Friday, August 1, 2014

DVD: The Mishaps of Musty Suffer -- August 1, 2014

Moving Picture World, April 8, 1916

They're at it again.  Famous motion picture accompanist Ben Model has released two volumes in the DVD series Accidentally Preserved, and they were accompanied by a book by Steve Massa:

Both were funded through Kickstarter. 

Model's latest project, also accompanied by a book by Massa, presents 11 of the 30 one-reelers starring Harry Watson, Jr as Musty Suffer.  All but 5 of the 30 survive because producer George Kleine was careful to preserve his work and release it to the educational market. 

Harry Watson, Jr and his partner George Bickel started working together in circuses, including Ringling Brothers and Forepaugh-Sells Brothers.  They moved on to vaudeville and then early editions of the Ziegfeld Follies

Producer George Kleine made two features with Bickel and Watson in 1915.  These count as very early slapstick features.  Later in 1915, Kleine produced Keep Moving, a picaresque fantasy feature starring Harry Watson, Jr as Musty Suffer.  Kleine did not release the feature.  Instead, he recut it into a series of one-reelers.  He must have added more material, because the first group included ten films.  Two more groups of ten films each followed.  The last group was released by Essanay, and half of those were produced by that company.  Those are the films that are lost. 

Most of the films open with a title that says "The Mishaps of Musty Suffer in Numerous Whirls." 

The quality of the images is generally excellent, with lots of sharp detail. 

The first film in the set, "Going Up!," was the fourth Whirl in the first series and definitely one of the ones taken from the feature.  It includes the Fairy Tramp and Musty's magic horseshoe.  I was stunned by the quality of the image in the opening, where Musty drains some gasoline from a car and then drinks, and then hops a ride on the luggage rack of another car. 

Many films in the series included fantasy elements, like the Fairy Tramp, quick changes done with stop motion, and stop motion animation of objects. 

The next film in the set, "The Lightning Bell-Hop," was Whirl #6 in the first series.  It includes fantastic gags such as a working gaslight drawn in chalk, and a very skinny room with very skinny furniture for a very skinny customer. 

The third film in the set, "Just Imagination," was Whirl #8 in the first series.  The Fairy Tramp and the magic horseshoe appear again.  The Fairy Tramp gets Musty a job in a medical study, which turns out to be a series of cruel, but mostly funny, pranks. 

"Blow Your Horn" was the first Whirl in the second series of ten films.  Musty becomes a bicycle messenger and has a series of adventures.  The best part is when he works with two life-sized dummies who move in unison with him. 

"While You Wait" was the third Whirl in the second series.  Musty gets a series of jobs from an employment agency, but they are all in the same house at the same time.  He is a maid, a butler and a gardener. 

"Local Showers" is the fourth Whirl in the second series.  Musty has a toothache and goes to a nightmarish dental office. 

"Outs And Ins" is the seventh Whirl in the second series.  Musty is magically transformed into a worker in an automat restaurant.  When he finds people trying to cheat, he deals with them harshly.  There are some interesting sanitary practices, like putting dirty plates back on the shelf. 

The last complete movie in the set, "Spliced and Iced," is the only representative of the third series, being the seventh member.  A tall Cupid, possibly played by the actor who was the Fairy Tramp, shoots Musty with a huge arrow.  A mysterious man called "Mister Sherman" keeps giving Musty advice about love and marriage.  I had to run the movie back to see if I had missed his introduction, but he just popped up.  Musty marries a woman who may have been played by a fat, ugly man and it is not a happy match.  At the end, Musty declares "Sherman was right" and jumps off a cliff.  He doesn't jump up at the bottom.  The shot is followed by a shot of an American flag.  I had to think about it, but "Sherman was right" is a phrase that comes up at times, generally agreeing with General William Tecumseh Sherman's "War is Hell." 

Extras include a boxing scene from "Hold Fast," the third Whirl of the first series.  This was a famous Bickel and Watson routine.  There is also a newsreel showing Watson visiting Chicago for an exhibitors' convention, and a gallery of stills. 

Watson was a great clown, with a very expressive face.  I enjoyed the set. 

Ben Model's music enhanced every item.   Steve Massa's book filled in many of the details I would not have known about.  Thanks to both of them and everyone who contributed to the production. 

Daily Variety, 02-June-1916.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comment moderation is turned on. Your message will appear after it has been reviewed.