What’s Old Is A New Release Again (2019) with… Battling Butler (1926)

We’re back for another one of Buster Keaton’s silent films, the 1926 comedy Battling Butler.

Alfred Butler (Buster Keaton) is the heavily pampered son of a rich man, whose valet (Snitz Edwards) caters to his every whim. Alfred’s father is angry with this, and suggests he should go on a hunting and fishing trip, try to “rough it” and become a man. Of course, even in camping, Alfred is hardly “roughing it,” with a spacious tent, a variety of suits to wear, a stove, and his valet to serve him. However, he meets a girl (Sally O’Neil) there in the mountains, whom he takes to (even though they met by him accidentally shooting near her). Her father and brother aren’t so thrilled when his valet comes to propose marriage for him, since they feel he couldn’t even take care of himself, let alone a wife. The valet is inspired by the newspaper he is carrying, which contains an article about a boxer, also named Alfred Butler (or “Battling Butler”), whom he claims his master to be. They are thrilled, but since the boxer’s next fight is right away, they help Alfred and the valet to get on the train to get to the fight. Much to their regret, “Battling Butler” (Francis McDonald) wins the fight, and Alfred determines to go back and tell her the truth. But upon returning, he is taken immediately to her home, where a minister is waiting, and no sooner is the ceremony over than he is off to training camp after somebody sees a newspaper article talking about “Battling Butler” going into training for his next fight. Alfred convinces his wife to stay behind, but after a while, she decides to come to camp and help him. Meanwhile, Alfred has been talking to “Battling Butler’s wife (Mary O’Brien) at the camp, which has made the real “Battling Butler” jealous. When the two wives meet, “Battling Butler” decides to get even and go along with the gag, forcing Alfred to go into actual training for the upcoming fight. But can this untrained man win the fight?

Like Seven Chances before it, Battling Butler was based on a play (actually, a British musical called Battling Buttler). However, unlike that previous movie, this one made use of a property that apparently gave Buster Keaton more freedom to do his brand of comedy, thus giving him one of his favorite films that he did. While the stage show hadn’t included a boxing match onstage, Buster felt that his audience would expect him to include the fight. So he rented a gym and worked with his friend, world welterweight champion Mickey Walker, to help him plan out the fight. (Gasp! It was staged! 😉 )

After feeling somewhat let down by Seven Chances (well, except for that fun ending), this movie was a welcome change, more in line with the previous handful of Buster Keaton movies I had seen. I enjoyed this one greatly, from the scene in the woods of Buster and Sally O’Neil’s characters leaning on the table as it sinks into the ground, to Buster watching the first fight next to Battling Butler’s manager (who was really getting into the fight), and many more wonderful, laugh-out-loud moments, I could see Buster Keaton’s imprint on this movie, which made it that much better. I admit, I’m not the most thrilled with how spoiled his character is for most of the movie (and definitely want to see him get his comeuppance), and the story falls into that old cliche of “guy falls for girl, tells her a lie about himself to impress her and then has to jump through increasingly ridiculous hoops to keep that deception going even though he could simply tell her the truth and she would still be happy with him,” but for me, these are minor things that really don’t take away my enjoyment of this movie! While I like some of the other Keaton films I have seen better, this one is still no slouch! It’s definitely worth a few good laughs, and that alone makes it worth recommending!

This movie is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Cohen Media Group with Seven Chances (1925) as part of “The Buster Keaton Collection Volume 3.” This release included the new restoration of the movie, and for the most part, it looks fantastic! Sure, there are a few moments where the image shows the damage from the elements, and there are a few scratches here and there, but otherwise it looks pretty darn good, and the double-feature set definitely feels worth it!

Film Length: 1 hour, 18 minutes

My Rating: 8/10

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Go West (1925) – Buster Keaton – The General (1926)

What’s Old Is A New Release Again (2019) with… Seven Chances (1925)

And now we have Buster Keaton’s fifth feature film, the 1925 silent comedy Seven Chances.

James Shannon (Buster Keaton) has been courting Mary Jones (Ruth Dwyer) for most of a year, but can’t quite bring himself to propose. James is a stock broker, but he and his partner, Billy Meekin (T. Roy Barnes), are in trouble, potentially facing jail time unless they can get some money. Enter in James’ grandfather’s lawyer (Snitz Edwards), who tells him he is set to inherit $7 million IF he is married by 7pm on his twenty-seventh birthday. That proves to be a problem, as it IS his twenty-seventh birthday, so he immediately goes over to propose to Mary. At first, she accepts, until he fumbles over the reason, and she turns him down. Despondent, he returns to his partner, who helps him try to propose to seven women they know at the country club. He fails, and his partner decides to put an ad in the newspaper, which results in MANY women coming to the church to marry him. Meanwhile, Mary, after talking with her mother (Frankie Raymond), decides to marry him anyways. But with all this trouble, will their marriage happen in time, if at all?

