Vitagraph Comedies (Blu-ray Review)

  • Reviewed by: Dennis Seuling
  • Review Date: Jun 06, 2024
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
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Vitagraph Comedies (Blu-ray Review)



Release Date(s)

1907-1922 (May 14, 2024)


Vitagraph Studios (Kino Classics)
  • Film/Program Grade: B-
  • Video Grade: C-
  • Audio Grade: A
  • Extras Grade: A

Vitagraph Comedies (Blu-ray)

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The Vitagraph Company of America was a motion picture studio founded in Brooklyn in 1897. Its first success came from newsreels, but comedies also were a major output and featured many vaudeville and music hall artists who contributed their talents to the silent picture medium. Vitagraph Comedies offers 40 of these short films, dating from 1907 to 1922 in a three-disc collection.

These films were enormously popular with audiences of the time. Movies were very new and anything that moved on a screen was fascinating. If those images made folks laugh, so much the better. Tastes change, so you will find that a number of the films in this collection lack sophistication or cleverness. As you watch, you will appreciate the giants of silent comedy all the more. The Vitagraph comedians never achieved the heights of Chaplin or Keaton, but their films have a kind of charm and innocence that make them endearing artifacts, particularly to fans of silent comedy.

The films range from knock-down slapstick to story-driven comedy and the performers run the gamut from mildly amusing to wildly funny, and some even contain early special effects. Most of the performers don’t have the recognizability of Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton or Harold Lloyd and often lack their distinctive qualities, but the films themselves are an interesting potpourri of early American cinema.

Before some of the films run, an on-screen statement takes into account more unenlightened times. The statement advises that the film “includes racism and/or the mistreatment of people or cultures” and explains that the film is shown in its original form as a historical representation of the period. This is not for every film, just the ones with content that may have modern viewers wince.

Selected films in the collection are highlighted below:

The Disintegrated Convict is a showcase for stop motion, one of the earliest special effects. An incarcerated inmate shape-shifts to escape and lead his police pursuers on an extended chase, changing himself into brick-like blocks, an endless snaky tube, and chunks of rock. There’s even a scene in which he stands against a wall and rotates himself as he steps sideways in a continuous motion, leaving the black stripes of his prison uniform on the wall. Just as Georges Melies was pioneering cinematic special effects in France, The Disintegrated Convict illustrated the unique possibilities of film in America.

The New Stenographer finds three office workers, including then-famous comedic actor John Bunny, going ga-ga over a new, pretty secretary and turning the office into a center of broad hanky-panky. At the time, the objectification of women was often fodder for jokes, and the film never crosses the line into what would have been considered bad taste.

In The Lovesick Maidens of Cuddleton, a man-hungry young woman feigns illness to attract a handsome, young doctor. Having a woman as the pursuer was a switch, and this film emphasized in gentle, comic terms that women are as interested in attractive men as men are in pretty women. One sequence is tinted sepia.

One of the nicest surprises is Edith Storey, a comedienne I had never heard of. In Jane’s Bashful Hero, Storey, an exceptionally thin, rubber-faced actress sporting a blackened front tooth, two long braids, and unattractive dresses, has eyes for the town’s the lanky butcher. Having heard that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, she cooks him a meal. At the dinner, she flirts so aggressively that she scares her suitor and he runs away. Storey reminded me a bit of Fanny Brice. Like Brice, she’s genuinely funny and her body language and comic instincts are spot on.

Damsels and Dandies, featuring Earl Montgomery and Joe Rock, finds two playful young ladies making the acquaintance of two idle sons who follow them into a dance academy. The men force themselves into the academy and rig up a periscope from pieces of a mirror so they can watch the dancing lesson. They’re especially interested in the Dance of the Seven Veils. When the dancing master spots the periscope, he scares one of the guys away, but the two men rally, this time putting on suits of armor to continue watching, with weird occurrences leading to comic mayhem. Though this short is based on voyeurism, it’s innocent in execution.

