For those wanting to learn about silent films, specifically slapstick comedy, “The First Kings of Comedy Collection” may not be the best source on the subject, but it still does a good job of introducing you to a few of the silent comedy’s best through a compilation of videos featuring those talents. Featuring two documentaries from 1957 (The Golden Age of Comedy) and 1960 (When Comedy Was King), for a DVD that costs under $10, it’s definitely worth it!
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DVD TITLE: The First Kings of Comedy Collection
YEAR OF FILM: 1957 (The Golden Age of Comedy), 1960 (When Comedy Was King)
DURATION: The Golden Age of Comedy (1:18:50)/When Comedy Was King (1:21:43)
DVD INFORMATION: Black and White, Standard Definition, Dolby Digital
COMPANY: Genius Entertainment
RELEASE DATE: 2007
Directed by Robert Youngson
Music composed and conducted by George Steiner (The Golden Age of Comedy)
Orchestrated by Ted Royal and Charles Cooke (When Comedy Was King)
Orchestra Conducted by Sylvan Levin) (When Comedy Was King)
Associate Producer: Herbert R. Gelbspan
Narrated by Dwight Weist
Featuring archived footage of:
The Sennett Girls
The First Kings Of Comedy Collection is a timeless tribute to the era of slapstick comedy and all the uproarious comedians who built the comedy genre. The collection consists of two great feature-length compilations, The Golden Age Of Comedy and When Comedy Was King. From documentary producer Robert Youngson and the Hal Roach studios The First Kings Of Comedy Collection preserves some of the greatest moments in comedy lore and pays special tribute to all of the silent era’s greatest clowns, including Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, Will Rogers, Carole Lombard, Jean Harlow, Charley Chase, Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, and Harry Langdon.
Throughout the ’40s through the ’60s, documentarian Robert Youngson would create documentaries on the days gone by. From early mechanics, early technology to early sporting events. But in the late ’50s, Youngson would create two documentaries on the silent film era.
Two films that would pay tribute to the stars of yesteryear and also expose silent films to a generation of Americans who were not familiar with Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Laurel & Hardy, Fatty Arbuckle, Mabel Normand, Harry Langdon to name a few.
In 1957, Youngson would create “The Golden Age of Comedy” and in 1959 “When Comedy Was King”. Documentaries which would introduce the silent comedians of that time and feature clips from their silent short films or their feature films while providing narrative and information on the talent, their popularity of the time and also their troubles.
In “Golden Age of Comedy”, Youngson would focus on Mack Sennett, Laurel and Hardy, Will Rogers, Carole Lombard and Jean Harlow, Ben Turpin, Harry Langdon, the animals of the silent era and more.
In “When Comedy Was King”, Youngson focused on The Good Old Days with Charlie Chaplin, the Immortal Baby with Harry Langdon, Hal Roach, The Great Stone Face with Buster Keaton, The Wacky World of Mack Sennett, The Fiddle and the Bow with Laurel and Hardy.
VIDEO & AUDIO:
Both “The Golden Age of Comedy” and “When Comedy Was King” are provided in standard definition, black and white. Fortunately, the clips that are featured on both films are in good condition, no scenes with film warping or excessive damage were featured.
Audio in presented in Dolby Digital with music, sound effects and narrative by Robert Youngson. Dialogue is clear and understandable.
There are no special features included on this DVD.
Back in the late ’50s, Robert Youngson’s tribute to the silent film comedians/slapstick comedy in his two films “The Golden Age of Comedy” and “When Comedy Was King” was well-received at the time.
Youngson, a documentarian who was passionate about things from the older days, did his part in making sure that people don’t forget the silent stars, America’s first popular talent and piecing together archived short film and feature film footage to showcase these talents. It’s literally a compilation film with sound effects, music and narration by Dwight Weist.
And while many silent film fans would recommend the amazing Kevin Brownlow and David Gill documentary “Hollywood: A Celebration of the American Silent Film” created back in 1980, the problem is finding a copy of this release that will not hurt your pocketbook as it is out-of-print and sold by third party for an expensive price.
