kitparkerfilms

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One activity that is particularly satisfying to me is making available a beautiful video version of a favorite film. Even better is to couple it with an excellent commentary track. Both are the case with “When Comedy Was King” and easier said than done.

In 1958, I saw “The Golden Age of Comedy,” Robert Youngson’s masterful silent comedy compilation at the Hill Theatre in Monterey, California – laughed until my sides hurt. I’d go so far as to say Kit Parker Films would never exist, certainly not in the form it has, had it not been for that night in 1958 as this turned me into a silent comedy buff overnight and inspired me to collect 8mm (later, 16mm) prints of silent comedies from the legendary Blackhawk Films.

Two years later “When Comedy Was King” also by Youngson, was released.   This time I saw it at the State Theatre in Monterey, and it was just as funny as its predecessor! Saw it many times later in 16mm, television, VHS and DVD, all lacking the vibrancy of the 35mm presentation at the State.

Earlier this year I contacted Sonar Entertainment, owner of WCWK, and made a deal to acquire DVD rights. Then came the time to examine the film elements: What a mess! A reel of this, a reel of something else, and the quality ranged from poor to marginal. Then, finally, Sonar’s ever-helpful Maura Grady sent us 9 cans of film, which weren’t properly labelled; they turned out to the original negative!

Our film-to-digital maestro, Doug Horst, did a masterful high definition transfer, and we were off and running. There were still several issues to work out, but they weren’t insurmountable, just time consuming: The images were a checkerboard of light scenes and dark scenes, endemic in working with original negatives. However, fortunately Tiffany Clayton, always up for a technical challenge, “timed” (the industry term for adjusting light and dark scenes) and did other digital clean up as well. Our HD transfer captured more image on the sides that had ever been seen on a video or television release. The only other issue was lack of a sound track, so Tiffany sweetened up the track from an older video release and synced it perfectly.

Next up, I wanted to provide a commentary track. Film historian, author, filmmaker and raconteur Richard M Roberts was up for it, and as my vote for Dean of Silent Comedy, he was the perfect person for the job. Richard was also influenced by the works of Robert Youngson as well, and created a commentary that intermixed his insight on the comedies themselves along with their performers, directors and producers. He also interspersed a long overdue biographical tribute to Robert Youngson himself. I asked Richard if he would allow us to use three rare comedies from his personal collection as a special feature. He agreed, but insisted they have a musical accompaniment, the cost of which would put an already over budget project further into the red. When it comes to quality, Richard doesn’t negotiate, so I bit the bullet and retained Donald Sosin, a leading silent movie composer. Glad I did.

You can buy it today for $14.99 exclusively from Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B01MFX85QA

THE SPROCKET VAULT presents the restored high definition video release of Academy Award-winning Documentarian ROBERT YOUNGSON’s wonderful 1960 Comedy Compilation WHEN COMEDY WAS KING which showcased some of the funniest comedy scenes by famous comedians of the Silent Era, including Laurel and Hardy, Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Harry Langdon, Ben Turpin, and two of the great silent comedy producers, Mack Sennett and Hal Roach.

Remastered from the original 35mm negative and presented in its original full edge-to-edge 1:33 theatrical aspect ratio, audiences can once again enjoy classic comedy sequences from films like BIG BUSINESS (1929) with Laurel and Hardy, COPS (1922) with Buster Keaton, the only surviving footage from Harry Langdon’s THE FIRST HUNDRED YEARS (1924) and the other classic comedies. Thanks to Robert Youngson’s perseverance, the film source material of most of the comedies originated primarily from the sparking clear original camera negatives, not the jerky, flickery fourth generation copies that are so often shown.

THE SPROCKET VAULT’s new DVD release of WHEN COMEDY WAS KING features a commentary track by noted film historian, author, filmmaker and raconteur RICHARD M. ROBERTS, who provides fascinating facts and historical information on the comedy classics showcased. He also pays tribute to WHEN COMEDY WAS KING’s producer Robert Youngson, revealing his story and his important contribution to bringing these films out of obscurity and back to the attention of the film history community and general audiences alike.

