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Vitaphone Varieties

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They are all good. Films made in 1926 will not look like they were made yesterday, BUT the sound quality is excellent when compared to early Fox, MGM and other films of the twenties. Why? They used discs instead of sound-on-film, which was open to scratches and wear & tear.


Here is an alphabet list of Warner shorts from the twenties through the seventies and I tried to list as many DVDs as possible with individual titles: http://forums.tcm.com/index.php?/topic/81033-a-shortie-checklist-warner-bros/


The primary sets are the following, using the Warner Archive for information, although the TCM shop, Amazon and other places carry these too...


Vitaphone Cavalcade Of Musical Comedy Shorts is my favorite collection. The shorts span the years 1926 through 1938. Disc 1 features the early material. One of the middle discs has some excellent "Pepper Pots" that showcase the history of Hollywood up to the 1930s. The final disc is all full Technicolor shorts starting with the excellent Service With A Smile (1934) starring Leon Errol. This is just an all-round great sampler of vintage short films of all kinds: musicals, comedies and documentaries.





Vitaphone Varieties Volume 1 (1926-30) features a lot of very rarely shown films, but some that may be a little more "dated" in their entertainment value than others. I would get this one after some of the others when you are feeling rich and after you become an "addict", wanting to see them all. Yet I wouldn't recommend this as a first time DVD introduction.





Vitaphone Varieties Volume 2 has a young Fred Allen, as well as Edgar Bergen making his debut with Charlie McCarthy in 1929 (and, therefore, is a nice companion piece to The Muppet Show, I think season 2, and The Muppet Movie that marked his final appearances).





The Jazz Singer Deluxe Edition, available on both DVD and BluRay has a nice "starters selection" from 1926-1930 including Lamb Chops with George Burns & Gracie Allen that is not available on any other sets... yet






Don Juan has a presentation of the August 1926 all-talkie shorts initially shown with the silent-with-sound effects feature starring John Barrymore




Pick Vitaphone Cavalcade as your starter "appetizer" and save some money and watch the sales (since they do drop the prices periodically)

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I've seen some people complain about getting these sets through Amazon rather than TCM, and that the discs are of lesser quality. I've purchased DVD-R discs in the past, and haven't had a problem, but I'm not sure about the sets. Any opinion?

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I will let somebody else answer regarding Amazon vs. Warner Archive, but I have had problems with DVDs of ALL types over the years. Yet mostly the regular "pressed" kinds rather than DVD-Rs. Often one plays beautifully for the first couple viewings then it doesn't work years later. One of my store bought Looney Tunes needed replaced. My one Mickey Mouse Disney Treasures has a disc that played great for years and no longer is "read" in a player. Sometime a good cleaning helps since these things attract hard-to-see mildew depending on where they are stored. Other times, I think some Itty Bitty Creature must get inside of them and feed on them like a hook worm. I dunno. Ugh! I hate "technology". I think I would rather have all of this stuff in 35mm. It is like digital photography. Mark my word, so many of those images you took will be lost in the future because SOMETHING won't "read" them. In the past, you just fussed about the color changing in old Ektachrome, but not Kodachrome, slides.

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  • 3 weeks later...

OK... some of these aren't exactly "Vitaphone Varieties", but they ARE Warner Brothers live-action shorts. The studio produced, in my opinion, the best overall variety from the twenties through the early seventies. Yes, we love the Looney Tunes and Merry Melodies, but "The Other Shorts" that were shown alongside Bugs Bunny were also, more often than not, pretty good.


Most of the feature films on DVD will have "extras", so you will get a short or two. Errol Flynn's SAN ANTONIO may not be his greatest feature, but that particular DVD has a cluster of vintage 1945 goodies such as Frontier Days and Story of a Dog. The one Doris Day box set has plenty of great shorties as well, including the "why don't they ever air it on TCM?" Robert Youngson docu-reel Spills And Chills. (Oooohhhh... I would just LOVE to see a Robert Youngson set. He was the Ken Burns of the forties and fifties.)


