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Charley Bowers: The Rediscovery of an American Comic Genius

4.6 out of 5 stars 15 customer reviews

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(Feb 24, 2004)
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Editorial Reviews

Who is Charley Bowers? The inventor of the no-slipping banana skin, unbreakable eggs, and cat-pushing trees! At the end of the 1920s, this unknown genius created and directed a score of cinematic burlesques filled with surrealist imagination, crammed with fantastic sights and animated puppets, among which the most delicious include Egged On, Fatal Footstep and Now You Tell One. His body of work is unique, though the astonishing course his career took has been chronicled by few and left him as one of the more enigmatic figures of American cinema. After a childhood spent with the circus, he became interested in animated drawing, adapting comic strips for the cinema including the Mutt and Jeff series created by Bud Fisher.
Advances in animation which developed during this period explain the astonishing illusions which emerged in these comedic shorts. In the 1930s he directed It's a Bird, his first sound film. Bowers returned to animation for advertising films, in particular the first short film by Joseph Losey, the oil-commissioned Pete Roleum and His Cousins, while also continuing his puppet films. He died in 1946, completely forgotten.
To this day, 11 of the 20 short comedies are still considered lost. At the end of the 1960s, vault discoveries provided more of his story and three of the exhumed films were shown in 1976 at the Annecy Animated Film Festival, where they were met with enthusiasm. After 1992, worldwide research retrieved surviving prints of the missing films with requests to the world's notable cinema collectors, who allowed access to their original elements. For the first time this extraordinary collection assembles the complete films of Charley Bowers which survive today, magnificently restored from the original elements with the collaboration of ten cinema societies.

Special Features


Product Details

  • Actors: Charles R. Bowers, Kathryn McGuire, Melbourne MacDowell, Buster Brodie, Blue Washington
  • Directors: Charles R. Bowers, Harold L. Muller, Joseph Losey, Ted Sears
  • Writers: Charles R. Bowers, Harold L. Muller, Joseph Losey, Ted Sears
  • Format: Color, Dolby, Full Screen, NTSC
  • Language: English (Dolby Digital 5.1)
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 2
  • Rated:
    Not Rated
  • Studio: Image Entertainment
  • DVD Release Date: February 24, 2004
  • Run Time: 233 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B00016XN2A
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #270,065 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "Charley Bowers: The Rediscovery of an American Comic Genius" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Scott MacGillivray on March 9, 2004
Charley Bowers is an almost forgotten master of stop-motion animation. The busy world of Bowers is filled with omnivorous birds that lay miraculous eggs, frisky animals, things that appear out of nowhere, machines that assemble and dismantle themselves, and usually Bowers himself as a typical silent-comedy patsy. The craftsmanship of his films is astounding, and animation enthusiasts will especially enjoy this collection of his rare short films. They are so rare indeed that surviving elements are often incomplete or partially damaged. In this DVD set, some of the silent subjects are shown with French title cards (and optional English subtitles). Others are American prints, and the quality is often extraordinary.

A sampling of Bowers's traditional animated efforts of the 1910s reveals that Bowers was an excellent pen-and-ink artist. The Mutt & Jeff cartoon GRILL ROOM EXPRESS gives the comic-strip characters little pantomimic touches that are very enjoyable. AWOL is a cautionary tale predating Warners' Private Snafu cartoons, showing what happens when a soldier goes joyriding. (Nothing illicit here, the soldier just has tough luck throughout). In the 1920s Bowers starred in live-action comedies that he embellished with his camera tricks; few exist but the DVD set is representative. The set claims to contain every surviving Charley Bowers title; this is incorrect. His silent short THERE IT IS!, in which Bowers looks like Buster Keaton and acts like Harry Langdon, is not included.

There is a certain archaeological fascination in watching the highly visual Mr. Bowers attempt the talking picture. IT'S A BIRD is the bizarre adventure of a bird whose eggs hatch into automobiles.
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Much of what is credited to Charlie Bowers in the documentary is in fact the work of Dick Huemer. The translated version of "Grill Room Express" is such an example. First, there was no title originally released as this. The original title appears to have been "Flap Jacks" from 1917. The level of drawing, pen work, and execution of animation in this cartoon is superior to that displayed in the short exerpts seen in the documentary that are obviously from an earlier period. These were done by Bowers and Rauol Barre. Adding to this, the documentary shows drawings credited to Bowers that were Huemer's, including a gag cartoon done in 1969 where Jeff points to the thought balloons, asking, "Gee Mutt, do we always ahve to talk this way?" Mutt replies, "Of course you sap, sound ain't been invented yet."

Regarding the translation of the title cards from French to English, this is a classic case of the joke being lost in the translation. Besides the generic and unoffical title, "Grill Room Express," the translations from French are too literal, and the original dialogue seems altered to the extent that the humor is lost due to differences in context and idioms between the languages. This is a problem where plays on words that work in one language do not translate in other languages. In spite of this, "Grill Room Express" ("Flap Jacks") is a nice suriver from 1917, and displays a great amount of skill, but most of all displays personalities in the animated versions of these important comic strip characters at a time when other animated charcters had no personality. Although FELIX THE CAT has been recognized as the first animated character with personality, he came three years after the appearance of MUTT AND JEFF.
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Charley Bowers: the rediscovery of an American comic genius, is a two DVD set containing fifteen films made between 1917 and 1940. Bowers is largely forgotten now, but it is clear from these films that he had a great comic talent. In his silent shorts Bowers is generally a naïve inventor attempting to solve his problems by making weird and wonderful machines. Thus, for example, he builds a machine which makes unbreakable eggs; he builds shoes which will help him win a Charleston contest by dancing for him and solves a mice problem by growing cats from a tree. These films, made in the late twenties, are amazing for they showcase his talent for combining live-action with animation. It is this aspect of his films which gives Bowers his uniqueness and raises him far above the average. The interaction of Charley with the animated world is clever and imaginative. The special effects are usually convincing and must have been extremely difficult to achieve. What makes the trick photography really special however, is that Bowers uses it to express his bizarre ideas in a really funny way. Watching these films I found myself at times astonished, at times bewildered, but nearly always laughing out loud.
After the twenties Bowers made some live action sound films one of these, about a metal eating bird which eats scrap and lays eggs which hatch into cars, is the equal of his best silent films. Most of his later work however, is pure animation. These films are well made and often fairly funny, but seem somehow to be a waste of his talent. Like other silent comedians Bowers obviously found himself taking work where he could, even making at one point an advertising film for oil. Such films are still interesting but cannot compare to the best of his silent work.
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