So, unless you have several hundred dollars to spend on VHS (which may be in bad condition) or the LD release (if you have an LD player), finding excellent documentaries on silent films are hard to come by.
With the release of “The First Kings of Comedy Collection”, you get both of Robert Youngson’s comedy silent film documentaries on one DVD and if you are not familiar with a few of the silent film comedians, the documentary does make a good primer and if you like what you see, you can search out the silent film DVD’s of these talents on Amazon or ask questions to the knowledgeable silent film fans of Nitraville.com.
With that being said, for those who are knowledgeable about silent films, then these individuals will be most perturbed by the lack of inclusion of one of the silent comedy kings, Harold Lloyd. And for Harold Lloyd fans, the lack of inclusion of Lloyd is a disservice. Why wasn’t he included? Was it difficult to get permission to use footage for this documentary? Or perhaps, Robert Youngson didn’t care for Lloyd? We’ll never know. But because of this, some people may feel both documentaries are good primers but not exactly complete.
The other negative for some is that the documentaries are reminiscent of those old ’50s films you would watch in class. In other words, some may find the narration dated.
But it all comes down to one’s preference. For me, I could care less if the narrator sounds dated, these two are late ’50s/early ’60s documentaries after all. I would rather have the original narrator, Dwight Weist’s narration than have a redub in a modern setting with new music. I found these two films fine as is.
And speaking of the narration, once again, this is subjective on the viewer of how they feel about it. It’s one thing to read people complain about how the narrator sounds dated but to read complaints of how narrator Dwight Weist sounds too enthusiastic about what he is discussing is a non-issue for me. If anything, hearing the narrator enthusiastic about the subject matter, made the documentaries lively and fun. For others, some prefer a more academic or perhaps dry narration.
And last, the fact is that there is focus primarily on Max Sennett and Hal Roach Studios for the archived footage featured. Because comedy in the 1920′s is widespread and many will have their favorites, some may have a problem with the subject matter being too limited, focusing on talent that are well-known and popular. While Chaplin and Keaton are featured in this documentary, some may feel that there is not enough.
One can suspect that because most people tend to focus on Chaplin and Keaton, this was probably Youngson’s way of exposing people not familiar to silent films of other talents out there beyond Chaplin and Keaton. While I’m not sure how many silent films were accessible to audiences during the late ’50s or ’60s as opposed to the revival of silent films in the ’70s, I would imagine that a lot of silent film festivals probably had more access to films starring Chaplin, Keaton, Laurel and Hardy and Hal Roach films.
I will say that “The First Kings of Comedy Collection” was a DVD that made me want to search out the films that I have never seen before but were featured on the DVD. For example, I have many Carole Lombard films in my DVD collection, but I do not have any of her silent films. The same goes with Jean Harlow and also for a few of the Hal Roach Studios films that do not star Harold Lloyd or the kids of “Little Rascals” (both which were not featured in either documentary).
But watching these two documentaries did make me want to watch more Laurel & Hardy, more Ben Turpin, more Hal Roach films like the 1929 film “A Pair of Tights” and hopefully others will be inspired to search out these films or shorts featuring these talent after watching the two documentaries.
While this DVD does makes a good primer for beginners, I also recommend people to read any of Kevin Brownlow’s books especially “The Parades Gone By” (and other silent film books available today). But until Brownlow’s “Hollywood” is ever released on DVD, a beginner wanting a primer on silent comedy can easily enjoy the two documentaries featured in “The First Kings of Comedy Collection”. It may not be for everyone but if you are curious about the subject matter, “The First Kings of Comedy Collection” is also a DVD that can be found for under $10 these days.
Overall, “The First Kings of Comedy Collection” is a recommended set of two documentaries that can satisfy beginners to slapstick comedy but also for those who want to experience two documentaries that possibly inspired many audiences to become silent film fans during that era in time.