The Egyptian Mummy focuses on a scientist who wants his daughter to marry a rich man. He discovers a formula that he believes will bring the dead back to life. To impress others with his discovery and attract rich suitors, he insures “success” by hiring a gaunt hobo to get swathed in bandages, lie in a mummy case and, on cue, “come back to life.” Needless to say, comic havoc ensues. Casting is especially good in this short. The mummy stand-in, physically, is excellent.

In A Horseshoe for Luck, Sidney Edwards picks up a horseshoe for good luck. His luck begins immediately but it isn’t good. He’s run over by a car, upsets a baby carriage, and gets into a fight with the bystanders. At home, he and his wife argue for so long that the dinner burns and the cat runs off with the roast chicken. Leaning on the mantelpiece, Sidney finds the rug slipping away and he falls, bringing the contents of the mantel crashing down on him. Realizing the horseshoe has brought only bad luck, he tosses it out the window, hitting a policeman in the neck. Sidney’s son borrows the horseshoe for luck in his school’s athletic competition, but will it really bring good luck? The idea of a jinxed charm was old even in 1914, but the performers do a fine job and the gags might not have been as obvious then as they are to modern audiences.

In the Clutches of a Vapor Bath finds obese John Bunny fascinated by a vapor bath that guarantees weight loss and buys it. On his first attempt to use it, he becomes trapped inside, helpless to stop a thief from stealing his clothing and money. After the thief departs, Bunny’s wife enters with two of her friends, who make fun of him, much to his wife’s embarrassment. When he finally extricates himself, he wastes no time in junking the device. Bunny is funnier here than in other films in the collection, mostly because of the situation the story puts him in. Virtually imprisoned, he can’t avoid theft or embarrassment and must try to deal with a comically embarrassing situation.

In Boobley’s Baby, featuring Mr. and Mrs. Sidney Drew, Sidney seldom gets a seat on the streetcar on his way to work. Whenever he does, chivalry compels him to give it up to a woman carrying a baby. Fed up with constantly standing and getting to work tired, Sidney has a brainstorm—he buys a doll, wraps it in a blanket, and gets on the streetcar holding his “baby.” His plan works... until it doesn’t. Drew takes a simple premise and makes the most of it for full comic effect. With his long face and flustered demeanor, he reminds me of character actor Edward Everett Horton.

The Haunted Rocker, starring George Ober and Clara Kimball Young, uses a simple child’s trick as the basis of this amusing short. Old Boggs returns home, somewhat tipsy. His daughter Madge is in love with Jack Farnum and Boggs isn’t thrilled with the idea of Jack’s becoming his son-in-law. Hearing her father approaching, Madge tells Jack to hide and he rushes from the rocking chair where he was sitting. When Boggs enters, the chair is rocking by itself and he thinks he’s hallucinating. This gives Madge and Jack an idea. They tie a string to the rocker so Jack can manipulate the chair from outside the window. Whenever the old man enters the room, Jack pulls the string and the chair rocks. Boggs fears that he’s losing his mind and asks to talk to Madge and Jack. Though there’s overacting a-plenty, this simple running gag makes for silly fun.

Mr. Jack Ducks the Alimony stars Frank Daniels as the title character. Jack wants out of his marriage but is alarmed when his lawyer tells him he’ll have to pay alimony. Figuring that a member of the armed services cannot be compelled to pay alimony, he enlists in the army. Things don’t go well from the outset. First, he’s upbraided for wearing a uniform that doesn’t fit. He gets into a scuffle with his drill sergeant and is brought up on charges of insubordination. He’s given a rifle and takes part in drill exercises but fails at the basics and is assigned instead to deliver secret papers. When he innocently shows them to a resident spy, he’s accused of being a spy himself, is thrown in the guardhouse, and fears he will be put in front of a firing squad. Eventually things work out and he gratefully goes back to his wife. The comedy here isn’t as raucous as in other films in the set and depends on Daniels’ hang-dog, hapless expressions as he muddles through life as a soldier. Over twenty years later, Abbott and Costello would make the definitive service comedy, Buck Privates.