The movie was based on a stage comedy of the same name produced by David Belasco. I’ve seen different statements about the success of the original play, but what hasn’t differed is that Buster Keaton had seen it and did NOT like it. However, his producer (who was also related to him by marriage at that time) had paid a lot of money for the movie rights, and, since Buster owed him money, he was stuck doing it. The film’s most famous sequence (and Buster’s main moment of inserting his own bit of creativity into the story) is the final bridal run sequence, with all the brides chasing after him through the city and the hills, culminating in a big rock slide. The rock slide itself wasn’t even originally planned! It came about after seeing the big reaction from a preview audience at Buster dislodging a rock that hit a few others, resulting in those chasing him. So he went back and milked the idea, creating rocks of varying sizes from Chicken wire and papier-mache, and improvised from there.

It’s been said that Buster considered this film to be one of his worst, and, while I haven’t seen a huge number of his movies yet, I will agree that it is definitely one of his weaker entries. It’s definitely showing its age as a story, not to mention its less-than-politically correct moments which make it tougher to watch. At least one woman he rejects appears to be Jewish (although he may just be rejecting her solely because she doesn’t appear to speak English) and another woman he rejects is black (although that could have been because of laws at that time prohibiting interracial marriages). What is tougher to get past, though, is the hired hand (played by Jules Cowles, who appears to be wearing blackface), who is a few too many racist stereotypes to get past. Honestly, if not for the bridal run sequence at the end, I would have a hard time recommending this movie. But that sequence alone saves the movie, giving Buster a chance to do many of his pratfalls (and run for ages without losing his breath). Honestly, it’s hard not to laugh at that point, as ridiculous as it gets. If only for that sequence alone, this is a movie worth seeing!

This movie is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Cohen Media Group with Battling Butler (1926) as part of “The Buster Keaton Collection Volume 3.” Now, the movie was originally filmed with the opening sequence in Technicolor as they show the changing seasons to show how long Buster’s character was courting before switching to black and white for the rest of the movie. With Cohen’s transfer, the color barely comes through (admittedly, I’m not experienced enough with this movie to know how that section should look, and I know the technology for color wasn’t quite there yet, so I wouldn’t exactly expect it to quite look like it was filmed yesterday, color-wise), and the film elements really show their age and damage, particularly on the edges here. However, once we get past that part, the movie looks pretty good, and the main debate becomes whether you like the amber tint to the image or not. Personally, I don’t mind, and, with a second film in the set, I certainly think it’s worth it for the price!

Film Length: 57 minutes

My Rating: 6/10

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The Navigator (1924) – Buster Keaton – Go West (1925)

Thoughts From The Music(al) Man (2020) on… The Kid (1921)

Next up, we have the classic 1921 Charlie Chaplin comedy The Kid!

After leaving a charity hospital, the Woman (Edna Purviance) tries to leave her baby in the car of someone well-to-do, in the hope that they can take better care of her baby than she could. She soon reconsiders that decision, but she is too late, as the car was stolen right after she put the baby in. The baby is abandoned in an alley by the car thieves, where he is found by the tramp (Charlie Chaplin). At first, he is reluctant to take care of the baby, but, upon reading the note the mother had left with him, decides to take the baby in. Five years later, the Kid (Jackie Coogan) and the tramp are still together. For work, the Kid goes around breaking windows, which the tramp repairs. Meanwhile, the Woman has become a big star, and very charitable, going around giving gifts to kids and helping other mothers, including in the neighborhood that the tramp and the Kid live in. When the Kid falls ill, the tramp calls for a doctor. When the doctor comes, the tramp is forced to tell him about the Kid and shows him the original note from the mother. The doctor then decides to tell the proper authorities and have the Kid sent to an orphanage. When the authorities come for the Kid, the tramp fights back, and they go on the run, and the Woman finds out too late from the doctor when he shows her the note that the Kid is her son. The question remains: will the Woman and the Kid be reunited?

