Yeah, that Bert Swor thing was...regrettable. But I expected a blackface number or two. So far the biggest shock was finding out that Jay C Flippen, who I know from his many character actor parts as a burly, gruff-voiced authority figure, apparently started out as a singer and comedian.
I read up on Bert. He was still doing blackface in stage performances as late as 1949 or '50... or so I read in some Billboard magazine online. The article even criticized him for his act, because it was no longer relevant post WW2.
Yet many of these actors meant no harm (at least in their own minds) in the same way we view them today. It was all a hold-over from an earlier time and, while minstrel shows initially mocked the "colored" slaves in the mid-19th century, later shows of the early 20th were more of salutes to "black" music and "black" rural comedy. (If the black face was removed, you basically got Hee Haw.) Had Elvis Presley been around in the 1910s and '20s, his music would likely be sung in blackface since Al Jolson often had to. Even many black performers like Bert Williams (famous for the 1906 hit "Nobody" and also appearing in some short silent comedies a decade later) also "blacked up" even though he didn't have to. Let's also not forget Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney, Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire all doing it on screen right through war years as well. It humored me how Holiday Inn always got edited for TV.
What I think happened with "colorful sermon" Bert is that he got old and stuck to the same routines. He only half realized how offensive it was. Granted, I don't think he was progressive to begin with. Yet sometimes those performers surprise you when you read about them, because they often would "hang out" with people of a different race more often than most other Caucasian performers of the era.
Oh yeah... Jason Robards Senior didn't enjoy as much a career as his son did. That little drama on the ship was essentially a filmed "play". Fox Movietone did many "talkie" shorts between 1927 and 1929 that were often stage-bound acts, both drama and comedy. They made a few good ones with Robert Benchley and Clark & McCullough though.
Again, I think that 4-disc set you are watching is intended for a genuine Vitaphone fanatic. Just as we have genuine fanatics of 1980s slasher films and overlong Bollywood musicals.