In The Boy, the Bust, and the Bath, a young female boarding house tenant (Florence Lawrence) becomes the object of male attention. It seems every man in the boarding house is entranced by her beauty. To have some fun, a mischievous boy borrows the bust of a woman, puts it in the communal bathroom, hides and peeps through a keyhole. As each man in turn enters the bathroom, he freaks out at the presence of a “woman,” much to the boy’s amusement. As they run out of the bathroom and slam the door in shock, he lands some firm kicks to their behinds. Lawrence made 38 films for Vitagraph before moving on to Biograph Studios, where she became known as the Biograph Girl. She was one of the most popular leading ladies in silent films.

School Days is an odd film in that school children are played by grownups, including Larry Semon. The first half is packed with slapstick gags involving a long stringbean of a teacher (played by a man in drag), a naughty fat kid, and Semon as a “kid” who’s ga-ga over a pretty classmate. As the mayhem escalates, the principal gets involved and chairs fly, wet rags hit the teacher, walls are broken, a kid falls into a mud puddle, and a group of austere supervisors get quite a surprise when they sit on tacks. The second half of the film takes place ten years later. The father of the pretty girl has married the school teacher and their marriage consists of throwing crockery at each other. Both Semon and the fat kid from his school days have an eye on the young lady and become rivals for her hand in marriage. The finale features an elaborate visual gag that obviously involved considerable planning. Semon is merely OK, more an ensemble player than the star despite having reserved many of the gags for himself. His character is a complete cliche and the main visual gag is seeing adults play school-age kids.

The Grocery Clerk stars Larry Semon and was written and directed by him. He plays a grocery clerk captivated by the postal girl, rivaled by the town dandy (Monty Banks), bossed by his overbearing employer (Frank Alexander), and frustrated by annoying customers. Numerous unrelated gags involve flypaper, a dirty pipe, mice moving a wedge of cheese, and spilled flour. The climax leads to a chase, a silent comedy staple. Semon sitting in the back seat of a car while steering with his feet illustrate the character’s strangeness. The store set is an imposing structure of several levels. The gags are well staged and display cleverness, a trademark of Semon’s comedies.

The Bell Hop begins with a scene of a hotel lobby so busy that a policeman is needed to direct traffic. A government official deposits some important papers in the hotel’s safe. Larry Semon is a bellhop sleeping on the job. A lizard tossed by a little girl lands on his face but he sleeps on. When he’s awakened to do his job, the lizard crawls down into his uniform, he shakes uncontrollably, causing him to drop guests’ suitcases and push a baby carriage onto streetcar tracks. This running gag is milked endlessly. When spies succeed in stealing the papers, a female government agent enlists the help of the accident-prone bellhop to retrieve them and break up the spy ring. Loads of slapstick and a cameo by Oliver Hardy make for a briskly paced romp.

The Sawmill was made when Larry Semon was one of the country’s biggest comedy stars. His films became so expensive that Vitagraph didn’t want to spend more than usual for a two-reeler, so Semon took on the role of producer. The Sawmill displays greater production value than other comedies of the era. You can see this in the opening scene, shot in an actual forest with lots of extras and impressive sawmill equipment. Elaborate gags and spectacle dominate the thin plot. Many of the physical bits are performed by Semon’s stunt double. The real star of this film is “Fatty” Alexander, and Oliver Hardy plays a small role as a bad guy, well before he teamed up with Stan Laurel. The film is filled with chases and the pace never lets up. It’s fast and furious, always with a gag to punctuate each segment of the chases. There’s also a lot of destruction, atypical for a two-reeler.