Among the shorties sets on the Warner Archive, these are good ones to get.




Obviously Joe McDoakes (1942-1956) needs no introduction. Sometimes Wal-Mart, Target and other department stores will have some classic Hollywood on their DVD shelves, including discounted TCM Collections. Also Three Stooges collections from Sony. My question: Wouldn't it be a sweet jester for Warner to spend just a *little* extra money and promotion and put out an economically priced "general consumer" set of these? So that an average shopper will pick up the DVD and say "hmmm... what the heck?" I don't think EVERY shopper is ONLY interested purchasing Harry Potter and Sophia the First for the small fry.


They don't have to go all out and digitally restore every title. Yes, some of these look like 16mm duplicates instead of 35mm master copies. The picture quality is generally very good throughout, but not like Sony's work on the Stooges. Yet the McDoakes are really funny little movies that have only one thing going against them: they are in black and white. But so are the Stooges and you DO see some of them available where you purchase groceries. They don't have a lot of violent slapstick, but there is a lot of domestic situation comedy that has aged rather nicely over the years. The relationship between Joe and his buddies and with wifie Alice is not unlike the relationships featured in today's mainstream comedies. George O'Hanlon (a.k.a. George Jetson) reminds me a lot of Ben Stiller.







Again... what if Warner put an economically priced Bobby Jones: How I Play Golf/How To Break 90 (1931, 1933) disc on the same Target shelf as WWF Super Stars and SuperBowl Highlights? Of course, they would need a simple warning of "Recommended for those who are tolerate of black and white films featuring such unknowns such as W.C Fields, Edward G. Robinson, James Cagney, Loretta Young and Joe E. Brown".







Warner Bros. Big Band And Swing Short Subject Collection (1930-1946) features a wide assortment of Vitaphone Varieties and Melody masters of all kinds of band. No Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong or Glenn Miller, but a nice assortment of others. Includes the 1944 masterpiece Jammin' The Blues. I won't pester Warner to stock the shopping centers with these simply because they are pre-MTV.







Ripley's Believe It Or Not (1930-1932) I cannot lie. I really *wuv* Robert Ripley. Yes these films are creaky, but oh... so... fun! Mister Ripley hosts with his drawing pad in the first season's selection. Second season is more of-its-time: the Depression years were the golden age of the "human interest" newsreel, like Paramount Pictorial, Pathe Review, etc. It is all a fascinating time capsule.







Vitaphone Comedy Collection, Volume One (1932-1934) starts off with Fatty Arbuckle's final films (and he was doing some pretty good stuff just before his death) and features a nice assortment of others, many with Shemp Howard playing bit-parts. Some of these are quite funny, while others are the typical run-of-the-mill comedy shorts of their era. slightly better than some of Educational Pictures (a.k.a. Aladdin's lamp logo) and some of Columbia's and Roach's lesser product. Few would rank as "classics", but none are particularly "bad". A young James Stewart appears in one. I must confess that Lionel Stander is underappreciated, but just his voice and sarcasm is great. There is also a delightful hillbilly feud reel with Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy that is worth multiple viewings.






Vitaphone Comedy Collection, Volume Two (1933-1937) is essentially Shemp Howard's filmography pre-Columbia, also while he was away from the Three Stooges.  You can read a nice review on DVD Talk here: http://www.dvdtalk.com/reviews/64333/vitaphone-comedy-collection-volume-two-shemp-howard-1933-1937/













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I've seen some people complain about getting these sets through Amazon rather than TCM, and that the discs are of lesser quality. I've purchased DVD-R discs in the past, and haven't had a problem, but I'm not sure about the sets. Any opinion?

I do not order from Amazon, but do from the "mail order" companies.  They probably all get them from the same distributor. Have had problems with some DVD's from all of them.  I keep the shipping slip and the packaging until I have watched everything on the order.  If something is bad, I CALL and discuss returning for refund or replacement.  Haven't had a problem yet, even when calling months after receiving the order.

