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By Phil Hall | February 1, 2014

Film archivist and historian Ben Model returns with another volume of extremely rare silent films that survived on 16mm view-at-home prints – the original 35mm prints are lost, and these films would have disappeared forever had it not been for surviving copies that circulated among private collectors.  As with any anthology, this is a hit and miss collection – but the hits are enough to warrant further attention.

The major offering here is a very rare 1927 Lloyd Hamilton comedy called “Papa’s Boy.” Most of Hamilton’s work is considered lost, so the presence of this hitherto unknown offering is invaluable. Hamilton is at a comic peak as the bespectacled, butterfly-obsessed son of an impatient millionaire, and old pops is eager to spend any amount to turn his effete offspring into a virile he-man. One sight gag, with Hamilton laying down a log to read a book without realizing it is really a crocodile, is utterly priceless.

The big surprise in this collection is “Sherlock’s Home,” the fourth episode in a 12-part series called “Telephone Girl.” Alberta Vaughn plays a spunky switchboard operator at a New York hotel, and her daily routine is disrupted by the romantic attentions of a conceited champion boxer. The film has a sweet, old-fashioned sitcom style rather than the frenetic knockabout that was more typical of the era’s comedy (future mogul Darryl F. Zanuck wrote the scenario), and it would be a joy if the other 11 “Telephone Girl” episodes could be located and gathered into a single collection.

Two fun animated shorts are also here: “Charley on the Farm,” a 1919 one-reeler from Otto Messmer and Pat Sullivan that borrowed from Charlie Chaplin’s Tramp character, and an uncredited promotional film highlighting the 1925 Christmas Seals campaign.

More traditional slapstick is on display in three films featuring exasperated adults and raucous children in feral comedy situations: “Cook, Papa, Cook” (1928) with Henry Braddock as a patriarch charged with kitchen duty; “The Little Pest” (1927), with Neely Edwards babysitting a wild brat; and child star Malcolm “Big Boy” Sebastian trying to raise money for his cash-strapped mother in “Helter Skelter” (1929). With “Helter Skelter,” only the second of two reels is shown here – the first reel survives, but is in such poor condition that it cannot be projected.

Rounding out the collection is “Why Wild Men Go Wild” (1920), a somewhat mild comedy despite its double “wild” title, and the non-comic educational film “How Jimmy Won the Game” (1928), which offers finger-saving lessons on the handling of blasting caps.

All told, this DVD collection is another victory for the preservation (accidental or otherwise) of our silent film heritage.

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