Many of these early films do not have credited directors of photography. All are presented in the aspect ratio of 1.33:1 and were shot on black & white 35 mm film with spherical lenses (a few feature color-tinted scenes). As to their condition, despite the heroic efforts of the Library of Congress and the dedicated men and women who restored these films, picture quality varies from scratchy and dirt-specked to heavily damaged from decomposition. None are pristine. Considering their age, however, being able to see them at all is remarkable.

Intertitles are few, with the visuals carrying the stories. Later silent films would have far more intertitles as plots became more complex. Every film is accompanied by music by Ben Model, Neil Buck, Liz Magnes, Cuesta Gonzalez, Linda Chase, Peter Valsamis, Renee T. Coulombe, Karen Majewicz, and others. The music accentuates the frenetic pace of the chases (of which there are many) and provides cues for romance, danger, or suspense.

The Kino Classics 3-Disc Blu-ray collection includes the following contents (as listed on the inside of the Blu-ray case):


  • Vitagraph Comedies, Part One (2024, 13:40) – Video introduction featuring interviews with Rob Farr, Lynanne Schweighofer, Rob Stone, and George Willeman.
  1. The Disintegrated Convict (1907, 6:20) – Music by Andrew Earle Simpson.
  2. The Boy, the Bust, and the Bath (1907, 6:02) – Featuring Florence Lawrence. Music by Qingye Wu.
  3. Get Me a Step-Ladder (1908, 2:58) – Music by Dana Reason.
  4. The New Stenographer (1911, 12:22) – Featuring Maurice Costello, Florence Lawrence. Music by Ben Model.
  5. The Lovesick Maidens of Cuddleton (1912, 12:38) – Featuring Earle Williams, Edith Storey, John Bunny. Music by Andrew Earle Simpson.
  6. A Regiment of Two (1913, 28:38) – Featuring Sidney Drew. Music by Chris Rorrer and Daniel Mandrychenko.
  7. Jane’s Bashful Hero (1916, 14:54) – Featuring Edith Storey. Music by Teil Buck.
  8. The Egyptian Mummy (1913, 15:18) – Featuring Lee Beggs, Constance Talmadge, Billy Quirk. Music by Andrew Earle Simpson.
  9. Sweeney’s Christmas Bird (1914, 14:17) – Featuring Hughie Mack, Flora Finch. Music by Liz Magnes.
  10. A Case of Eugenics (1915, 11:25) – Featuring Mr. and Mrs. Sidney Drew. Music by Esin Aydingoz.
  11. Auntie’s Portrait (1915, 12:40) – Featuring Mr. and Mrs. Sidney Drew. Music by Chris Lock.
  12. Jane Was Worth It (1915, 28:37) – Featuring Edith Storey. Music by Ben Model.
  13. Mr. Jack Trifles (1916,14:25) – Featuring Frank Daniels. Music by Don Ross.
  14. Captain Jinks’ Baby (1917,11:55) – Featuring Frank Daniels. Music by Ivanna Cuesta Gonzalez.
  15. Captain Jinks’ Cure (1917,12:28) – Featuring Frank Daniels. Music by Annette Johnson.
  16. Damsels and Dandies (1919, 14:40) – Featuring Earl Montgomery and Joe Rock. Music by Ben Model.
  • Audio Commentaries by Anthony Slide