Be ready to explain:  I ordered six items and two of them were sets with six movies each.  You know how long it takes to view all of those?  

I don't binge watch, so will take me a while to view everything.

Classic example was Mad Men complete set.  Didn't have a problem until one of the DVD's in Season 4.  Incidentally, don't order the Mad Men Complete Set.  Cheaper to order the individual seasons and quality of DVD's is better.

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Thanks for the heads up, but I didn't see the ad for an upcoming Vitaphone collection yet on WBshop.com.


eBay and Amazon probably have assorted "public domain" newsreels on DVD.


The Internet Archive (https://archive.org) has a lot of vintage newsreels stretching back through the silent era. Probably the largest collection of one company is Universal, their sound newsreels dating from 1929 through 1967, almost all in black and white. Just 545 entries are listed here, but they are a nice overview.

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Thanks for the heads up, but I didn't see the ad for an upcoming Vitaphone collection yet on WBshop.com yet.



I just stumbled across the pre-order on Amazon.




I also see that it's available for preorder on the Shop TCM site, and it's a couple of dollars cheaper, too.




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Giddyup, LawrenceA! Looks like a new release after all. It is an economical 1-disc ($21.99) but all rare films to add to the collection.






Volume Three Notes by The Vitaphone Project’s Ron Hutchinson
Mayer and Evans, The Cowboy And The Girl (1928) – The second of two 1928 Vitaphone shorts made by the popular vaudeville team of Ray Mayer & Edith Evans. Mayer, at piano, always bears close watching with his entertaining antics with gum and keyboard. Mayer appeared in supporting roles in many thirties features, including SWING TIME ('36), YOUNG AND BEAUTIFUL ('34) and Leo McCarey's MAKE WAY FOR TOMORROW ('37) The team made a number of 78s for Brunswick, and was still performing together in clubs at the time of his death in 1948.
Kjerulf's Mayfair Quintette in "A Musical Melange" (1928) - Filmed at Warner Bros west coast studios on Sunset Boulevard (while the Brooklyn studios were being renovated for sound production), this short is one of the studio's higher-class offerings. Featuring three harpists --- one sporting a Colleen Moore-inspired bob --- a violinist, and a singer, this genre of Vitaphone short would be used by theatre managers to present a balanced mix along with band, vaudeville and novelty acts. This was also done on vaudeville circuits to ensure the programs had something for everyone. The quintette was paid $500 to make this short.
Gilbert Wells "A Breeze From the South" (1928) – Wells epitomizes the all around vaudevillian: he sang, danced, told jokes, and even played the clarinet and piano. All in an 8 minute act. Yet another performer lost in the mist of nine decades --- until now --- Wells was also a prominent songwriter, with pop tunes like “Red Hot Mama”, “Insufficient Sweetie” and “Sadie Green, The Vamp of New Orleans” to his credit. His wife was another star of vaudeville, Florence Brady, whose own 1928 Vitaphone short has been restored and is on VITAPHONE VARIETIES Volume 2. Like many vaudevillians, his career soon faded and he died while still in his thirties in 1935.
The Croonaders in "Melodious Moments" (1928) – This singing trio is one of many that flourished in the late twenties. Composed of Cy Kahn, Al Garry, and Marcy Klauber, the group channels the most famous of the contemporary singing trios --- Paul Whiteman's Rhythm Boys --- several times in this short. Klauber went on to write countless mid-thirties Educational shorts. One of the songs sung in “Melodious Melodies” is “From Monday On”, written by two of the Rhythm Boys: Bing Crosby and Harry Barris.
Carolina Segrera, The Cuban Nightingale, with Don Alberto & His Argentines (1929) - Segera was an opera singer at La Scala of Milan during the 1930s and concert singer of ''lieder'' and art songs in leading concert halls in Europe in the 1950s. The soprano recorded on a number of 78's and LPs, and also taught singing in her studio in Manhattan from 1960 to 1996. She died at age 92 in 1998. Bandleader Don Alberto successfully rode the popularity of tango music which began in the late twenties and continued to flourish through the following decade. He starred in his own Vitaphone short three months before this one, and also appeared in a 1936 Educational short and two Spanish language features.