After several years of doing shorts, which were gradually getting longer, Charlie Chaplin went with a full length feature. The movie apparently came about partly as a result of him losing his own newborn, combined with seeing a vaudeville performance with Jack Coogan and his son, Jackie. Jackie’s performance had impressed Chaplin so much, that he wrote The Kid as a vehicle to feature young Jackie’s talent. Jack Coogan helped coach his son’s performance for the movie (and was paid well for doing it), and Chaplin apparently got along pretty well with Jackie just as much offscreen as on.

Now, I know George Lucas tends to receive a lot of flack for his alterations to the original Star Wars trilogy, but he was hardly the first person to mess around with his movies. Particularly once he finally made the switch to sound, Charlie Chaplin made some alterations to a number of his films, making some cuts, adding stuff (usually just the score for some of his silents). Originally, The Kid ran one hour, eight minutes in length. In 1972, Chaplin released a newly edited version that shortened the movie to fifty-three minutes. The new, edited version reduced the part of The Man, as played by Carl Miller, to a quick appearance near the beginning of the movie to show him essentially rejecting The Woman, instead of allowing him a chance to reconcile with her, as in the original version. The Woman’s part is also reduced, although not by as much. The change allows for more emphasis on the relationship between Chaplin’s tramp and the Kid, and almost makes it seem like the tramp and the Woman become the Kid’s family, instead of allowing for the Man to be involved.

This movie is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Criterion Collection. Their version is the shortened fifty-three minute 1972 re-release, which is Chaplin’s official version of the movie. I have seen both versions (although it’s been long enough I couldn’t tell you exactly what was cut), but whichever version, the movie still works great to me! An intertitle that starts the movie by saying that it is “A picture with a smile — and perhaps, a tear.” I can say that it does live up to that promise, as there are certainly laughs to be found here, and Chaplin and Jackie Coogan’s performances will definitely make you cry, when they are being pulled part! Certainly a great movie, and one I would easily recommend trying, whichever version you can see!

My Rating: 9/10

Audience Rating:

List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections

Charlie Chaplin – The Gold Rush (1925)

What’s Old Is A New Release Again (2019) with… The Kid Brother (1927)

Next up, we have the recent release of the classic 1927 Harold Lloyd silent comedy The Kid Brother!

In the town of Hickoryville lives Sheriff Jim Hickory (Walter James) and his three sons. His sons Leo (Leo Willis) and Olin (Olin Francis) are both big and strong like him. However, his third son, Harold (Harold Lloyd), is the runt of the family. But what Harold lacks in size and brute strength, he makes up for in intelligence, as he finds ways to get his chores done more efficiently. Still, he wishes to be regarded as a man by his father. While his father and brothers are at a town meeting about money they were collecting to build a dam for the town, a traveling medicine show comes to the house. Since he had been messing around with his father’s gun and was wearing his father’s badge, they mistook him for the sheriff and had him sign a permit for them to set up in town. Later, Harold’s father found out and sent him to stop the show. Instead, the two men made fun of him, hanging him up on a bar. The town bully, Hank Hooper (Ralph Yearsley), tries to get in on the act, but in the process sets the wagon on fire. Afterwards, Harold offers Mary Powers (Jobyna Ralston), who was working with the show, a place to sleep at his home (although she ended up going to a neighbor’s home instead, since she would have otherwise been the only woman in the house). The next day was to be a town celebration, but things turned sour quickly when the money that had been collected for the dam and placed in the sheriff’s hands was discovered stolen. Hank’s father, Sam Hooper (Frank Lanning), accuses the sheriff of stealing the money. Unable to do anything himself, the sheriff sends Leo and Olin to find the men from the medicine show, but won’t let Harold. When his brothers fail to find the men, it is up to Harold to help save his father, but can he do it?

The Kid Brother is considered to be one of Harold Lloyd’s best movies. It was his second-to-last silent film, as the sound era would soon start to creep in with the success of The Jazz Singer later on in 1927. Harold Lloyd put a lot of work into this movie, nearly eight months (more than usual), and it shows. From the location shooting, to the use of an elevator filming Harold as he climbs a tree to keep talking with Jobyna’s Mary, to the various gags all working with the story, to the final fight between Harold and the brutish Sandoni (played by Constantine Romanoff), everything just works and shows the effort put into the movie. Me personally, I enjoy many of the gags, but particularly watching Harold dealing with his brothers (and attempting to show how “brave” he could be in front of Mary) are some of the most memorable laugh-out-loud moments for me. I personally wouldn’t call it his absolute best movie, but I would agree that it ranks up there (admittedly, at this point, I’ve only seen about five of his films, but still)! Easily a movie I would recommend!

