The film chronicles the variety of comedic styles and talent at the height of Hollywood's silent era. In the early 1920s, producer Mack Sennett, who specialized in creating visual absurdities, released a number of short films starring the fetching but disaster-prone Bathing Beauties. The Prologue demonstrates how Sennett was the first to utilize a revolving stage to create the illusion that the actors were in constant, frenetic motion. Act One features the "Everyman" features of actors Charlie Murray and Billy Bevan and notes that Sennett capitalized on real-life situations, several of which featured the antics of children with dogs and other animals. The frantic, prolonged chase scene soon became the hallmark of Sennett comedy shorts. Act Two features Sennett's rival, producer Hal Roach, who launched the team of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy. The ridiculous dilemmas of the rotund Laurel and slender Hardy were initially dismissed by critics, but enormously popular with the public. A stream of physical comedy gags used by the pair was enhanced by Roach, who successfully revived the pie-in-the-face routine in a Laurel and Hardy classic which featured a wild, free-for-all pie hurling battle. Act Three presents Will Rogers, who went from cowboy to philosopher and became legendary for his ability to poke fun at anyone without giving offense. In the early 1920s Rogers filmed several of his most famous skits featuring his great talent for parody. Rogers successfully mimicked the athletic Douglas Fairbanks, the daring horseback riding feats of Tom Mix and the antics of Keystone Kop Ford Sterling. Act Four reveals that two of Hollywood's later leading ladies and deft comedians, Carole Lomabrd and Jean Harlow, got their start in comedy shorts. The young, energetic Lombard represented the flapper and youth craze of the day. A sultry, teenage Harlow made a brief but memorable appearance in a Laurel and Hardy short well before her own successful career as a screen comedian and sensational "bombshell." Act Five shows how Sennett took advantage of the versatility of Ben Turpin and created a number of personalities for the comic, including a sophisticated playboy and a fearless stuntman. Many times Sennett and other comedy producers took advantage of real-life activities, such as fires, to film footage; Turpin proved to be at ease with the off-the-cuff improvisation these situations often required from actors. Act Six details that two future directors, Leo McCarey and George Stevens, worked on a Roach production of a Laurel and Hardy classic in which the pair, as sailors on leave, turned a country road into a massive traffic pile-up. Described as having the face of a "fiendish baby," the funny but melancholy Harry Langdon soared to popularity in the mid-1920s with his low-key but hilarious clowning, as chronicled in Act Seven. Sadly, by the end of the silent era, Langdon's style became passé and the actor faded into obscurity and died young. In Act Eight, Sennett is shown as recognizing the innate humor in animal behavior, especially when people and animals come together. In addition to poking fun at human-animal encounters in unusual circumstances, Sennett made a star of a terrier mix mutt named Cameo, who with Billy Bevan rose to success in exciting adventures that often included the famous Keystone Kops. The Finale is a salute to an era that utilized physical, slapstick comedy and split-second timing. The film closes with another example of Laurel and Hardy's simple but witty tribute to the perils of everyday life.
The Keystone Kops
Herbert G. Gelbspan
George L. Graham
The Golden Age of Comedy
Many comedy stars from the silent era are highlighted in the film, with special emphasis on Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy in lengthy sequences from several of their two-reel classics. Among the funniest scenes from this inimitable duo is the one in The Second Hundred Years (1927) where Stan and Ollie escape from jail dressed as painters and try to fool a suspicious cop by painting everything in sight.
Youngson was given credit for rescuing the famous Laurel/Hardy pie-fight scene from The Battle of the Century (1927) from extinction by recovering it for inclusion in his compilation. There's more outrageous fun from Two Tars (1928), with the boys as sailors on shore leave who create an outrageous traffic jam. Among other L&H two-reelers excerpted are You're Darn Tootin' (1928) and Double Whoopee (1929).
Will Rogers is also prominently featured in parodies of Hollywood movies taken from both Uncensored Movies (1923) and Big Moments from Little Pictures (1924), including take-offs of Douglas Fairbanks as Robin Hood and Tom Mix (a personal friend of Rogers) as a cowboy with an oversized hat and a horse that outruns automobiles. Other comics contributing hilarious bits are Billy Bevan, Charley Chase, Harry Langdon and Ben Turpin, with appearances by up-and-coming screen beauties Jean Harlow and Carole Lombard.
Despite his film's entertainment and historic value, Youngson failed to find a distributor for The Golden Age of Comedy among the major studios, who considered the material outdated and of little interest. He finally struck a deal with the Distributor's Corporation of America, an independent company that handled such threadbare projects as Ed Wood's notorious Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959).
Through great word-of-mouth, The Golden Age of Comedy drew crowds, created a sensation and was picked up by 20th Century Fox. It has been credited as a major cause in the revival of interest in silent films that began in the 1960s, and Youngson continued to display his talent as an outstanding archivist of silent comedy.
The Brooklyn-born filmmaker's future compilations would include When Comedy Was King (1960), Days of Thrills and Laughter (1961), The Big Parade of Comedy (1964) and Laurel and Hardy's Laughing '20s (1965). He had earlier received eight Oscar nominations for his short subjects of the 1950s and won the award itself for two of them: World of Kids (1951) and This Mechanical Age (1954). Youngson died in 1974.
Producer/Director: Robert Youngson
Associate Producer: Herbert R. Gelbspan
Screenplay: Robert Youngson, René Clair (French commentary)
Film Editing: Albert Helmes
Original Music: George Steiner
Cast: Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, Will Rogers, Carole Lombard, Jean Harlow, Ben Turpin, Harry Langdon, Charley Chase, Billy Bevan, Edgar Kennedy, Andy Clyde, Charles Murray, Harry Gribbon (all in archival footage); Dwight Weist, Ward Wilson (Narrators).
by Roger Fristoe
The Golden Age of Comedy
An opening onscreen credit reads: "Associate producer Herbert G. Gelbspan, Hal Roach Studios." According to Daily Variety and Los Angeles Examiner reviews, the film was culled from 2,000 reels of Mack Sennett and Hal Roach short film comedies. The film was divided into eight acts with a prologue and finale which provided a loose chronicle of silent film comedy. The acts include the following films: Prologue: Super-Hooper-Dyne Lizzies (1925), Remember When? (1925), Angora Love (1929); Act I: The Laugh Factory: Hollywood Kid (1924), The Daredevil (1923), Wandering Willies (1926), Muscle Bound Music (1926), Wall Street Blues (1924), Circus Today (1926); Act II: Nobody Liked Them but the Public: Habeas Corpus (1928), The Second Hundred Years (1927), We Faw Down (1928), Battle of the Century (1927); Act III: The Cowboy Who Became a Legend: Going to Congress (1924), Uncensored Movies (1923), Big Moments from Little Pictures (1924); Act IV: Two Unforgettable Girls: Run, Girl, Run (1928), Double Whoopee (1929); Act V: The Great Actor: The Jolly Jilter (1927), A Harem Knight (1926), Yukon Jake (1924), Ten Dollars or Ten Days (1924), The Prodigal Bridegroom (1926); Act VI: A Comedy Classic: Two Tars (1928); Act VII: So Funny, So Sad: Luck o' the Foolish (1924); Act VIII: Animal Comedy: The Sting of Stings (1927), His Unlucky Night (1928), Nip and Tuck (1923); Finale: Two Men on a Street: You're Darn Tootin' (1927).
Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy's onscreen credit reads "Laurel and Hardy." The New York Times review praised the release of the compilation film noting: "Anyone who gives the public the chance to view these old movies again-and as a consequence revives interest in the problem of saving them-deserves an automatic debt of gratitude."