  • Vitagraph Comedies, Part Two (2024, 6:52) – Video introduction featuring Rob Farr, Lynanne Schweighofer, Rob Stone, and George Willeman.
  1. The Flat Dwellers: Or, The House of Too Much Trouble (1907, 6:07) – Music by Shane Prediville.
  2. The Haunted Rocker (1912, 7:41) – Featuring George Ober, Clara Kimball Young. Music by Peter Valsamis.
  3. Kitty and the Cowboys (1911, 11:40) – Featuring John Bunny. Music by Ben Model.
  4. In the Clutches of a Vapor Bath (1911, 7:08) – Featuring John Bunny. Music by Andrew Earle Simpson.
  5. The Deceivers (1915,12:58) – Featuring Mr. and Mrs. Sidney Drew. Music by Liz Magnes.
  6. His Wife Knew About It (1916, 13:54) – Featuring Mr. and Mrs. Sidney Drew. Music by Linda Chase.
  7. A Horseshoe for Luck (1914, 12:51) – Featuring Sidney Drew. Music by Don Ross.
  8. The Professional Scapegoat (1914, 14:40) – Featuring Mr. and Mrs. Sidney Drew. Music by Violin Noir.
  9. Beautiful Thoughts (1915, 10:44) – Featuring Mr. and Mrs. Sidney Drew. Music by Dana Reason.
  10. Boobley’s Baby (1915, 14:14) – Featuring Mr. and Mrs. Sidney Drew. Music by Renée T. Coulombe.
  11. A Safe Investment (1915, 13:42) – Featuring Mr. and Mrs. Sidney Drew. Music by Ben Model.
  12. A Telegraphic Tangle (1916, 13:43) – Featuring Mr. and Mrs. Sidney Drew. Music by Violin Noir.
  13. Bullies and Bullets (1917, 12:52) – Featuring Hughie Mack, Patsy De Forest. Music by Dana Reason.
  14. Captain Jinks’ Evolution (1916, 12:11) – Featuring Frank Daniels. Music by Caterina Maddalena Barbieri.
  15. Captain Jinks, the Cobbler (1916, 11:36) – Featuring Frank Daniels. Music by Dylan Talisien.
  16. A Little Ouija Work (1918, 12:52) – Featuring Edward Earle, Agnes Ayres. Music by Ben Model.
  17. Mr. Jack Ducks the Alimony (1916, 13:37) – Featuring Frank Daniels. Music by Violin Noir.
  18. Mr. Jack, the Hash Magnate (1916, 12:33) – Featuring Frank Daniels. Music by Chris Rorrer and Daniel Mandrychenko.
  • Audio Commentaries by Anthony Slide


  • Vitagraph Comedies, Part Three (2024, 4:19) – Video introduction featuring Rob Farr, Lynanne Schweighofer, Rob Stone, and George Willeman.
  1. Hindoos and Hazards (1918, 10:38) – Featuring Larry Semon. Music by Camila Cortina Bello.
  2. The Grocery Clerk (1919, 27:34) – Featuring Larry Semon. Music by José María Serralde Ruiz.
  3. The Head Waiter (1919, 19:50) – Featuring Larry Semon. Music by Gonca Feride Varol.
  4. School Days (1920, 25:55) – Featuring Larry Semon. Music by Violin Noir.
  5. The Bell Hop (1921, 29:40) – Featuring Larry Semon. Music by Peter Valsamis.
  6. The Sawmill (1922, 26:10) – Featuring Larry Semon. Music by Karen Majewicz.
  • Audio Commentaries by Anthony Slide

Interviews with Series Curators – Each disc begins with an introduction by curators Rob Stone, Lynn Schweighofer and George Willeman, who all worked on restoring the films for the Library of Congress. They explain the difficulties and frustrations of selecting and restoring these old films, most in nitrate form. “The more we dug, the more we found.” Visual imperfections had to be cleaned up as best as possible, but often the final scene was so badly decomposed that the film had to remain incomplete. In other cases, the curators discovered that some of the heralded film comics of the period weren’t that funny. Among them is John Bunny, who died in 1915 at the height of his popularity. Brief clips of the films are shown as the curators discuss particular sequences or repaired sequences.

Audio Commentaries – Anthony Slide provides detailed background on each film in the collection. He discusses the artists, their careers, specific gags, and the degree of popularity the comedians enjoyed before, during, and after their time in silent pictures. Slide notes how early sight gags were recycled by later comics. Slide is more enthusiastic about the comedians he finds more interesting. He may go a bit overboard in mentioning film credits of minor performers. More information about the production of the films themselves would be welcome. Vitagraph was a bustling studio in its heyday and introduced many comedians to the film-going public. John Bunny made films at Vitagraph in the 1910s, many co-starring Flora Finch, and Slide doesn’t disguise his disdain for him. Other stars at Vitagraph included Florence Turner (the Vitagraph Girl) and Maurice Costello, and future stars Helen Hayes, Dolores Costello, Norma Talmadge, and Moe Howard. The studio was purchased by Warner Brothers in 1925 and became known as Vitaphone.

