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Dr Vermin Strikes Again!

Posted: Sun Aug 23, 2009 3:45 pm
by Richard M Roberts
Several years ago, on the good old alt.movies.silent newsgroup(back when it was still the “good old alt.movies.silent newsgroup”), I posted a piece on the most disgusting silent film comedy team of all time, Maggott and Pustule, and their Producer, Dr Henry Vermin, ne’ Dr. Heinrich Vehrmann, which those who want to refresh their memories on can hit the link here: ... le&lnk=ol&

Well, Dr Phillip Carli, my fellow researcher on this extremely obscure niche’ of Silent Comedy and I have uncovered more material in the life of the increasingly interesting Dr Vermin, and another of his ventures into the world of moviemaking. We came across a full-page advertisement in the very obscure Mid-Western independent film distributors magazine YOU’RE SHOWIN’ WHAT? regarding another filmic path crossed by the erratic Dr V. Apparently Vermin was also taken with the idea of talking pictures in 1929, and announced his own patenting and invention (in that order actually) of his own sound on film and wide–screen processes with the intention of returning to film production. Again, as usual with Dr Vermin’s own proclivities, there seemed to be a medical thread running through his creative processes, and the man who once said “there’s nothing funnier than a running sore” announced the production of his all-talking, all-singing, all- gangrenous musical comedy of macular degeneration, BLURRY SKIES, starring Sammy Spaz, the infamous Catskills comedian. It was Walter Winchell who once described Spaz’s well-known Drooling routine as “The most horrifying ten minutes and twelve gallons I’ve ever seen”. Spaz was also an atypical top banana in the fact that he was slapped less by his straight man than he was by members of the audience, who were known to show frustration with his performance, notably his frequent confusion of straight lines over punchlines, and the order of their delivery.

Production details on BLURRY SKIES are somewhat sketchy, but the interesting story has to do with the film’s premiere. Apparently there were interesting technical issues with both the film and Dr. Vermin’s bizarre technical processes. “Verma-Vision” seemed to be an ahead-of-its-time wide-screen process promising the most razor-sharp picture quality and clarity on a 10 foot high by 25 foot wide screen, due to the fact that the film stock used was actually 25 feet wide. Projection issues were immediately apparent, due to the fact that the Verma-Vision equipment had to be installed outside of the theater, and the lightsource required came to the candlepower of a small sun. Other problems stemmed from Dr Vermin’s attempts to find a cheaper form of film stock to make the admittedly expensive prints, one misunderstanding of the nitrate element led to an entire copy of the film being printed on bacon. However, the final film base compound Vermin settled on was a misguided combination of nitrocellulose and flash paper that in hindsight can only be seen as a dread omen of things to come.

There were also problems with Vermin’s sound system, “TinnituSound” was indeed a sound on film process, but instead of a variable density or variable area track, it used a vertical groove, not too dissimilar to Edison’s Hill and Dale and played with a cactus needle. The process also had the distinction of having no mid-range whatsoever, with over amplified highs and lows due to issues never solved regarding the huge electrical amperage needed to power the carbon arc’s required to supply the light source. A number of the sound problems, especially the ear-bleeding, were announced as resolved in the trades by Vermin’s own press releases as the opening date approached.

Only one of our Nation’s Movie Theaters was actually fitted with Verma-Vision and TinnituSound for BLURRY SKIES premiere on April 18, 1929, and that was the 75-seat Auricle Theater in Acid Slats, South Dakota. Opened in 1912 by proprietor Emile’ Dompe, who was also the theater’s original namesake, and despite the name change, was still referred to by many of the townsfolk as ‘The Dompe”, the theater was chosen by Dr. Vermin for the unveiling of his latest opus due to the next-door vacant lot which allowed for installation of his projection equipment, and as Vermin said in local press releases, Acid Slat’s “lack of proximity to the main highways, and current Federal law enforcement”.

There was much publicity in the local press, such as it was, and later legend among the Sioux Indian Tribe whose Reservation Acid Slats was smack in the middle of, but no surviving eyewitness reports of the Premiere have been located. Suffice to say, BLURRY SKIES apparently did momentarily brighten much of South Dakotas Day that April 18th, but the resulting black clouds darkened much of the State’s following week. It was almost a month later before the mail truck that occasionally headed to Acid Slats came upon the smoking hole that was left of the town. Miraculously, though Dr Vermin would not reappear publically until several years later, when asked about BLURRY SKIES reception, would get intentionally vague, and only commented “We should have figured out the film stock thing better!”…….

A sweep of Internal Film archive data bases shows no trace of BLURRY SKIES to have survived, although one of the massive Verma-Vision take up reels was donated to the Library of Congress in the 1950’s, where it was known for causing the first hernia-related workers comp case in the Archives history.

So another chapter in the interesting story of Dr Heinrich Vermin comes to a close. On the Maggott and Pustule front, great news in the recovery of a rare print of one of their better comedies, THE BEST OF FRIENDS, THE WORST OF ENEMAS, was announced by the Munich Film Museum last year. The print was miss-catalogued in a collection of Nazi-SS material where it had been enclosed in a can with a letter from Joseph Goebbels denouncing the comedy as “too horrible even to be used as torture!”. A premiere at this year’s Pordenone Festival is yet to be announced.


Re: Dr Vermin Strikes Again!

Posted: Mon Aug 24, 2009 11:42 pm
by Paul F Etcheverry
Mucous And Musilage? Sounds like the Vermin Film Co. did a one-shot for Vitagraph.

Re: Dr Vermin Strikes Again!

Posted: Tue Aug 25, 2009 2:30 am
by Paul F Etcheverry
Now we at least know what series that Official Films BRUCELLOSIS BUDDIES reel comes from! The title card says "Famous Disgusting Comedies" and don't open that rusty metal can, as the film stock still smells pretty gamey.