Classic Movies · Stuff You Should Know

“So tell me, why should it be true/That I get a kick(start) out of you…”


Hi, buckaroos! Scamp Shreve time again. Yeah, I’m trying to slide one by ya once more.  Okay, now that I’ve achieved my lifelong ambition of referencing both Cole Porter and Jerry Jeff Walker in a single post…let me get to the “meat” of the matter.  There are two Kickstarter campaigns underway highlighting two of silent cinema’s unsung clowns…and because I experienced a rare instance of having two nickels to rub together, I was able to donate both five-cent pieces (plus a little more) to back these projects that I know will be of interest to silent comedy fans.

perfectgentlemanI’ve reviewed a lot of Grapevine Video product here on the blog in the past, and the Phoenix mom-and-pop video label (though in the case of Jack and Jason Hardy it’s more like pop-and-son) is hard at work on a release of the 1928 Monty Banks feature A Perfect Gentleman.  In Gentleman, Monty plays a bank clerk who tries to make amends with his fiancée (Ruth Dwyer) on a transatlantic cruise after embarrassing himself at their wedding (he showed up spiffed…never a promising sign).  His attempts at reconciliation are stymied by the unpleasant news that he’s suspected of embezzling fundage from his place of business, and there’s much hilarity as our hero works his hardest to clear his name while dodging both a jealous husband and gangsters after the stolen loot.

“We’ve already started on this project and have completed a high-definition transfer of the feature,” Grapevine’s Kickstarter campaign states.  “However the print had some flaws that we feel requires more intensive work before being released. If successful the Kickstarter will allow us to give time and attention to the film’s digital restoration as we prepare it for release. We also have sourced a second print of the feature with additional footage which will be included to make the release as complete as possible.”  (Grapevine’s print runs 42 minutes, and the second print is believed to contain additional footage that will extend Gentleman’s running time.)

Screen grab from A Perfect Gentleman (1928)

The target for Gentleman was to raise $1,000…and when this goal was quickly met with all deliberate speed (as of this writing, it’s at $2,745) any additional money raised was going toward supplementing the release with some bodacious extras in the form of selected short subjects:

We are reviewing other films (shorts and fragments) to see what additional material we can include in the release. The footage we already have may limit us to only being able to add just one more short, as we absolutely do not want to lose quality by over compressing the DVD. More info soon!

A screen grab from The Belles of Liberty (1918), with Eva Novak and Monty Banks.

While that decision is still being ruminated upon in the Grapevine executive boardroom, there were already two Banks comedy shorts scheduled as DVD supplements: a 1918 comedy, The Belles of Liberty, and Le Coiffeur Improvisé (The Hairdresser Improvised), a French print of a comedy that is believed to be the 1923 Banks comedy Taxi Please.

This is Grapevine’s second Kickstarter campaign—the first was a successful campaign to fund a DVD/Blu-ray release of both the 1903 and 1914 versions of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and they not only met that goal but raised enough cabbage to include the 1926 Our Gang comedy Uncle Tom’s Uncle.  That DVD/Blu-ray is available for purchase at the Grapevine site if you missed that campaign (which I did), so I’d say their track record is solid and worth the investment in the event you’ve got extra money lying around.  (I should be so lucky.)

alicehowellprojectThe other Kickstarter campaign is a project from Facebook compadres Ben Model (the hardest working man in the silent film accompaniment bidness) and Steve Massa (author of Lame Brains and Lunatics), who wanted to release six comedy shorts featuring Alice Howell to DVD: How Stars are Made (1916), In Dutch (1918), A Convict’s Happy Bride (1920), His Wooden Legacy (1920), Distilled Love (1920), and Under a Spell (1925).  If you’re asking yourself at this point in the paragraph “Who is Alice Howell?” then you clearly disregarded my enthusiastic recommendation of Steve’s essential film reference book, Slapstick Divas…and stand to get a flunking grade on the blog.  Suffice it to say, Howell was a silent comedy star (though overlooked today) who got her start at Mack Sennett’s laugh factory (Keystone) before moving to L-KO in 1915 in support of Billie Ritchie.  Alice would then be promoted to her own series and made first-rate gut busters for the likes of Century, Reelcraft, and Universal; like Mabel Normand, Howell was considered by many to be a “female Chaplin.”

alicepromoBen’s “Alice Howell Project” has achieved its goal of $4,700 (which was hit in eight, count ‘em, eight hours)…and at last look, the project’s “stretch goal” is close to being met, which means there will be an additional disc of Howell shorts released: Shot In The Excitement (1914), Under New Management (1915), Her Lucky Day (1920), Neptune’s Naughty Daughter (1917), and Father Was a Loafer (1915).  As of this writing, the funding is at $8,684…but all you can do to hit the couch cushions and donate would be most appreciated (ideally, they’d like to top out at $9,000). The very name “Ben Model” is a guarantee of quality (his campaign to restore the 1922 Marion Davies feature When Knighthood Was in Flower was reviewed here on the blog) and my only regret is that I was too financially embarrassed to contribute to his last Kickstarter—a second volume of Marcel Perez shorts.  (Fortunately, the new Perez collection is available from Ben’s Undercrank Productions.)

I truly think Ben makes the best argument for contributing to these worthy projects: “We’ve all heard of great silent films having been preserved at a film archive and thought, ‘wouldn’t it be great if somebody put that out on DVD?’  Here’s a chance for you to be part of that ‘somebody’!”  At a time when these kinds of releases rarely see the light of home video-day because of their “niche” appeal, you should do what you can to ensure that these treasures from the past can be made accessible to new generations of classic movie mavens.

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