Laurel and Hardy are back on DVD, along with Edgar Kennedy, Snub Pollard, and other silent-comedy favorites, and we have Kit Parker to thank for it. If you rented 16mm films in the 1970s and 80s for your school, library, or film society you probably dealt with Kit Parker Films. Chances are equally good that you enjoyed the experience, as Kit loved what he did and tried to hire people who cared about movies. His catalog was ornamented with drawings by his father Al, one of the finest and most distinctive illustrators of the 20th century.
The 16mm rental business imploded some years ago, but Kit has never really left the scene. He has been actively involved in video and DVD releases, mining the Lippert Pictures and Weiss Artcraft library and working mostly with VCI Entertainment. Now he’s launched a new label called The Sprocket Factory, and it has three unusual new offerings, all derived from original source material. Check out their website HERE
Go, Johnny, Go! (1959) is a seminal rock ‘n’ roll musical headlined by the notorious disc jockey Alan Freed and an all-star lineup of performers including Chuck Berry and Jackie Wilson. I can’t top Mike Clark’s detailed and glowing review from Home Video magazine.
The Soldier and the Lady (1937) is a genuinely strange hybrid produced by RKO from the skeleton of two earlier European films made in 1926 and 1935. The genesis for all of them is a Jules Verne story called “Michael Strogoff.” RKO signed the star of the 1936 picture, Anton Walbrook, to reprise his role in this Hollywood remake. It’s an oddball movie with outsized villainy by Akim Tamiroff and incongruous comedy relief from Eric Blore and Edward Brophy. The battle scenes are spectacular, however, and it’s easy to see why the studio thought it was worth the trouble to cobble this hodgepodge together.
Last but not least, Kit has reissued Robert Youngson’s When Comedy Was King (1960), one of the movies that made a deep impression on me when I was a kid. Looking back, many fans of my generation are critical of Youngson’s over-reliance on narration, but there’s no denying the fact that he introduced us to great performers and classic comedy shorts. What’s more, you’ll never see more beautiful copies of gems like It’s a Gift with Snub Pollard, Big Business with Laurel and Hardy, and A Pair of Tights with Edgar Kennedy and Anita Garvin. If you later purchased an 8mm or 16mm print of one of those titles from Blackhawk Films, you probably saw it first in this compilation feature.
When Comedy Was King remains an effective introduction to silent comedy for kids, students, or anyone who isn’t familiar with this material. Stars like Harry Langdon and unsung heroes like Billy Bevan are spotlighted in some of their funniest short subjects. Who knows how many potential fans might be turned on by this loving tribute today? If you’re already hooked, you’ll enjoy listening to silent comedy maven Richard M. Roberts’ commentary track. Roberts also discusses three rare “bonus” shorts that are included on the disc. Taken from average 16mm collector prints, they only underscores the beauty of the Youngson feature, which showcases pristine 35mm copies.
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