1928 “Loose Change” and unscrupulous Gypsies turn up in the 1928 “Wedding Slips.” However, there is inspired slapstick to be found with Paul Parrott as a bumbling squirrel hunter in “Shoot Straight” (1923), and there is a pair of marriage-related escapades: Clyde Cook as a henpecked husband yearning for escape in “The Misfit” (1924) and Walter Lupino as a highly patient husband facing an endless skein of domestic mishaps in “The Lost Laugh” (1928).
Kudos to historian/archivist and silent film music composer Ben Model and historian Steve Massa for their important work in offering these rare goodies to digital age audiences.