This movie is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Criterion Collection. The new restoration looks fantastic for a nearly ninety-year-old movie. Sure, there are some scratches here and there, but, for what they had to work with, I have no complaints! The set also includes two of his shorts (more on those in a moment. The shorts don’t look quite as good as the movie, owing to the fact that many of his early shorts were lost in a fire, and they made use of what elements they could find. Between the movie, these shorts and a few other fun extras, this is a very enjoyable set!

Film Length: 1 hour, 23 minutes

My Rating: 10/10

Audience Rating:

*ranked #7 in Top 10 Disc Releases Of 2019

List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections

The Freshman (1925) – Harold Lloyd – Speedy (1928)

Coming Up Shorts! with… Over The Fence (1917)

(Available as an extra on the The Kid Brother (1927) Blu-ray/DVD from Criterion Collection)

(Length: 5 minutes, 4 seconds)

Ginger (Harold Lloyd) finds some baseball tickets, and offers to take his girlfriend (Bebe Daniels) to the game, but one of his co-workers steals the tickets. However, he still gets in as a pitcher for one of the teams, before a fight breaks out. Apparently, Harold Lloyd’s first short as what would become known as his “Glasses” character, after doing many “Lonesome Luke” shorts. A bit of fun here, with a few familiar faces that he would continue to work with. Not one of his best shorts, but it’s still fun to see the character we know and love at its start!

Coming Up Shorts! with… That’s Him (1918)

(Available as an extra on the The Kid Brother (1927) Blu-ray/DVD from Criterion Collection)

(Length: 11 minutes, 5 seconds)

Harold is set to inherit a lot of money that he has to go collect, but forgets the train tickets. On the way to retrieve them, he is confused for a thief. A bit of fun here, with the line “That’s him” (or “It’s him,” etc.) being used as the police chase Harold. Of course, the real thief is caught and things end happily. Fun short, although the train conductor is obviously wearing blackface (but, it’s a short part). At least, outside of that flaw, this short is good for a few laughs!

What’s Old Is A New Release Again (2018) with… It’s The Old Army Game (1926)

And now we have another W. C. Fields silent comedy, the 1926 movie It’s The Old Army Game, also starring Louise Brooks.

In this movie, W. C. Fields plays Elmer Prettywillie, the owner of a drugstore. Amongst his many problems, he has customers that require his services even at night, he lives with his sister and his spoiled brat nephew, and he struggles to get enough sleep. At one point, he offers some space to a con man, George Parker, who sells lots to others hoping to make money. George ends up falling for Mildred (Louise Brooks), who works at Elmer’s drugstore. When George is arrested, Elmer tries to go to New York to do something about it.

While you can see I tried, realistically, this movie doesn’t really have much of a plot. It feels to me a lot like the movie was kind of built starting with the various gags and comedy routines, and then connected by some semblance of plot. I think a lot of the gags do work, and W. C. Fields does well here, even if we are lacking that well-known voice of his. Of course, we do get him using one of his famous lines, “Never give a sucker an even break!” I do like this movie, but I do have some issue with the plot, as it seems like most reviewers tend to focus on different aspects of the events happening, with most sticking to the first part of the movie in which Elmer struggles to get enough sleep (a problem that seemed to disappear for the rest of the movie). As I said, this is one I would recommend.

Like Running Wild, this movie seems to have had some restoration done for the recent Blu-ray and DVD release. For the most part, it looks pretty good, although it certainly still has some lesser-looking moments, with some scratches and other debris. However, as I said about Running Wild, most of the time, we will be lucky to get movies of this era looking THIS good, never mind the harder to attain pristine look, purely because of what elements may exist.

The movie is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Kino Lorber.

Film Length: 1 hour, 16 minutes

My Rating: 7/10

List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections

W. C. FieldsRunning Wild (1927)

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What’s Old Is A New Release Again (2018) with… Running Wild (1927)

And here we are, ready to dig into the W.C Fields silent comedy, Running Wild, from 1927.

In this movie, W.C Fields is Elmer Finch, a very timid man, scared of almost everybody.  His daughter believes he can be great, but his second wife constantly berates him, and his stepson might just as well be the man of the house, considering he has his mother wrapped around his finger.  The situation is just as bad at the novelty shop that Elmer works at, where he has been a clerk for twenty years.  When he is sent to collect the bill from somebody that is very difficult, he ends up running into a theatre, where a hypnotist is performing.  Elmer is hypnotized into believing he is a lion.  Before the hypnotist can bring him out of it, he runs off, fiercely dealing with his various problems.

