Ben Model has accomplished rather a neat magic trick by managing to become a Renaissance man without ever leaving the very narrow field of silent film: primarily known as a silent film accompanist, presenter, and lecturer, he is also a scholar and archivist (not just of silent film, but of the Ernie Kovacs collection), a performance theorist and director, and increasingly a performer himself.
Today he has released a new DVD set containing several extremely rare (some unique, i.e. literally one-of-a-kind) films from his collection, all of them 16mm prints that were distributed for home usage and rental in the 1930s and 1940s (a kind of precursor to home video that never really took off). I would say these films are mostly for the hard core fan since they feature artists who are now more obscure than obscure BUT for the fact that most of them are really funny and charming, and anyone who took the trouble to watch them really ought to enjoy them if they have any grey matter left in their burnt-out 21st century electro-brains.
The collection contains such gems as:
The Lost Laugh (1928) featuring Wallace Lupino as a young husband who laughs off most of his morning’s little misfortunes….until a washing machine salesman lays one straw too many onto the camel’s back…
Loose Change (1928) features Neal Burns and Jack Duffy as his long lost Scottish relative who comes to visit and gets the “vamp” treatment” from his wife’s friend. The guy is so cheap he fakes injuries so he can get a free ride from ambulances; by the end the woman’s got him taking one back out of town.
Wedding Slips (1928) Monty Collins and his bride are interrupted in their honeymoon by a bunch of highway gypsies — and a gorilla!
Shoot Straight (1923) This one features Charley Chase’s brother Paul Parrot in a number of hunting gags
The House of Wonders (1931) the only potential dud in the bunch, this one is an industrial for the Elgin Watch Company. While I was impressed that Ben could muster enough romance in his soul to play music along with it, I confess that I fast forwarded most of the footage of factory assembly lines. There is historical interest here, though. There’s that.
The Misfit (1924) This is the only one in the bunch I had seen before, it features Clyde Cook as a henpecked husband who joins the Marines to escape his shrewish wife, and ends up driving his drill sergeant crazy. In the end he manages to get both the sergeant and his wife to fall into the ocean, solving all of his problems.
The Water Plug (1920) Billy Franey plays a hobo with a scam for raising money that involves a fake badge and a prop fire hydrant. Directed by George Jeske.
Mechanical Doll (1922) A charming little mix of live action and animation, produced and directed by the Fleischer Brothers.
Cheer Up (1924) a fairly standard silent comedy scenario. A girl must choose between two rivals; when she marries one (Cliff Bowes) the rival stalks and tortures them with hilarious results !
You know you want it! To get your copy go here.