Vitaphone Varieties (1926-30)

Recovered and restored: fascinating early-sound shorts from a bygone entertainment era. Great performers and ensembles from the Warner Bros. vault comprise a dazzling 9+-Hour, 4-Disc Collection of 60 Theatrical Shorts (1926-1930).

This compilation of 60 rare Vitaphone shorts has been newly mastered especially for this new Warner Archive release. Most have been assembled from the last surviving film element known to exist, and their corresponding Vitaphone disc as an audio source. As such,the viewer may often see signs of age and neglect, combined with nitrate decomposition and deterioration within some of the shorts contained herein. This only speaks to the rarity of these shorts and how fortunate we all are that they have been preserved.

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Vitaphone Varieties (1926-30)
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Vitaphone Varieties (1926-30)
 
4.3

(based on 22 reviews)

Ratings Distribution

  • 5 Stars

     

    (13)

  • 4 Stars

     

    (6)

  • 3 Stars

     

    (1)

  • 2 Stars

     

    (0)

  • 1 Stars

     

    (2)

90%

of respondents would recommend this to a friend.

Pros

  • Entertaining (15)
  • Informative (10)
  • Original (7)
  • Good resource (6)
  • Engaging characters (4)

Cons

No Cons

Best Uses

  • At home (13)
  • Adult viewers (5)
  • Perfect gift (5)
  • Younger viewers (4)
    • Reviewer Profile:
    • Movie buff (13), Casual viewer (4)

Most Liked Positive Review

 

Amazing and important collection!

Warner Archives deserves to win some sort of award for continuing to make the "dawn of sound" short subjects available to us, and I hope they go on to make more...Read complete review

Warner Archives deserves to win some sort of award for continuing to make the "dawn of sound" short subjects available to us, and I hope they go on to make more available as the original elements become reunited. This collection is a dizzying banquet of Vitaphone shorts (those hit-or-miss sound-on-disc days) that offers 60 (!) miniature time machines back to a fascinating period of history and a form of entertainment (vaudeville) that met its end eight decades ago. I always say to interested parties: Think of the oldest movie they've seen (with sound) and then imagine something older. The bulk of these shorts were filmed in 1928, and I do long to see more of the 1926 shorts (a great selection of these is available on the WBA disc of "Don Juan")...but the Jazz Age is the Jazz Age, and you won't see movies like these ever again (even on television). While it's true that the kind of material that was considered comedy in the 1920's is completely baffling (and a bit absurdist) to modern ears, this treasure trove will hold you riveted to your seat simply because it is a window to a time period totally unknown to us and yet somehow still modern. I truly think vaudeville was the America's Got Talent of the Coolidge-Hoover years - this 4-disc set contains nobody you will readily recognize, as the artists largely disappeared from show business as the Depression progressed, but each musical short and short subject is worth a view. The quality of the picture and sound are amazing considering their age and the primitive manner in which they were shot and recorded...the Vitaphone sound-on-disc method shows remarkable fidelity 85 years later, the only troublesome variants coming when the performers accidentally wander away from the microphone (note: a great many performers look "up" a good deal during their shorts - they're making sure they're under the microphone!). This collection (and the other similar WBA collections that have appeared) is invaluable. I will be eagerly awaiting the next batch.

VS

Most Liked Negative Review

 

Lots of great nuggets here... BUT...

I was tempted to give this set the highest rating possible on account of the rarity and historical value of the material, as well as the efforts of UCLA, The Vitaphone Project and Library...Read complete review

I was tempted to give this set the highest rating possible on account of the rarity and historical value of the material, as well as the efforts of UCLA, The Vitaphone Project and Library of Congress. However, only half of you reading this purchase movies on account of "historical value". Despite the excellent audio (the ol' Vitaphone "disc" method may have been overtaken by the Fox Movietone "on film" method but there's no denying which method SOUNDS better today), much of the comedy and music here is clearly "of its time".

America was so appallingly segregated (with everybody using separate hospitals and drinking fountains) that the only way a "white" person could sing and perform "black" was to either #1, "black up" the face, or #2, make Uncle Tom references. Yet, before you toss this set in the trash after watching Bert Swor's A COLORFUL SERMON (1928), make sure you go to disc #2 to see Bud Harris and Frank Radcliffe in AT THE PARTY (1929) featuring performers who did NOT have to "black up". For those who can't get past all of the gun and dice gags, just remind yourself of those "blaxploitation" flicks that were so popular in the "liberated" 1970s and even some of today's TV material. (No, we haven't "integrated" quite as much as we like to think.) If you do have trouble dealing with A COLORFUL SERMON, definitely avoid REVIVAL DAY at all costs. That one tosses in every stereotype except watermelon, although one senses that there may have been a "point" being made here.