Vitagraph Comedies is a welcome addition to the archives of silent American film. The films illustrate how, early on, comedians were adapting their styles to the motion picture medium. The pace is usually very fast and the chase was the centerpiece for most comedies. Often, gags were one-shots—not related to the story per se but nonetheless included for a quick guffaw. Modern viewers will see the jokes coming well before they occur, but that’s because of familiarity. In various forms, many of these gags were recycled through the years in later silent pictures, vaudeville, sound films, radio, and television. As years went by, the jokes were refined and geared to specific personalities. The chases in The Court Jester and Some Like It Hot, for example, look nothing like those in these films from cinema’s earliest era. This collection is a celebration of genre pioneers.

- Dennis Seuling



1907, 1908, 1909, 1910, 1911, 1912, 1913, 1914, 1915, 1916, 1917, 1918, 1919, 1920, 1921, 1922, A Case of Eugenics, A Horseshoe for Luck, A Little Ouija Work, A Regiment of Two, A Safe Investment, A Telegraphic Tangle, Agnes Ayres, Andrew Earle Simpson, Annette Johnson, Anthony Slide, Auntie’s Portrait, Beautiful Thoughts, Ben Model, Billy Quirk, black & white, black and white, black-and-white, Blu-ray, Blu-ray Disc, Boobley’s Baby, box set, boxed set, boxset, Bullies and Bullets, Camila Cortina Bello, Captain Jinks the Cobbler, Captain Jinks’ Baby, Captain Jinks’ Cure, Captain Jinks’ Evolution, Caterina Maddalena Barbieri, Chris Lock, Chris Rorrer, Clara Kimball Young, comedy, Constance Talmadge, Damsels and Dandies, Dana Reason, Daniel Mandrychenko, Dennis Seuling, Don Ross, Dylan Talisien, Earl Montgomery, Earle Williams, Edith Storey, Edward Earle, Esin Aydingoz, Flora Finch, Florence Lawrence, Frank Daniels, George Ober, George Willeman, Get Me a Step-Ladder, Gonca Feride Varol, Hindoos and Hazards, His Wife Knew About It, Hughie Mack, In the Clutches of a Vapor Bath, Ivanna Cuesta Gonzalez, Jane Was Worth It, Jane’s Bashful Hero, Joe Rock, John Bunny, José María Serralde Ruiz, Karen Majewicz, Kino Classics, Kino Lorber, Kitty and the Cowboys, Larry Semon, Lee Beggs, Library of Congress, Linda Chase, Liz Magnes, Lynanne Schweighofer, Maurice Costello, Mr and Mrs Sidney Drew, Mr Jack Ducks the Alimony, Mr Jack the Hash Magnate, Mr Jack Trifles, Patsy De Forest, Peter Valsamis, Qingye Wu, Renée T Coulombe, review, Rob Farr, Rob Stone, School Days, Shane Prediville, Sidney Drew, silent, silent film, Sweeney’s Christmas Bird, Teil Buck, The Bell Hop, The Boy the Bust and the Bath, The Deceivers, The Digital Bits, The Disintegrated Convict, The Egyptian Mummy, The Flat Dwellers Or The House of Too Much Trouble, The Grocery Clerk, The Haunted Rocker, The Head Waiter, The Lovesick Maidens of Cuddleton, The New Stenographer, The Professional Scapegoat, The Sawmill, The Vitagraph Company of America, Violin Noir, Vitagraph Comedies, Vitagraph Company of America, Vitagraph Studios