Now, when I first heard about this movie (which was when it and It’s The Old Army Game were announced as coming out on Blu-ray and DVD), I didn’t really know what to make of it.  I could only claim to have seen a few of W.C. Fields’ movies (Mississippi from 1935 and The Big Broadcast of 1938), but from what I had seen, I had no idea what to make of the idea of W.C Fields being in any silent movies.  Sound seemed to serve his style of comedy really well, so I was curious to see what he would be like in a silent movie, without that well-known voice of his.  Now, I will admit, this movie started out a little slow, for about the first twenty minutes or so.  But I figured that it was all set-up, helping to introduce us to the character.  Once his character was hypnotized, then the fun really began!  All the set-up worked (at least, it did for me), so all the running around and screaming “I’m a lion!” was absolutely hilarious!  While he wasn’t quite as agile as the other silent comedians like Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton or Harold Lloyd (which I would attribute to his age, since he was about 47ish at the time he made this movie, if I am correct), he still managed to rely enough on physical comedy, which I hadn’t seen as much in the handful of sound movies that I had seen!  So, as for the movie itself, I do recommend it for a few good laughs!

Now, apparently, this movie, owned by Paramount, had no prior release on DVD.  So, Kino Lorber’s release on Blu-ray and DVD is the first one on home video in quite a while.  The movie did undergo some restoration for this release.  Now, I’m not informed enough to know what elements still exist for this movie, so I can only say what I know about this release.  The picture looks pretty good, although it does have some weaker moments.  Quite frankly, though, I would say that (again, without knowing what elements exist), this movie looks pretty good.  I personally don’t expect the movie to look pristine, considering its age and how many silent films are lost to us at this point and what’s left don’t always have the best elements to work with.  So, if you want perfect, look elsewhere, but if you can stand to live with less-than-perfect, you can have a very good time here.  I don’t know whether to recommend it for young kids who can’t read yet, but then again, they might be able to supply dialogue that is just as funny, at least for their parents!

Film Length: 1 hour, 8 minutes

My Rating: 8/10

List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections

It’s The Old Army Game (1926)W. C. FieldsAlice In Wonderland (1933)

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Thoughts From The Music(al) Man (2018) on… The Jazz Singer (1927)

“You ain’t heard nothin’ yet.” – Jakie Rabinowitz (Al Jolson), The Jazz Singer (1927)

The plot of The Jazz Singer is fairly simple. The main character is Jakie Rabinowitz, the son of a cantor. Jakie has been taught by his father to follow in his footsteps in the synagogue, but he wants to be a jazz singer. He runs away from home as a child, and years later, under the stage name of Jack Robin, he becomes successful enough to come to Broadway. He tries to visit his mother, who supported him, but his father throws him out. As his father becomes sick, Jakie finds himself torn between the stage and following in his father’s footsteps.

This is one of those movies that should be seen even if only for its historical importance. The movie is a silent/ talkie hybrid, owing much to the technology of the time. The only times we hear the dialogue are during the musical numbers (and brief bits of dialogue in between). The movie owes a lot of its success to its star, Al Jolson. There had been some attempts at sound movies prior to this one, but they mostly failed because of the technology along with the stars being unable to sound natural. Everything I read indicates that Al Jolson’s brief bits of dialogue between and during some of the songs were ad-libbed, but they came off so naturally, that this movie became a success.

My favorite moment in the movie is probably when Al Jolson sings the song “Blue Skies.” I can easily see why it is one of the better remembered moments, what with Al Jolson ad-libbing with the actress playing his mother. Of course, the song itself is a lot of fun. I enjoy a lot of Irving Berlin’s music, and it’s a lot of fun to find this song in different movies, whether it’s here or with Alice Faye and Ethel Merman singing it in Alexander’s Ragtime Band or Bing Crosby singing it in both Blue Skies and White Christmas.

The movie is not flawless, particularly for modern viewers. The main problem many will have is that Al Jolson does don blackface a few times later in the movie. I don’t like it, but it’s one of those things I have learned to live with. Personally, I think Moisha Yudelson’s (Otto Lederer) comment upon seeing him in blackface, referring to him as his “shadow” is worse, but that’s my opinion.

In spite of the blackface issues, I still recommend this movie. It is an important historical movie, with some relevance still today. Of course, if you have the opportunity, try watching a few silent movies before it to help you understand what it meant then.

The movie is available on Blu-ray (which I recommend) or DVD from Warner Archive Collection. It is for the most part family-friendly (although parents may obviously want to be there to explain blackface and why it is wrong).

Film Length: 1 hour, 36 minutes

My Rating: 10/10