A new four-disc set from the Warner Archive Collection, “Vitaphone Varieties,” features some 60 short films, most if not all made with Warner’s sound-on-disc process and recovered thanks to the detective work of Ron Hutchinson and The Vitaphone Project. The wide-ranging collection includes dance band numbers, classical musicians and even several dramatic sketches, but the emphasis is on overlooked vaudeville performers, like the marvelous music and comedy duo of Myrtle Glass and Jimmy Conlin (in the photo above). (Preston Sturges fan, to continue a theme, will recognize Conlin from his many appearances with the Sturges stock company, including his unforgettable characterization of the racetrack tout who induces Harold Lloyd to take his first drink in “The Sin of Harold Diddlebock”). Among the conclusions to be drawn from this fascinating collection: there was an awful lot of talking on screen well before “The Jazz Singer,” and the Marx Bros. weren’t alone as specialists in aggressive, absurdist comedy in the 1920s — have a look at Val and Ernie Stanton, Born and Lawrence and the rather disturbing “Oklahoma Bob Albright and His Rodeo Do Flappers” in this bunch.
For those in the New York area, Ron will be presenting a whole new crop of Vitaphone restorations on Monday, May 9 at Film Forum.
Like early sound, early television required a locked-down camera and allowed for little in the way of dynamic cutting, but the great puppeteer Burr Tillstrom turned those limitations into strengths with the gentle, improvised character comedy of his long running series “Kukla, Fran and Ollie.” 20 shows produced between 1949 and 19564 have been issued on an excellent, home-brewed DVD produced by Mark Milano and available through Amazon . I have reviews of both these short-form compilations in this week’s New York Times column.