The Big Paraders (1929) – this short lived vaudeville group of six true heavyweights co-opted the title of the 1926 MGM hit to frame their act of singing, dancing, and even tumbling. Directed by Murray Roth at the newly opened Brooklyn Vitaphone studios in June 1929, the short is a canned version of their touring presentation. Their literally bouncing performance of “Doin' The Raccoon” would have registered on the Richter scale, if one existed then.
Edison and Gregory, ‘The Two College Nuts,’ in "Joe College" (1929) – This team is definitely a “B” level vaudeville act, but likely had little competition with their centerpiece of playing inflated rubber gloves. Filmed in July of 1929 at the recently wired Brooklyn Vitaphone studios, Billy Edison and Charlie Gregory show their oxygen-driven musical talents by also playing a bassoon, tire and umbrella.
Horace Heidt And His Californians (1929) – While his later band became very sweet, Horace Heidt's first orchestra frequently played hot, jazz dance tunes. As this short clearly demonstrates, his was decidedly a performing band. They didn't just sit there and play. The musicians sang, danced, and did piano stunts. As was a common practice in the twenties, the band even has an on-stage mascot: Lobo the dog, who provides a barking coda to this entertaining short.
Bobbe Arnst and Peggy Ellis in "Rhythms in Blue" (1929) – Bobbe (mis-sellied “Bobbie” on the title card) Arnst was a Broadway singer and dancer (specializing in the “shimmy”) and appeared in such shows as “The Greenwich Village Follies of 1924” and Ed Wynn's “Simple Simon” (1930). At the time this charming short was filmed, she was married to later 'Tarzan' Johnny Weismuller. Little is known about her accompanist, Peggy Ellis, other than that she's really good here. She appeared in eight Broadway productions, the last being “Cape Cod Follies”in 1929.
Molly Picon "The Celebrated Character Comedienne (1929) – the tiny and winsome Molly Picon was a major star of the Yiddish theatre, toured in vaudeville, starred in her own radio program, and made starring appearances in Yiddish language films as well as in three Vitaphone shorts . This short's disk was missing until 2011, and shows off the star's versatility. In 1933, she headlined a rare Vitaphone three reeler, A LITTLE GIRL WITH BIG IDEAS, and later appeared on Broadway in “Fiddler On The Roof” (as Yenta the Matchmaker), and “Come Blow Your Horn”. In an obscure Vitaphone connection, she appeared as Jerry Lewis' mother in the 1959 television version of THE JAZZ SINGER. She is perhaps best known for her multiple appearances as Mrs. Bronson in CAR 54, WHERE ARE YOU?
Zelda Santley in "Little Miss Everybody" (1929) - Santley was a rare vaudevillian, a woman doing imitations of famous performers. Totally forgotten today, she was a headliner during the twenties before retiring to marry in 1935. This short captures her charm in giving her impressions of bandleader Ted Lewis, Maurice Chevalier, Fanny Brice and Mae West. As this short was filmed in Brooklyn in 1929, three years before West's first film appearance, few who saw this short originally even knew who she was.
Summers and Hunt in "Some Pumpkins" (1929) – Married in 1914 and performing together in vaudeville even earlier, Sam Summers (real name Ray Belmont) and Estelle (real name Beatrice) Hunt set their act at a country barn dance with lots of rural humor. Vitaphone released a number of shorts with bucolic settings, including “The Opry House” ('29) with the Mound City Blue Blowers, “The Blue Ridgers”('29), and “The Arkansaw Trio” ('28) with The Cruse Brothers. Country music had a strong following on 78 rpm records at the time, and these shorts addressed that appeal. The cute and perky Estelle gets off some fairly risque lines here, and she seems much younger than her 50 years.
