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Added Attractions: The Hollywood Shorts Story

Added Attractions: The Hollywood Shorts Story (2002) traces the history of the short subject from the early days of Thomas Edison and D.W. Griffith when every film was a short ? through the heyday of silent comedy shorts and wartime newsreels ? into the studio era of one and two reelers. The documentary is based on a book by film critic Leonard Maltin called The Great Movie Shorts: Those Wonderful One- and Two-Reelers of the Thirties and Forties. The film moves through the world of shorts by studio and series. Some of the highlights it touches on include:

The Hal Roach shorts:
Producer Hal Roach built the studio that gave the world two enduring comedy series - Our Gang and Laurel & Hardy. Our Gang was born as a silent in 1922. Added Attractions includes a clip from the silent Our Gang short The Fourth Alarm (1926). It steps into the sound era with clips from The Pooch (1932), a cute short where the gang tries to save a dog from the dogcatcher, Hi'-Neighbor! (1934) where the kids get a rich new neighbor with a shiny, girl-magnet fire engine and Our Gang Follies of 1938 (1937) with a delightful operatic performance by Alfalfa. The documentary also features a 1992 interview with Roach discussing the Our Gang Series. And it showcases Laurel and Hardy in the Our Gang short Wild Poses (1933) where the duo played babies. Like Our Gang, Laurel and Hardy got their start in silents. Other Laurel and Hardy laughs are provided in clips from Towed in a Hole (1932) where the boys attempt to renovate a fishing boat, Perfect Day (1929) where a picnic can't quite get off the ground and Helpmates (1932) where Hardy enlists Laurel's help to clean the house after a wild party.

Warner Bros Vitaphone:
This division of the studio was established in Brooklyn specifically for the production of musical shorts. The Vitaphone process was an early sound format that synched the picture to a record. The proximity of the New York stage provided Vitaphone productions an endless pool of vaudevillian talent. And in many cases, the Vitaphone shorts are the only surviving recordings of these vaudeville acts. For example, a year before the landmark talkie The Jazz Singer (1927), Al Jolson did a Vitaphone short called A Plantation Act. Other Vitaphone acts included Baby Rose Marie shown in Baby Rose Marie the Child Wonder (1929), George Burns and Gracie Allen featured in Lambchops (1929), and Charlie McCarthy and Edgar Bergen in Nut Guilty (1936). The Nicholas Brothers also sing and dance their way through the Vitaphone short The Black Network (1936). In 1938, Vitaphone studios was moved West and incorporated into WB's Hollywood shorts division.

The studio's shorts series included Dogville, Pete Smith Specialties and John Nesbitt's Passing Parade. The Dogville Comedies, which spoofed hit movies of the day using dog actors, was the creation of Jules White and Zion Myers. Piano wire was used to hold the dogs in place and they were fed peanut butter to make the dogs' mouths move. Clips are shown from The Dogway Melody (1930) a parody of Oscar® winner The Broadway Melody (1929) and College Hounds (1930) in which the dogs played football. Sarcastic narrator Pete Smith turned ?whimsical bits of Americana? into a successful shorts series. Smith's Specialties were relatively inexpensive to produce ? as they required only silent film footage and a voice over narration track. Smith commented on everything from Bowling Tricks (1948) to the ever-present Movie Pests (1944). He also brought moviegoers 3D a decade before the first 3D feature with Third Dimensional Murder (1941). Also at MGM was storyteller John Nesbitt's Passing Parade. Clips are included from Main Street on the March! (1941). The short was originally intended to warn against the lack of US preparedness for war. But following the attack on Pearl Harbor, the film was re-edited to rally support and speak to the country's readiness. Main Street on the March! won the Oscar® for Best Two Reel Short.

Added Attractions also presents clips of then unknown stars appearing in short subjects. These shorts feature some of the earliest Hollywood work of superstars like Judy Garland, Humphrey Bogart, Lucille Ball and Jimmy Stewart. Well-respected directors, like Jacques Tourneur and Fred Zinnemann, also paid their dues on shorts.

The documentary takes a brief look at newsreels, with footage from the Hindenburg disaster, and travelogues, focusing on the popular Fitzpatrick Travel Talks. There's also a salute to serials in short form with clips from The Perils of Pauline and Zorro's Fighting Legion. And of course, no shorts retrospective would be complete without comedy favorite The Three Stooges. Added Attractions features several classic Stooge clips including footage from Three Sappy People (1939).

Producer: Tom Brown, George Feltenstein, Peter Jones, Melissa Roller
Director: John Griffin
Screenplay: Leonard Maltin, John Griffin
Film Editing: Rick Weis
Cast: Chevy Chase (narrator), Hal Roach, Harold Lloyd, Mack Sennett, Sid Caesar, Bob Newhart.
BW&C-89m. Closed captioning.

by Stephanie Thames