Truly, this must be the Citizen Kane of Ham & Bud shorts
Ham & Bud comedies serve as a kind of litmus test for silent comedy fans. They're usually crude, cruddy-looking, pointlessly violent, and incoherent. Most everybody admits they're pretty bad, but if you can sit through a few of them—and there seem to be dozens of them around—you've really earned your stripes as a dedicated, hardcore film buff. And you may also be a little bit nuts, especially after sitting through too many Ham & Bud comedies.
Why watch them at all? Well, these films served as a training ground for Lloyd "Ham" Hamilton, who, despite everything, went on to become an estimable comedy star in his own solo series in the '20s. At his best he's very good indeed, and sometimes (though not always) in these early, generally lamentable efforts, one can detect a glimmer of his talent struggling to assert itself. That's one good reason to watch Ham & Bud comedies, possibly the only good reason, yet it's also why we follow Chaplin's career from his earliest, butt-kicking Keystone days, and sit through the most primitive Alice in Cartoonland shorts produced by young Walt Disney, i.e. to catch those early traces of genius.
This particular short, A Sauerkraut Symphony, is an anomaly in the scruffy world of Ham & Bud, in that it's actually rather enjoyable, in a loopy, cartoon-y sort of way. I first encountered it at a public screening of silent comedies, where it provoked genuine laughter from the crowd. Mr. Hamilton directed this entry, and probably deserves most if not all the credit for its better than usual quality. Our story concerns labor unrest at the Spondolix Sanitary Sauerkraut Company, where those lovable louts Ham & Bud chop cabbage and haul enormous loads of sauerkraut around with pitchforks. Things are extraordinarily busy at the factory because they've received a rush order for a whole carload of the stuff. However, when Ham & Bud hear about a general strike called by sauerkraut workers, they decide to demand an upgrade in their working conditions. And to think, if this had been made just a few years later, Sergei Eisenstein might have directed it, and we'd have all seen it in film class!
Anyhow, that's the gist of the plot. To my way of thinking, the funniest on screen moments are contributed by neither Ham nor Bud, but by an unsung performer named Albert Edmondson, who portrays the ultimate bomb-wielding anarchist, a crazed guy who looks like he stepped out of an editorial cartoon at the height of the Red Scare, complete with beard and furry hat. His character name is Krazy Killsky, and he's worth the price of admission. For some unknown reason this fanatic is determined to blow up all the sauerkraut factories, and his attempts to do so inspire some really wacky, hallucinatory sight gags. (At one point he demonstrates how angry he is by biting a piece of bark off a tree.) Killsky is also given the film's most memorable line of dialog: "Death to the dealers in sauerkraut!" I don't know how funny this would be in a talkie, but in a silent comedy the guy is a stitch; it's like watching your nephew play the villain in a grade school pageant, only better.
I don't want to over-hype it or anything, but for those inclined to watch comedy shorts of this vintage I can honestly say that A Sauerkraut Symphony is a hoot. Or to put it another way, if you have to see a Ham & Bud comedy, make it this one.
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