With over two hours of historical golf content, Golf Mania! is a treat for the golf aficionado or collector in your family. Unlike many golf films out there, this doesn’t aim to instruct so much as to entertain with the golf oddities of years gone by.
The collection is broken up into nine segments, which can be watched individually from the DVD’s main menu screen, or in the following order via a “Whole Disc” play all option:
- Goofy Golfer Newsreel (2012, 14 min) is a grab-bag of different footage and snippets, much like a trailer for the rest of the content on the disc as footage contained within will be seen in other segments. If you dig this piece, chances are the rest of the disc will be for you.
- Golf Magic (1948, 9 min) is probably the strangest of the segments, as it opens with golfers in full Native American regalia and headdress playing golf (with all the casual, politically incorrect commentary you’d expect) before moving on to people golfing on skis or watching Jack Redman golfing with odd tools or utilizing strange, custom clubs.
- Follow Thru (1940, 10 min) is a short documentary about golfing and the types of people who do it. Since it’s from 1940, as you would imagine, it’s full of footage of lots of Caucasian males golfing; honestly, all the films in this collection are products of their times, and are similar in that respect. Probably the most educational on golfing in general, while also being arguably the most dangerous short of all for the cameraman filming it, as more than a few shots involve golfers chipping right at the camera.
- Rough But Hopeful (1946, 10 min) is one of the more celebrity-laden of the segments, and it is also the roughest when it comes to quality. The audio here is particularly challenging to listen to, but it also points out how well-conditioned the other segments are in comparison.
- Golf (1922, 19 min) is a classic slapstick, pun-filled, golf-friendly silent film, starring Larry Semon, about the crazy antics of a family out on a farm. Outside of the W.C. Fields short to come, this was the most entertaining for me, particularly in how stereotypically silly a silent film it is. Also notable for co-starring a pre-Laurel and Hardy Oliver Hardy, a pre-Caddyshack battle between golfer and rodent (in this case, a squirrel) and, you know, some casual racism (even on a makeshift golf course on a farm, Semon just has to have a black caddy).
- Golfing with Bing & Bob (1998, 8 min) is a short documentary about Bing Crosby and Bob Hope’s golf-playing pedigree, giving more history on the two golf fanatics.
- Don’t Hook Now (1943, 19 min), once again starring Bing Crosby and his friends (Ben Hogan, Sam Snead, Bob Hope), is more celebrity golf footage with a mix of funny commentary and other comic relief via a diminutive gentleman named “Shorty” (Jerry Bergen) who is trying to crash the celebrity tournament. The commentary on this one is fun too for the absurd statements it drops to explain what’s going on. For example, after a shot of some horses, the commentator exclaims, “Hey, what are those horses doing in this picture?!? Maybe they’re Bing’s? Can’t be… those horses are alive.” I’m sure there’s a story there somewhere…
- The Golf Specialist (1930, 20 min) is a short film starring W.C. Fields as a golfer dealing with the most annoying caddy around. Gags include distraction by squeaky shoes, assault by food wrappings and other silliness. It does seem to go on a bit too long though, but when I imagine being an audience member in 1930, I bet more jokes hit than what I experienced over 80 years later. That said, I did enjoy this one quite a bit anyway.
- Faith, Hope & Hogan: A presentations of Christopher Thoughts (1950s, 25 min) is the finishing segment, and it mainly concerns Father James Keller talking to Ben Hogan about his return to golf following a near-death experience thanks to a car crash. As if things weren’t awkward enough with Father Keller, who pushes Hogan to show him repeatedly how to swing at one point, the priest really goes for it when Bob Hope and Bing Crosby (again with these two) show up, and Father Keller makes Crosby sing a song.
The quality of the clips can vary, but all are watchable, and only Rough But Hopeful truly suffers from its age, as the audio is pretty weak and full of noise. Still, for newsreel footage from 1946, at least you can understand what’s going on. Which is generally either comic silliness or celebrities golfing.
And as far as those celebrities go, Bing Crosby and Bob Hope get the most face time, though the films are higher on showing Hope golfing than they are letting him riff and joke around. Crosby, by comparison, gets the more even balance between his day job as a crooner and his time spent golfing. Basically, if we’re not seeing Crosby swing a golf club, someone is trying to convince him, usually successfully, to sing a little bit.
It’s tricky to review this collection, mainly because it is very much a niche item aimed at a very specific audience: the rabid golf enthusiast and collector. While it is entertaining in and of itself, it is little more than a curiosity for someone who isn’t as appreciative of golf. For me, I found the different pieces interesting, but this is not the sort of thing I’d watch often, if ever again. It was fun for the first time through, and for historical context, but I’m just not passionate enough about golfing for this to really get me going.
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