Wednesday, August 28, 2013

DVD REVIEW! BIG BOY SHORTS (1925-1927) starring Malcolm Sebastian!

I haven't been buying many if any silent screen cinematic wares as of late, but the appearance of this li'l beaut on the Grapevine Video website had me palpatatin' great gobs 'o goo o'er the disque's mere existence. True, these OUR GANG/LITTLE RASCALS "imitations" weren't always pumpin' on all cylinders (witness the Educational Pictures BABY BURLESKS series with Shirley Temple and other potty trainers acting out adult dramas in the most paedophiliac ways imaginable), but these Big Boy comedies definitely went against the grain with their high production values, boffo plots and additional craft and value that equaled those of the Hal Roach Studios not to mention other comedy outlets of the day. And of course it helped that the lead character was a bouncy and cute li'l toddler who knew how to act even if he were a mere two 'n stuck right in fronna the action and told what to do or no num nums tonight!

Jules White thought up the Big Boy concept while at Educational, though as soon as everything was developed his own brother Jack gave the project to Charles Lamont who was a more than able comedy director as his work with the Three Stooges and W.C.Fields would attest. White was a bit bummed by this last-minute switcheroo, even to the point where a good fifteen or so years later he tried reviving his idea when working at Columbia, first using a new variant on the scamp in an Andy Clyde comedy then hiring longtime RASCALS director Robert McGowan to direct a kid comedy short featuring the revamped Boy. Unfortunately the projected series lasted only one film, probably due to McGowan already being shell-shocked from years of trying to make a passel o' unruly kids work in front of the cameras than anything else.

But at least this 'un ran from '25 until the dusk of silents in '29, not because production heads feared the advent of a squeaky-voiced Big Boy ruining their series but because the kid was now a hearty six-years-old and ready for the pasture. But before that dreadful day there were a total of twenty-eight BIG BOY comedies made, and a good choice six of 'em appear on this release that's bound to capture the fancy of us outta-the-whirlpool kinda people who were able to discern something special while watching old movies and cartoons as children plopped in front of the set!

The OUR GANG credo works well here because, although Big Boy a.k.a. Malcolm Sebastian a.k.a. Malcolm Sabiston was the official star of this series, these 1925-1927 shorts are jam-packed with kids both thin and fat, black and white, boy and girl and otherwise who scrap together in backyards and alleyways or make a wreck of some rich folks' home (like in RAISIN' CAIN, a classic kids get quarantined romp containing one big gag Lamont later lifted for one of his Junior Coughlan shorts inna thirties). In fact, in no way could I see a downhome suburban slob of a LITTLE RASCALS fan not liking these shorts which not only exude that great old time feeling that a squirt like me was fortunate enough to experience first hand (via relatives who decided to live in the twenties for the rest of their lives), but make for no-doubt-about-it fine entertainment in an era when all that's being presented to us in the name o' funny is some guy berating us every chance he gets and we're supposed to laugh at it for some occult reason or another!

Films are of a surprisingly good quality with close-enough-to-the-original scores by David Knudson that don't sound anything like that Boston Pops drek you've been hearing on PBS and TCM for years. Surprisingly enough the only ones that aren't quite up to snuff visual-wise are some over-used fifties-vintage tee-vee prints that, wonder of wonders, use the same canned music that was prevalent during the early years of LEAVE IT TO BEAVER! And if you don't think that makes quite an early-morning summertime vacation wake up and watch tee-vee impression on me you've been reading the wrong blog for the past eight years!

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