Say what we want about Warner Brothers-Vitaphone and the types of performers they put in front of their cameras. In the end, race, religion and "orientation" was less important to them than entertainment and a great many racial and cultural barriers were broken at this time. Speaking of religion and race, there is plenty of Jewish humor that did not cross the Atlantic into rising Fascist Europe, nor made its way into the antisemitic areas of this country (and there were plenty). Likewise, a great many male performers here have no qualms acting "feminine" regardless of their orientation. In fact, some of these performance may very well have fanned the flames of the religious conservatives later on and the start of the Production Code. THE BOOK WORM (December 1927) in which Harry Conley is attacked by a aggressive Ethel DeVoe has the poorest pictorial quality of any title on the set since it was clearly fondled by a number of "hands"...

A little trivia to toss y'all... The earliest Vitaphone "talkies" of 1926, featured with DON JUAN and as extras with the multi-disc THE JAZZ SINGER, were filmed at the former Vitagraph studio in New York. In June 1927, shorts production moved west for the next year and a half, before moving (mostly but not completely) back east again by late '28. It's an involved story and not really important until we begin watching the short subjects of the thirties (showcased in another, earlier released, Vitaphone DVD set available here), when sound technology improved and the fewer-but-still-being-made California productions featured plenty of outdoor scenes and more visual gags while the Brooklyn (NYC) product was still done mostly on indoor sets with a stronger emphasis on dialog and music. The oldest title on this set dates from April 1927 (New York) and features a crooning group THE REVELERS. At this stage, you can't determine the "where it was filmed" because the technology was still new and ALL settings were confined indoors. Nonetheless, plenty of special effects do begin appearing in 1927 offerings like THE DEATH SHIP, despite its obvious model shots of the ship itself, and Montague Love's CHARACTER STUDIES with an early use of double exposure (commonplace in the silent era but rare in early talkies when production was forced to be "primitive" again). We see considerable upgrading as we move into 1928-29. In an interesting way, late twenties sound films resemble late forties and early fifties television (pre-video tape) in that there was a lot of new "experimenting" that had to be done all over again.

Talent wise, these films do give both the later ED SULLIVAN SHOW and AMERICAN IDOL a run for their money. Not sure how many can do that breakdance scene the "drunk" Jimmy Clemons does in DREAM CAFE (filmed October 1927) or Frank Whitman playing his violin with his mouth in a December 1928 offering. Some stuff might remind one of "The Gong Show"; it is easy to see why the vaudevillians performing did not become household names. Then there are those naturally funny comedians who just happen to be suffering from a lack of professional gag writers and stronger material. One does laugh hysterically at THE WILD WESTERNER (Sep '28), PIGSKIN TROUBLES (Dec '28), THESE DRY DAYS (Apr '29, these "drunk" comedies were made at the height of Prohibition, y'know) and THE SONG PLUGGER (April '30) but there is a little "something-something" that prevents these from being out-and-out masterpieces. Bob Hopes, Jack Bennies and David Lettermans are not created overnight; they need fine-tuned by professionals working with them. These films marked the end of an era. Thanks to seeing a sound movie in theaters all across the country, many traveling vaudevillians who appeared for the Vitaphone cameras could no longer show their same (and perfected) act in town after town.

Warner is clearly testing Consumer Tastes here. If there is outrage over the inclusion of the two titles mentioned above, the push to released cartoons like COAL BLACK AND DE SEBBEN DWARFS and MOUSE CLEANING on DVD will be delayed further. Also, Disney is even more squirmy than Warner, so don't expect SONG OF THE SOUTH any time soon either. It is important that we watch this material carefully in a historical context.

Reviewed by 22 customers

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(1 of 1 customers found this review helpful)

 
5.0

Several Bits Of Vaudeville Resurrected

By Son of Vaudevillian

from Jonesboro, GA

About Me Casual Viewer

Pros

  • Engaging Characters
  • Entertaining
  • Informative
  • Original

Cons

    Best Uses

      Comments about Vitaphone Varieties (1926-30):

      I really ordered this product in hopes I could find some video of Jean Rankin's Blue Belles or other all girl bands that my mother Margery McCullough was in but was not disapointed since I saw acts during that time period of vaudeville. If I had been able to see a complete listing of the acts prior to ordering as printed on the back of the case I probably would never had ordered it sight unseen. Stilling looking for Jean Rankin Blue Belles but having interesting fun along the way watching these video varieties of acts from long ago. Our history and foundations were kept for us to behold.

       
      5.0

      Much pleasure here

      By Mik

      from Utica, NY

      About Me Movie Buff

      Comments about Vitaphone Varieties (1926-30):

      If you've ever been intrigued, having seen performances captured on Vitaphone Varieties, you'll enjoy these.

      (2 of 2 customers found this review helpful)

       
      4.0

      wonderful collection

      By Barry8352

      from New York City

      About Me Casual Viewer

      Verified Reviewer

      Pros

      • Good Resource

      Cons

        Best Uses

          Comments about Vitaphone Varieties (1926-30):

          Loved the collection. Do wish the titles for each short had a date; i know they're all 1926-30 but i wanted to know the specific year. Also, your disc plays on my laptop and desktop but not in my 5 year old dvd recorder_player. So i have to buy a dvd player just for your discs (i have no problem with any other discs). But the shorts are a time travel and priceless for bringing us back to not only to early sound film shorts but also vaudeville and the "variety circuit".