As an extra bonus, Mr. Roberts graciously allowed TSV permission to showcase three complete, rare, wild and crazy silent comedies from his own large collection of early film. For the first time in over 90 years audiences can get a taste of undeservedly forgotten names from the hundreds of comedians making films in the Comedy Film Industry of the Silent Era: Hughey Mack and Dot Farley in AN ELEPHANT ON HIS HANDS (1920), Lige Conley in the frenzied FAST AND FURIOUS (1924), and the politically-incorrect Three Fatties (Frank Alexander, Hilliard Karr and Kewpie Ross) in the deliriously destructive Ton of Fun comedy HEAVY LOVE (1926), all featuring commentary by Mr. Roberts, and a new musical accompaniment by one of the leading silent film composers, Donald Sosin.

 

 

 

tall lie

 

The subject was “hazing,” and no studio would touch it…

 

Paul Henreid (“Casablanca”,) wanted a hard-hitting exposé of a problem he felt needed to be addressed…hazing.  He pitched it to the studios, and each time was met with an emphatic “No.”  So he financed, produced, directed, and starred in it.  When he screened the completed picture for the studios, it was the same story…none would touch it.  With his options and money running out, he sold the movie outright to producer/distributor, Robert L. Lippert, known for small-town, family-friendly B movies, the exact opposite of “The Tall Lie.”  Lippert also released it under the more familiar title “For Men Only.”  Although the small towns were shocked by it, business was brisk in college towns.

 

“Tod” (Robert Sherman,) a gentle pledge is forced to swim in freezing water until he almost drowns…and that’s before the main titles even start!  In his screen debut, Russell Johnson, beloved captain of “Gilligan’s Island,” plays “Ky,” the sadistic president of the fraternity.  Vera Miles (“Psycho”,) also in her first film, appears as Tod’s girlfriend.  Tod’s grades plummet because of the unrelenting abuse.  His professor, played by Henreid, takes notice and ponders whether hazing and the forthcoming “Hell Night” might have something to do with it.  Nonetheless, he recommends that Tod’s mother sign a release to let her son take part in the final initiation.  Big mistake.

 

“Hell Night,” the fraternity initiation of all initiations, starts off with the relatively tame ripping of the pledges’ clothes and painting their faces.  Then comes the final initiation…shoot a puppy; this is 1952!  (His friend “Beanie” (James Dobson) wants to be inducted into the fraternity so bad he stoops to drinks blood drawn from a live puppy.) Although Tod refuses, he is subsequently ostracized, hounded to his death as a coward.    This prompts Henreid to push for an investigation and reforms, but is met with resistance and organized destruction of evidence, supported by college administrators and past pledges, bent on saving the good name of the college.

 

Censorship was an issue.  Various state censor boards objected, but the distributors emphasized that it was an “exposé” and “educational,” an argument that generally had positive results.  Then there was the UK where animal cruelty, real or implied, was strictly prohibited.  Exclusive (Hammer) Films, the distributor throughout England, managed to get the picture passed without cuts by adding a lengthy written prologue (included in the DVD) revealing the evils of hazing.

 

Available on DVD from VCI Entertainment:  http://www.vcient.com

 

Sins

The following movies were eventually released on good quality DVD’s:

 

APACHE RIFLES (Admiral-Fox/1964)

Picture and sound track were a jumbled mess. Technician at VCI eventually matched everything up.  (I still owe someone a steak dinner!)

 

THE COWBOY (Lippert/1954)

35mm color negative ruined by mold. Used 16mm color “EK” (print from the original color negative) for the DVD.  Black and white duplicate negative and color “separation negatives” survive.  BTW, I had a blast producing the commentary track with the authentic old cowboys who were the stars of the film.

 

THE GLASS TOMB (Hammer-Lippert/1955)

Original 35mm material missing. Used 35mm release print borrowed from the British Film Archive

 

THE GREAT JESSE JAMES RAID (Lippert/1954)

35mm color material missing. Used a 16mm color “EK.” 35mm black and white negative survives.

 

LIKE IT IS (Psychedelic Fever) (Lima/1968)

Missing sound track. Used audio from a bootleg VHS bought on eBay.  Sometimes pirates serve a useful purpose!

