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Becoming Charley Chase
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Name a comedian in the first part of the 20th centuryCharley Chase worked with them, either on or off screen. He was a brilliant comedy writer, film director, and a major movie star. Almost single-handedly, he transformed the world of screen comedy from chaotic slapstick violence into a newly sophisticated comedy of manners, and laid the groundwork for the modern sitcom. He was the worlds biggest skinny manand this is where his legend begins. This deluxe 4 disc collection provides a comprehensive look at Charley Chases early years, from his days as a budding talent at Mack Sennetts Keystone Studios to becoming one of Hollywoods most in-demand comedy directors to his breakthrough as one of the top box office draws of the 1920s. Over 40 rare comedy shorts form 1915-1925 and surviving extracts of lost films digitally restored from materials provided by private collectors and major institutions from around the world. Featuring new music by the Snark Ensemble, Ben Model, the Redwine Jazz Band, and the West End Jazz.
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He became Charley Chase (hence the name of the set) to distinguish the comedian from the director. His onscreen character bears a remarkable resemblance to Dick Van Dyke who must have been familiar with Chase's comedies. It was initially based on a once popular comedian named Lloyd Hamilton. He became Roach's number one comedy headliner until he was eclipsed by Laurel & Hardy in the late 20s. He continued to act and direct (at Columbia including a few 3 Stooges shorts in the late 30s like VIOLENT IS THE WORD FOR CURLY) until his early death from a heart attack at the age of 46. That was in 1940. The various audio commentaries on the shorts and the brief bio THE PARROTT CHASE provide excellent background information.
This set has been years in the making as some of the early material was very hard to come by and there were a number of complications over who was going to release it. Thanks to Allday Entertainment and to VCI Entertainment for finally getting the job done. Chase had a significant influence on screen humor directing it away from outright slapstick and more into the situational comedy we know today. It's astonishing how much of his late teens and early 20s stuff got recycled by others. My initial reaction is one of admiration tinged by a touch of sadness over how he has been forgotten. Hopefully this set will change that. The only thing that keeps it from being a perfect release is the lack of liner notes or at least a listing of what shorts are on which disc. Still a 5 star effort.
Another plus for this set is the lack of windowboxing, which took away so much from the Milestone release.
Now comes the bad news. While most of these shorts looked as one would expect of films approximately 90 years old, there were a couple of glaring exceptions. "Just A Minute" has been unforgivably sourced from a videotape (rather than film), and a video tape which shows its wear no less. Video tracking issues ruin what is debatably the funniest short here.
Another issue is the source used for "Bad Boy". This is one of the films that also appears on the Milestone release. While the Milestone version appears intact, the source used here has several critical seconds missing. Without that footage, the "brick throwing incident" makes no sense whatsoever. A real shame, given that it is obvious that a complete source is available.
Lastly, in terms of video quality, on several films (including the aforementioned "Bad Boy") it appears the source was not being watched to closely as the transfer was being made. "Vertical hold" issues crop up, with the top of the picture appearing at the bottom of the frame. This last issue is merely the result of sloppy work.
I would also be amiss if I failed to comment on the accompanying music. That which was provided by the Snark Assembly and by Ben Model was excellent, consistently following the action and the tone of the films. Conversely, the music provided by the Redwine Jazz Band and by the West End Jazz Band appeared to have been recorded without the benefit of actually watching the film for which the music was being recorded. These two "jazz" bands consistently disregarded the action, and the West End Jazz band even threw in some vocals. Thankfully, the music from the Snark Assembly and from Ben Model made up the majority of that provided!
As for extras, the documentary "The Parrott Chase" was poorly produced, as the music overpowered the voices of the interviewees.
Finally, there is no insert listing the shorts included, so one has to guess at, not only what is on each disc, but on what is included in the set. For my personal convenience, I made up my own list and inserted it into the case. A very chintzy move on VCI's part.
To summarize, I can state that neither the Milestone release nor this one is the definitive Charley Chase collection. On content alone, I would have to give this set the slight edge. However, I find it to be quite disappointing, as well.
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The films themselves are fun to watch.Read more