          (6 of 6 customers found this review helpful)

           
          5.0

          60 Miracles

          By jeffsultanof

          from Paterson, NJ

          About Me Movie Buff

          Verified Reviewer

          Pros

          • Good Resource

          Cons

          • Limited Appeal

          Best Uses

            Comments about Vitaphone Varieties (1926-30):

            Twenty years ago, this set would not only not have existed, it would have been an unattainable dream. For as long as I can remember, I'd wanted to see the many early sound short subjects that were cranked out so that theaters could have something to show for their sound-crazy patrons. Because Vitaphone was a process where the sound was not on the film but on a large disc, in many cases either the film existed and sound was missing or vice versa. Then The Vitaphone Project came along, whose purpose was to unite as many discs and films as possible, and then to preserve them. The men who started it didn't expect much success; now these many years later, thousands of discs have been discovered in private collections and archives, with major finds happening every few months. These shorts are all recent restorations, and they are an invaluable record of Broadway and Vaudeville in the late twenties. UCLA and the Library of Congress have done a fantastic job saving these films. This set is the perfect gift for a 1920s film lover, and I hope that this is the first of many sets of these shorts. Vitaphone lives!

            (1 of 1 customers found this review helpful)

             
            5.0

            RARE GEM--Best purchase ever!!

            By Shopgirl1

            from Brentwood, CA

            About Me Casual Viewer

            Pros

            • Culturally Historic
            • Entertaining
            • Facinating Time Capsule
            • Good Resource
            • Illuminating
            • Informative
            • Rare
            • Window into another world

            Cons

              Best Uses

              • At Home
              • Memory Lane Trip
              • Perfect Gift
              • Time Capsule

              Comments about Vitaphone Varieties (1926-30):

              We are so fortunate that these rare performance clips have been preserved and made available for us to see. They are a fascinating glimpse into an earlier time in our culture. Immensely entertaining!

              (3 of 3 customers found this review helpful)

               
              5.0

              Fun to watch!

              By Yeaghead

              from Lake Tahoe, Nevada

              About Me Movie Buff

              Verified Reviewer

              Pros

              • Entertaining
              • Good Resource
              • Informative
              • Relevant

              Cons

                Best Uses

                  Comments about Vitaphone Varieties (1926-30):

                  Most of these short films are over eighty years old and give us a window into the past. Fasinating to watch. WB has done a great job of making the best possible prints available. Although much of the technology is primitive by todays standards, many of these films look like they were made yesterday. These are most enjoyable if watched a little at a time. They can become boring after awhile. Still worth the time spent watching. Highly recommend this set to anyone who is interested in film history. I hope WB continues to release these amazing artifacts in the future.

                  (1 of 1 customers found this review helpful)

                   
                  5.0

                  great experience

                  By bdwyphil

                  from los angeles, ca

                  About Me Movie Buff

                  Pros

                  • Entertaining

                  Cons

                    Best Uses

                    • At Home

                    Comments about Vitaphone Varieties (1926-30):

                    Saw a review in the NY Times and was totally pleased.

                    (2 of 4 customers found this review helpful)

                     
                    5.0

                    Rare Vitaphone shorts

                    By Tenor2

                    from Anaheim, CA

                    About Me Movie Buff

                    Pros

                    • Broad Appeal
                    • Entertaining
                    • Good Resource
                    • Informative

                    Cons

                      Best Uses

                      • Adult Viewers
                      • At Home

                      Comments about Vitaphone Varieties (1926-30):

                      Wonderful to have the Nicholas Brothers on film and to see how great they were. Downside are the very racist stereotypes portrayed by the studios for obviously talented black performers who deserved better treatment.

                      (6 of 6 customers found this review helpful)

                       
                      4.0

                      "Varieties" fun.

                      By Memphis buff

                      from Memphis, Tn.

                      About Me Movie Buff

                      Verified Reviewer

                      Pros

                      • Entertaining
                      • Film buff gold
                      • Good Resource

                      Cons

                      • No liner notes

                      Best Uses

                      • At Home

                      Comments about Vitaphone Varieties (1926-30):

                      My shipment did not include liner notes, giving dates and other info about the films. Had to get this from Ron Hutchison

                      (3 of 3 customers found this review helpful)

                       
                      5.0

                      Great fun and historically important

                      By Glane of Azeroth

                      from Colorado Springs

                      About Me Movie Buff

                      Verified Reviewer

                      Pros

                      • Engaging Characters
                      • Entertaining
                      • Informative
                      • Original

                      Cons

                        Best Uses

                        • At Home
                        • Younger Viewers

                        Comments about Vitaphone Varieties (1926-30):

                        A wonderful collection of early talkie short subjects. This is a real trip to the past. This is what you would seen in theaters before the main feature, if they were showing a Warner Brothers movie. The entertainers were the current vaudeville favorites and these are the people our grand parents and great-great grandparents, eagerly paid there hard earned money to see.

                        I think it's fantastic that these short subjects have been saved, restored and passed on the the general public. This collection is historically important.

                        I love it.

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