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By Phil Hall | October 4, 2007

During the tail-end of the silent movie era, the Weiss Brothers (a trio of siblings who specialized in producing low-budget action films) churned out a series of two-reel comedies. None of their films were classics, but this DVD collection of their output provides an educational glimpse into the world of commonplace 1920s comedy.

Of the “stars” in this collection, only cross-eyed Ben Turpin has any name recognition with the well-rounded moviegoer. Rabid silent movie addicts may recognize the long-forgotten stars Snub Pollard and Jimmy Aubrey, while the films of circus performer Poodles Hanneford and the comic series Hairbreadth Harry (based on a then-popular comic strip) and Izzie and Lizzie (based on obnoxious Jewish stereotypes) would challenge even the most devoted student of cultural obscurity.

All of the Weiss Brothers films have something in common: none of them are particularly funny. They lacked the feral anxiety of the Mack Sennett slapstick romps and the well-timed machinery of the Hal Roach studio. Instead, they relied too heavily on lame pratfalls, pun-heavy intertitles, and second-rate actors who had no clue how to make a scene work.

If the talent on camera failed to generate much laughter, the talent behind the camera was even more inept: uninspired direction, dull editing, and diffident gag writing that never dared to take anti-social aspects to comic lengths. It is no surprise that the Weiss Brothers are not remembered for their celluloid sense of humor.

In fairness, however, the films in this DVD have been beautifully presented with crisp transfers from the original 35mm negatives. This is one of the best-looking silent film DVDs I’ve seen in ages. For the films where the original material is missing and required 16mm print transfers, or where nitrate decomposition mars a scene, the viewer is warned in advance of the productions’ technical shortcomings. Cogent commentary by film scholar Richard M. Roberts and a decent original piano score by Philip C. Carli and David B. Drazin, plus a truly weird bonus feature – an eccentric dramatic 1923 short adaptation of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”– helps to give this DVD more class than the Weiss Brothers’ anemic comedies would deserve on their own.

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  1. Bill Sprague says:

    I have seen a number of these films. I find them to be entertaining if they are not compared to the Hal Roach, Mack Sennett or any of the other major producers of the era. THis was a very welcome release. I find the movies to be funny, and the commentary o be historically important as well as informative.

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