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Slapstick Encyclopedia
Page 1Page 2Page 3Page 4Page 5Page 6Page 7Page 8Page 9    by Gary Johnson -- page 9 of 9

Larry Semon stars in "The Grocery Clerk."
(©1998 KINO ON VIDEO. All rights reserved.)

Volume 8
Tons of Fun: Comedy's Anarchic Fringe

Volume 8 of "Slapstick Encyclopedia" focuses on the small, independent studios. During the silent era, the independent studios cranked out droves of one- and two-reel comedies every year. Many of these comedies were cheap knockoffs, but occasionally the independent studios produced some real gems, such as the comedies you'll find on this video.

Charley Bowers created some of the wittiest, most visually imaginative comedies of the silent era; however, you'll have to look hard to find his name mentioned in even the most extensive histories of screen comedy. Bowers' "Now You Tell One" (1926) is filled with incredible images as Bowers plays an inventor who has created a process "to graft anything." In his laboratory, he has grafted an ear of corn to an orange and cloves of garlic to bunches of grapes. He even grows an eggplant with a hard-boiled egg and a salt shaker inside. Bowers was a wildly inventive comedian who deserves to be more widely known.

Among the other comedies on this video, you'll find an hilarious short called "Family Life" (1924) that stars Mark Jones and Ruth Hiatt. This comedy features both wild knockabout comedy and some sophisticated satire (which takes aim at pre-fabricated houses and family vacations, among other things). Many of the sight gags are ingenious: for example, when the rear axle of the family car gets knocked forward, the vehicle does wheelies every time the father's foot touches the accelerator.

This video also features shorts by several more unheralded comedians, including Larry Semon, Billy Bletcher, and three massive comedians billed as "A Ton of Fun" (Frank "Fatty" Alexander, Hillard "Fat" Kerr, and "Kewpie" Ross). Larry Semon stars in "The Grocery Clerk" (1920) as the title character. This is a wild comedy filled with pratfalls as molasses, flour, fly paper, and many other household goods create havoc at the general store--thanks to Larry Semon. In "Dry and Thirsty" (1920), Billy Bletcher is just looking for a drink of alcohol, but he gets thwarted at every turn. But for the most anarchy per pound, you should try "Three of a Kind" (1926), as the "Ton of Fun" comedians play entertainers at a restaurant. In short order, however, a skirmish breaks out between the entertainers and their audience--with tables turned over and dishes smashed.

Amid the comedies by several small studios, Kino has also sneaked in a Mack Sennett comedy: Ben Turpin stars in "Yukon Jake" (1924) as a "wriggly eyed" sheriff who must confront Yukon Jake and the Purina Kid (the latter is described as "more dangerous than home-brew"). In the comedy's wackiest scene, Turpin dreams about encountering a bevy of snowball throwing lovelies (the Mack Sennett Bathing Beauties) who emerge from igloos and start cavorting. An elaborate parody of Jack London-style Northern adventure, "Yukon Jake" is one of the craziest comedies in this entire set.


page 9 of 9


Intro Page

Vol.1: In the Beginning:
Film Comedy Pioneers

Vol.2: Keystone Tonight!
The Mack Sennett Comedies

Vol.3: Funny Girls

Vol.4: Keaton, Arbuckle and St. John

Vol.5: Chaplin & Co.
The Music Hall Tradition

Vol.6: Hal Roach: The Lot of Fun

Vol.7: The Race is On!

Vol.8: Tons of Fun:
Comedy's Anarchic Fringe


"Slapstick Encyclopedia" is an eight-cassette boxed set from KINO ON VIDEO. Each video has a running time of approximately two hours. Volume 1: "In the Beginning: Film Comedy Pioneers." Volume 2: "Keystone Tonight! The Mack Sennett Comedies." Volume 3: "Funny Girls." And Volume 4: "Keaton, Arbuckle and St. John." Volume 5: "Chaplin & Co.: The Music Hall Tradition." Volume 6: "Hal Roach: The Lot of Fun." Volume 7: "The Race is On!" Volume 8: "Tons of Fun: Comedy's Anarchic Fringe." Suggested retail price: $24.95 each. For more information, we suggest you check out the Kino Web site:


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