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There's No Place Like Dixie. That's Why We're California-Bound, 6 December 2016

When the Vitaphone Project screened Shaw & Lee's first short, THE BEAU BRUMMELS, everyone in the audience loved them. Now it's about six years later. I still don't know which is which and I still don't care, because they are so good performing their blanked-faced idiocies that I can't stop laughing.

This one came out two years later and there are advances in how they perform. In the first one, they came out on stage and did their act. In this one, they're given a bit of a story as they sneak into a night club and interact -- slightly -- with other people there. They still have that wonderful one-on-one timing of two performers who know how to do what they do together. Enjoy.

Every One a Virtuoso, 6 December 2016

Harry Wayman leads his all-girl band in few numbers in this standard-looking Vitaphone short from 1928.

Although every musician -- save the fiddling Wayman -- being a woman renders this a novelty act, this does not diminish the competence of anyone. How was a woman to earn an honest living in music in those days? Having women in a band with men could cause talk when they traveled -- a few years later, when Ella Fitzgerald joined Chick Webb's band as a singer, he was almost terrified at the thought of bad headlines.

So this was a compromise that permitted the women to work. If their music sounds competent but uninspired, so did many another band with men in it, bands that played top spots and got their own Vitaphone shorts.

More Interesting for the Editing, 6 December 2016

Ben Bernie and his orchestra play a few songs in the standard medium-long shot showing all the musicians; wrangles briefly with with the members of the band and tells a couple of canned jokes fairly well. Frances McCoy in a baby-doll voice.

Musically, it's a fairly standard musical short for the era; Ben Bernie was a very popular band leader of the era, who billed himself as "The Old Maestro" but the style of music has not aged well; it comes off as polished soap.

Visually, this is a very advanced picture. While many of the Vitaphone shorts of the era still set up with medium-long shot and never varied it, this one is edited more creatively, with close-ups of instruments at the beginning and cuts to show performers as it goes along. Although the camera never moves, the editor spins the image to end the short. My guess is that an optical printer showed up at the studio in Brooklyn.

I Know More Than They Think, 6 December 2016

Jay Butler is the slightly fey straight man. Ann Butler gives the slightly risqué punchlines with a bit of a Mae West style of speaking, and ends with a similar recitation, all while waving a large, gauzy handkerchief.

It's a back-and-forth two-act that looks like they have done it so many times that there's little life left in it. It depends on its air of naughtiness and in the relatively clean air of 1920s vaudeville was undoubtedly as blue as the major circuits would stand; the Keith-Albee chain in particular prided itself on being a family-friendly venue. To a modern audience, however, with its relatively open and overt sexuality, this would seem disingenuous.

Fast Sweet Jazz, 6 December 2016

I'm not a particular fan of "Sweet" jazz -- that was the term in the 1920s and 1930s for popular, ragtime music played by White musicians, often for dance bands. The interesting work in the era was done in brothels and speakeasies, while the sort of thing that Heidt's band played was for audiences that purported by be shocked by the real thing. That's why, amidst the skilled playing of several pieces, the audience of this short is treated to "Carnival in Venice" and informed that the cornet player will hit High C above High C. Yes, indeed, these are real musicians! Still, if you have a taste for this sort of music, this is a skilled and well-trained band. Although what that German shepherd is doing I have no idea. Probably it bites anyone who asks for "Melancholy Baby".

1 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Down With Spinach!, 5 December 2016

Gus Edwards started as a vaudevillian and wound up as a song writer, publisher and organizer of shows on the stage and radio in which young children performed. His two best known songs are "By the Light of the Silvery Moon" and "School Days".

Mr. Edwards does not appear in this revue, but he was so well known that his name was worth paying for this short. A bunch of children show up to throw a show for Santa Claus. While some of the performers are astonishing in their abilities at very tender ages, the net effect is slightly creepy to a modern viewer like me, as they ape adult manners -- in a strictly PG manner. Still, there's no doubt about their ability -- although the kid who sings "Dinah" is little better than Carl "Alfalfa" Switzer.

Success (1931)
1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Haley at the Bat, 5 December 2016

Jack Haley wants to marry He;en Lynd, but her father, John Hamilton, insists she marry a baseball player. So Haley, who is blind as a bat, must win a baseball game in this Vitaphone short.

Haley was a capable song-and-dance man, but his persona in this period was the low-energy, mild-mannered milquetoast and would remain that way throughout the 1930s. It must have amused some people, and paired with a blow-hard comic like Jack Oakie, as he frequently would be, it makes a potentially interesting contrast. However, even the emphatic assertions of John Hamilton (whom I remember fondly as Perry White to George Reeves' Superman) never offer anything more than a potted skit.

Hasn't Been Missing for Forty Years, 5 December 2016

Several times a year I have to begin one of these reviews by noting that the movie I am reviewing, despite insistence by some noted authority to the contrary, is available, has been available for some time and with any luck will be available for the foreseeable future. In this particular case, you can look at this one on YouTube, with a fine score compiled from Marvin Hatley cues. A copy of the movie turned up in the 1970s on a French show-at-home version (in a 9.5 mm. format), missing the first minute and the English language titles. However, since Roach filed a cutting continuity with the Library of Congress for copyright purposes, a fan found it perfectly feasible to recreate the original titles and make the result available. So go take a look, even though people are still going to insist that there ain't no such animal as The Old Wallop.

It's a typically fine example of Our Gang from the period. In this one, Wheezer has a leading role. He is still a baby at this point, but he likes to hit people on the nose, and his folks encourage him to do so. This takes up the first half. The second half involves the Gang wandering off (as they frequently did) and climbing atop a construction site while the builders have gone to lunch (which happened less frequently, but still...). This sort of thrill comedy was a well-run standard at Roach, and it's fine to see the kids get in on the gag.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Hanging On, 4 December 2016

Warner Baxter's auction house has failed, and all he has left is Napoleon's bed. Walter Woolf King is a concert violist, down to his fiddle and a coat with a fur collar. Janet Gaynor is an orphan with even less. At the start of a cold New York winter, they find themselves living in a stable in Central Park, hoping they can hang on until spring.

This wonderful movie about kindness and hope from Henry King has undeservedly vanished from consciousness; Fox Film was falling to pieces until it was rescued and merged with Darryl Zanuck's 20th Century Productions. It was still a major studio, with the resources to produce this sentimental masterpiece, with a perfect cast. Walter Woolf King, usually a villain, is oddly sympathetic and the irascible musician. The rest of the roles are wonderfully played: Grant Withers as a banker despairing as his bank goes under; Roger Imhof and Jane Darwell as the couple who helps them out; even Stepin Fetchit provides some decent comedy relief as a zookeeper from whom they steal his lions' meat.

This movie never reaches the levels of zaniness that the following year's MY MAN GODFREY would achieve; its softer nature offers a message in human decency that its more famous fellow eschews. Its success as a movie, if not commercially, is just as great.

Turnabout, 4 December 2016

A young violinist suffers a breakdown. His doctor sends him to the country, where he can eat simple food. There, he enjoys the rustic setting and good-natured people. When he returns to the city, bringing pretty Lillian Walker with him, she does not deal with the fast crowd and their habits well.... at first.

This is a pretty good example of the conventional film-making of the era and highlights a point that modern viewers often miss: that the way people dress in these movies is often a class and occupation marker. The costumes here might have been pulled out of a Keystone farce of the era, with Bohemians wearing berets and rustics wearing ill-fitting clothes and straw hats.

If you wish to see for yourself, a good copy of this movie has been posted to the Eye Institute site on YouTube.

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