 

MAN BEAST (API/1956)

Master 35mm material was cut for release in the UK and the excised scenes scrapped. Used missing footage found in a 35mm US release print.  Scenes that were deleted prior to its US theatrical release were found in a Spanish dubbed print and are included as a Special Feature on the DVD.

 

MASSACRE (Lippert-Fox/1956)

Color camera negative survived – without titles. Used titles off a like-new 1956 16mm color print I bought from a collector on eBay.  Not the first time a film collector has saved the day.

 

MONSTER FROM THE OCEAN FLOOR (Palo Alto-Lippert/1954)

35mm sound track decomposed. Used track from 16mm Armed Forces negative, which was longer than the theatrical release version. Extra scenes are part of the DVD special features.

 

MR. DISTRICT ATTORNEY (Republic/1941)

Nitrate picture and track negative decomposed. Used a “fine grain” master print borrowed from the British Film Institute

 

OUTLAW WOMEN (Howco/1952)

Original 35mm Cinecolor material decomposed. Used mint 35mm Cinecolor print

 

SEA DEVILS (Coronado-RKO/1953)

Combined 3-strip Technicolor negatives located at Technicolour in London and restored by Canal+, owner of Eastern Hemisphere distribution rights.

 

SHOTGUN (Champion-Allied Artists/1955)

Badly faded camera negative was all that survived. VCI technician was able to bring the color back to life in a tedious process of correcting the color scene by scene. (Another steak dinner, this one due Doug at Film and Video Transfers)

 

SINS OF JEZEBEL (Lippert/1954)

Original 35mm color negative missing. Used mint 35mm AnscoColor print labeled “Roadshow Version”.  Could find no difference between the Roadshow and Regular release; not surprising given its penurious producer, Robert L. Lippert.   Note:  Fortunately AnscoColor, unlike widely used Eastman Color, does not tend to fade.

 

STRANGER ON HORSEBACK (Goldstein-UA/1955)

No color film elements known to exist. Used 35mm AnscoColor release print borrowed from the British Film Institute.  16mm black and white negative survives.

 

THUNDER IN CAROLINA (Howco/1962)

As with “Apache Rifles,” picture and sound track were a jumbled mess. Technician at VCI eventually matched everything up.  (Guess I owe three steak dinners.)

AVAILABLE ON DVD FROM

vci

Anyone interested in a bio on exhibitor/producer/distributor, Robert L. Lippert?  History kind of passed him by!

                              ROBERT L. LIPPERT BIOGRAPHY

Future movie exhibitor and producer scion, Robert L. Lippert, was born March 11, 1909, and abandoned on the doorstep of the San Francisco Catholic Charities Orphanage.  He stayed at the orphanage for almost two years until he was adopted by Leonard and Esther Lippert of Alameda, California.

Lippert grew up in Alameda, and at age17 quit high school to marry his high school sweetheart, Ruth Robinson.

Capitalizing on his skill at the keyboard, he started show business as an organist for silent movies.  Through on-hand experience, he became knowledgeable about all aspects of motion picture exhibition. In 1929 he rented portable equipment and became a road showman, traveling to theatreless towns throughout the west, by then he was completely enamored by the motion picture business.

In 1936 he made an arrangement with a Detroit dish manufacturer and soon announced his greatest gimmick, “Dish Night.”  The concept called for exhibitors to give away a different dish, saucer, etc. every Tuesday over a period of 52 weeks.  Over the period of one year, the loyal movie patron would be rewarded with a complete set of dishes and, of course, countless hours of entertainment!

He toured the country selling his plan (and dishes) to exhibitors around country.  Not only did he make money, he developed relationships with exhibitors around the country…an asset to be used later when he went into motion picture distribution.  

Lippert later used the same concept to promote “Book Night.”   This time inexpensive encyclopedias were given away weekly.  Miss a Tuesday and you have an incomplete set of books!

The origin of the Lippert Theatre Circuit came about in 1942 with his ground-up construction of the Grand Theatre in Richmond, California.  He particularly embraced drive-ins beginning in 1945 with the Malaga in Fresno, the first of its kind Northern California.  Eventually Lippert owned 118 theatres.

…okay, the part about his productions will follow…


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