Al Christie Comedies

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Paul F Etcheverry
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Al Christie Comedies

Postby Paul F Etcheverry » Sat Mar 26, 2011 4:28 am

Way back in the 1980's and early 1990's, when I had an ongoing assignment of reviewing 16mm footage no one else had the time, inclination, interest, patience or derangement to see, I screened numerous Christie Studio comedies, almost all circa 1925-1928, most starring Bobby Vernon, Billy Dooley, Jimmie Adams, Neil Burns and Jack Duffy. The prints were all roughly 550 feet and some had original Paramount titles. None had Blackhawk Films or TV distributor titles.

The continuity left something to be desired on many of these comedy shorts. After seeing a few of them, I tended to view the comedians and jokes as interchangeable (with some exceptions for "Goofy Gob" Dooley and Duffy, the perennial old geezer).

The "who's buried in Grant's Tomb" questions for the Mafioso would be. . .

Were all these comedies whacked down from 800 feet?
Were these releases originally for material-hungry 1950's television stations or for the 16mm rental market?

Thanks,
Paul F. Etcheverry

Richard M Roberts
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Re: Al Christie Comedies

Postby Richard M Roberts » Sat Mar 26, 2011 5:06 am

Paul F Etcheverry wrote:Way back in the 1980's and early 1990's, when I had an ongoing assignment of reviewing 16mm footage no one else had the time, inclination, interest, patience or derangement to see, I screened numerous Christie Studio comedies, almost all circa 1925-1928, most starring Bobby Vernon, Billy Dooley, Jimmie Adams, Neil Burns and Jack Duffy. The prints were all roughly 550 feet and some had original Paramount titles. None had Blackhawk Films or TV distributor titles.

The continuity left something to be desired on many of these comedy shorts. After seeing a few of them, I tended to view the comedians and jokes as interchangeable (with some exceptions for "Goofy Gob" Dooley and Duffy, the perennial old geezer).

The "who's buried in Grant's Tomb" questions for the Mafioso would be. . .

Were all these comedies whacked down from 800 feet?
Were these releases originally for material-hungry 1950's television stations or for the 16mm rental market?

Thanks,
Paul F. Etcheverry



You’re talking about the Harriscope television releases of the Christie comedies which were syndicated in the 1950’s. They were licensed, or were a subsidiary of Consolidated Film Labs/Hollywood Film Enterprises which had owned the Silent Christie Negs since Al Christie had gone bankrupt in the early 30’s. They all had the subtitles removed, but were basically complete otherwise, and had music and narration, which was done by two anonymous narrators, apparently on the spur of the moment, and one narrator was somewhat funnier than the other one, though both were frequently annoying. The print quality, being from the original negs, was beautiful, as were the 16mm and 8mm home prints, though HFE unfortunately offered one-reel and 50-foot cutdowns which seemed to sell in a lot larger quantities than the complete two-reel versions that they also sold. The HFE home prints did retain the original subtitles with the patented stick-figure drawings that were originally drawn by Norman Z. McLeod.

I have Christie prints in the Harriscope and HFE one-reel and two-reel versions,and some original Kodascopes, as well as not only the Harriscope versions, but some of the original 16mm fine grains with the subtitles physically removed that made up the Harriscope material and they are even more sparkling than the TV prints and that’s saying a lot. I disagree that the comedians were interchangeable. Billy Dooley was sort of a stretched Harry Langdon is a sailor suit. Jimmie Adams was a solid gag comic and Bobby Vernon and Neal Burns were good situational comics. And Christie’s comediennes were also quite interesting. Dorothy Devore was quite winning and Frances Lee liked to wear a lot of very flimy lingerie and bathing wear. Al Christie was veering away from standard silent slapstick from the beginning of his career at Universal in the early teens and he paved the way for what Hal Roach was doing in the twenties. Christie was a very successful producer in the twenties, making more successful comedy features than either Sennett or Roach, and his comedies hold up rather well.

Sadly, when Consolidated Labs was turning over a lot of old inventory to UCLA a few years ago, an inquiry was made as to the Christie negs and material, but it was long gone. So a lot of Christie comedies may only survive today in these home or television prints.


RICHARD M ROBERTS

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Re: Al Christie Comedies

Postby Gary Johnson » Sat Mar 26, 2011 10:38 am

So the negatives to {all - or most of?} Christie comedies were still intact in the 50's and then some TV distribution {misplaced, lost, intentional destroyed them - PICK ONE) because they took up too much space?

Richard M Roberts
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Re: Al Christie Comedies

Postby Richard M Roberts » Sat Mar 26, 2011 7:46 pm

Gary Johnson wrote:So the negatives to {all - or most of?} Christie comedies were still intact in the 50's and then some TV distribution {misplaced, lost, intentional destroyed them - PICK ONE) because they took up too much space?



Yep, and that's the number one reason for lost films in general, even over nitrate decomposition. Although who knows, a lot of film collectors pick garbage bins.


RICHARD M ROBERTS (who's beginning to understand the space/storage issue in his own home)

Paul F Etcheverry
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Re: Al Christie Comedies

Postby Paul F Etcheverry » Sun Mar 27, 2011 10:32 pm

Thanks, Richard!

Haven't seen any Christie studio films at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, but the Broncho Billy Film Fest at Niles has run some Universal productions of his. An HFE print of a 1923 Bobby Vernon comedy, with original "stick figure" titles, was shown at Niles earlier this year, along with Larry Semon in The Bakery. While the Vernon short was very good, Semon's ridiculously over-the-top slapstick - co-starring Frank "Fatty" Alexander, Babe Hardy, uncredited critters and numerous tubs o' goo - had the crowd rolling in the aisles that night.

I'll say this for the Christie stars - they're all way funnier than Ben Blue. I liked Duffy's "cantankerous old skinflint" characterization, wondered why I don't remember seeing him in talkies, as well as whether he and Andy Clyde were ever in the same film. Dooley combines elements of Sennett era Harry Langdon and solo Stan Laurel with a certain goofball Emo Phillips quality. I'm afraid I draw a complete blank on Neal Burns.

Unfortunately, only two films from that group starred comediennes (one featuring the spunky Fay Tincher, the other with Anne Cornwall). Sounds like the vehicles for Dorothy DeVore are among the studio's best. Which titles would you pick as emblematic of the Al Christie Studio's style and comedic approach?

Were there any individual standouts out of what I saw? Yes, a hilarious comedy starring Bobby Vernon as an enterprising exterminator titled Bugs My Dear.

Perhaps If I watched a slew of 2-reelers produced by Roach, Sennett, Lehrman, Semon/Vitagraph, Jack White, Joe Rock, Weiss Bros. from the same period over a fairly short time, I'd have the same reaction I had to the Christies.

Paul F Etcheverry
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Re: Al Christie Comedies

Postby Paul F Etcheverry » Tue Apr 12, 2011 12:15 am

I'll admit both that there could be many great comedies from (what survives of) the 1920's Christie Studio output that have eluded me thus far and that Christie comedies I have seen could have had footage cut for television broadcast - none of the 16mm prints I viewed were even close to an 800 foot/20 minute length.

Al Christie gets a producer credit for Educational in the 1930's on quite a few fun unorthodox comedy shorts (he didn't produce Bridge Wives with Al St. John but these come close to that for sheer bizarre-ness). I'd like to see more of cartoonist Jefferson Machamer's Gags & Gals series and Joe Cook's two-reelers.

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Re: Al Christie Comedies

Postby Eric Stott » Sat Apr 23, 2011 5:35 pm

Al Christie's 1926 UP IN MABLE'S ROOM is a fine comedy with a cast and production values fully equal to any major studio.


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