Sunday, 27 March 2016

Tralfaz Sunday Theatre – Slapstick

Silent comedy films—the best of them, anyway—are just as entertaining today as they were when they lit up movie screens 90 and 100 years ago. Tossed pies are still funny. The stunts performed by Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd are still fascinating to watch. Personally, I love looking at old box-shaped Fords and Chevrolets, steam locomotives, and streets dotted with three-storey, front-porched wooden homes.

Growing up in the ‘60s, you couldn’t see a full silent picture on TV. They were chopped up into little segments and plopped into documentaries. ABC even bought a series of them from producer Paul Killiam and broadcast them in 1960 as a Thursday night summer replacement series called “Silents Please.”

Killiam was a lawyer’s son who graduated from Harvard, then became a newscaster on WOR in the mid-‘40s before opening a club/cafe on New York’s east side called the Old Knick. There he mounted musicals, staged audience sing-alongs and screened silent films. In 1953, he parlayed it into a 15-minute show on WCBS, where he ad-libbed narration on a 15-minute show of old Edison reels (“his humor ranges from pure corn to deft satirical barbs,” decreed Variety, which also pronounced his spiel “erractic”). Killiam had formed a syndication company in 1950 with the idea of putting the same kind of show on stations across the U.S. (one trade ad revealed he found buyers in three cities). Later, he and his companies had to defend themselves in several lawsuits over ownership of the ancient films he was incorporating into his documentaries. He died in 1998.

Enough about Mr. Killiam. Here’s one of his half-hour shows, “Slapstick.” The print isn’t great and the sound wows but it doesn’t spoil watching some of the great silent comedians in action.

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