Vitagraph Comedies Blu-ray Review: A Beautifully Restored Archive of Early Silent-Era Films

Vitagraph Comedies are a collection of 40 short films curated by the Library of Congress and distributed by Kino Lorber. A lot of work was put into restoring these comedies to as pristine a version as possible considering the condition of the originals and limited only by the abilities of modern technology. The shorts were created between 1907 and 1922, starring comedians you are unlikely to have heard of but who deserve your attention. Among the featured players are Mr. and Mrs. Sidney Drew, Edith Storey, Frank Daniels, and all of disc three features the astonishingly funny Larry Semon.

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Highlights from Disc One:

  • The Disintegrated Convict – a special effects extravaganza from 1907 in which a convict finds miraculous ways to transform his body so he can keep on the run.
  • The Boy, the Bust, and the Bath – a young boy puts a lifelike bust of his pretty mother into a bathtub. Wooers come a callin’.
  • Get Me a Step-Ladder – If it can break, it breaks.
  • Jane Was Worth It – Jane’s boyfriend loves the cat more than he loves Jane. So Jane takes off into the world while her boyfriend finds Jane hard to replace.
  • Captain Jinks’ Baby – Starring incredible comedian Frank Daniels. Sometimes a scenario demands that you hide a baby for twelve minutes, and the whole thing just works.
  • Captain Jinks’ Cure – Once again, comedian Frank Daniels is at the helm. Captain Jinks is a germaphobe expected to die by midnight tonight. This is a subtle comedy with little gags throughout.

Highlights from Disc Two:

  • The Flat Dwellers: Or, The House of Too Much Trouble – What to do when the man downstairs won’t stop hitting a punching bag while you are trying to sleep?
  • The Haunted Rocker – a lovelorn couple try to sneak around behind the back of a less than agreeable dad.
  • In the Clutches of a Vapor Bath – Winner of the best title across all three discs! John Bunny wants to lose weight to please his wife.
  • Bullies and Bullets – Hughie Mack runs afoul of a lover’s triangle.
  • Mr. Jack Ducks the Alimony – Some problems with focus on this short due to the quality of the negative. The title is enough explanation.

Highlights from Disc Three: (All of the shorts on disc three star Larry Semon. Also, we are warned the disc has moments that will be considered racist to some, and that the shorts are left in to assist with a discussion about racism in cinema past and present.) 

  • Hindoos and Hazards – Knife-wielding “Hindoos” want an important gem back that was stolen from their Buddha(!) statue. Has a ton of great, complicated, and silly chases.
  • The Head Waiter – Larry Semon is homeless and hungry. He finds a multitude of hilarious ways to get food.
  • The Sawmill – Larry Semon appears to find every hysterical way to interact with a sawmill and those who work there.

Bonus Features:

  • Disc One – Vitagraph Comedies, Part I (2024, 13 min.) – Discussion by workers at the Library of Congress who did the curating and restoration work on the Vitagraph Comedies.
  • Disc Two – Vitagraph Comedies, Part II (2024, 7 min.) – Continued discussion of Vitagraph comedians.
  • Disc Three – Vitagraph Comedies, Part III (2024, 4 min.) – Final discussion of the shorts.
  • Audio Commentaries for every film by historian Anthony Slide

Vitagraph Comedies, brought to market by Kino Lorber, are an excellently archived window into the early days of silent cinema.

Greg Hammond

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