Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Great Chase

Some of you who have been reading Thrilling Days of Yesteryear recently may be familiar with a gentleman named Yair Solan, an individual who’s been the architect of The World of Charley Chase (a website dedicated to the legendary silent-sound comedian whose forte was the two-reel comedy) for many, many years now. Yair sent me an e-mail last night asking me to participate and, in turn, alert other interested TDOY fans to a petition that’s been put online asking the Sony people to release the shorts made for Columbia by Chase from 1937-40. According to Yair, these two-reelers have been restored and preserved on 35mm but a release of them has been postponed by the company.

The idea to release the Chase shorts came about as a result of the surprising (to Sony/Columbia, anyway) success of 2006’s Buster Keaton: 65th Anniversary Collection, which brought to DVD the ten shorts The Great Stone Face made for the studio between 1939-41. Since that release, Sony has become a bit timid with the comedy shorts, usually regulating them to extras on releases like Golden Boy (1939) and the Sam Katzman: Icons of Horror Collection box set. But the through the efforts of Michael Schlesinger—one of the few execs in the business who actually knows a little about classic movies—the grapevine soon had it that collections featuring Chase and Harry Langdon would not be far behind.

We all pretty much know that the economy is in the crapper right now, and that as a result of this discretionary dollars for entertainment and the like shrink with each passing day. But it seems a shame to allow a project like this—especially, as Yair has pointed out, since the material is ready and waiting to be released—wither and die on the vine. Speaking on a personal note, I grew up watching these shorts on television as a kid—and have often marveled at how much of an interest was sparked in seeing these comedians’ greater works later on in life…particularly since working at Columbia was often considered the nadir of their careers. I think, however, that many of Chase’s Columbia vehicles are every bit as entertaining as his celebrated work for Hal Roach; among my favorite Columbia shorts are The Wrong Miss Wright (1937), The Big Squirt (1937), Many Sappy Returns (1938), The Nightshirt Bandit (1938), Pie à la Maid (1938), Rattling Romeo (1939), The Heckler (1940) and His Bridal Fright (1940). I have these shorts on DVD-R, but I sincerely believe my enjoyment of them would be greatly enhanced if I were able to purchase them newly preserved and restored in a set from a studio that owns the original masters.

Here’s where you sign the petition:

You have until the end of June to put down your John Hancock, at which time comedy enthusiast Stan Taffel (who initiated the project, and a doff of the TDOY chapeau to him) will gather up the signatures and sent them off to Sony. In signing this petition, you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that your efforts are going toward keeping classic movies alive on DVD…so hurry on over today!

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