Herschel Henlere "The Madcap Musician" (1929) – In some ways recalling Victor Borge's later act, Henlere toured extensively and internationally, mocking classical music in a decidedly bizarre manner. He was billed as “The Poet of the Piano” and started in two reelers directed by D.W. Griffith. Henlere appears to have toured extensively overseas, and while in England he appeared in two 1928 British Phototone shorts as well as two thirties features. He earns his later b illing as “The Mad Musician” when he closes this short with a particularly offbeat one man band device that is sure to give the viewer nightmares!
Al Trahan in "The Musicale" (1929) – You may not know his name, but vaudevillian Al Trahan's hearty belly laugh was parodied in countless Warner Bros cartoons. As a pianist who constantly insults his haughty singing partner (played by Yukona Cameron) Trahan delivers, and laughs at, a steady stream of his one-liners. This act changed little from the twenties through his early television appearances. A nearly identical one appears in a 1935 Vitaphone “Big Time Vaudeville” one reeler. Trahan also appeared occasionally on Broadway in such shows as “The Second Little Show” (1930) with fellow Vitaphone performer J.C. Flippen and “Top-Notchers” (1942) with Gracie Fields and newcomer Zero Mostel.
Clara Barry and Orval Whitledge in "Jest for a While" (1929) – this short is a prime example of a polished and consistently hilarious vaudeville two act which, like Shaw & Lee and Conlin & Glass – is so good it makes you ask “why were they forgotten?” The married couple worked together since the teens, and their relentless delivery of perfectly timed funny lines kept them in the top tier of vaudeville. But they are forgotten because their act was only committed to film twice; first in this short, whose Vitaphone disk was missing until 2011, and then again in a mid-thirties Al Christie produced Educational short. They retired from show business in 1940.
Ben Bernie And His Orchestra (1929) – Known as 'The Old Maestro', Ben Bernie always combined comedy with great musicianship. Recording extensively for Brunswick records, his band was also among the first to perform in talking pictures. Before this Vitaphone short --- which cleverly uses Warner Bros owned pop tunes from their current musicals --- Bernie had already made sound shorts for Deforest Phonofilms in 1925 and several Fox Movietone Act shorts in 1928. He went on to become a top rated star in radio, made a number of feature film appearances with his 'nemeses' Walter Winchell. He died in 1943 while still at the height of his popularity.
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Thanks for the info, Jlewis. It will be a while before I get it, though. I actually just got the first Vitaphone Varieties set a few days ago, and that's all I can afford for a bit.


Whenever I finish my remaining stacks of newer movies, I'm going to do a short subjects marathon. I have the 3 Travel Talks sets, the Vitaphones, and several Educational Archive discs to watch.

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I may wait a little bit, but it isn't as expensive as other sets. Too bad it is not part of the 4 for $44 sale on the Warner Archive site this week.


Updated all information in these two spots:




I have noticed that the "Shortie Checklists" are getting referenced a lot in cyberspace simply because the information isn't available all that easily. (I use magazine scans in the Internet Archive, but that requires a lot of time and patience.) We TCM forum-ers demand information on what movies we like to watch, y'know!

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Thanks for the info, Jlewis. It will be a while before I get it, though. I actually just got the first Vitaphone Varieties set a few days ago, and that's all I can afford for a bit.


Whenever I finish my remaining stacks of newer movies, I'm going to do a short subjects marathon. I have the 3 Travel Talks sets, the Vitaphones, and several Educational Archive discs to watch.


Which Educational discs are these?

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Which Educational discs are these?


They are several discs from the Educational Archives collection. On the Job, Sex & Drugs, Religion, Social Engineering 101, Social Engineering 201, Patriotism, and More Sex & Drugs. 

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