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Charley Bowers: The Rediscovery of an American Comic Genius
Charley Bowers The Rediscovery of an American Comic Genius
Actors: Charles R. Bowers, Kathryn McGuire, Melbourne MacDowell, Buster Brodie, Blue Washington
Directors: Charles R. Bowers, Harold L. Muller, Joseph Losey, Ted Sears
Genres: Comedy, Kids & Family, Science Fiction & Fantasy, Animation
NR     2004     3hr 53min

Who is Charley Bowers? The inventor of the no-slipping banana skin, unbreakable eggs, and cat-pushing trees! At the end of the 1920s, this unknown genius created and directed a score of cinematic burlesques filled with s...  more »


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Movie Details

Actors: Charles R. Bowers, Kathryn McGuire, Melbourne MacDowell, Buster Brodie, Blue Washington
Directors: Charles R. Bowers, Harold L. Muller, Joseph Losey, Ted Sears
Creators: Charles R. Bowers, Harold L. Muller, Joseph Losey, Ted Sears
Genres: Comedy, Kids & Family, Science Fiction & Fantasy, Animation
Sub-Genres: Animation, Family Films, Animation, Animation
Studio: Image Entertainment
Format: DVD - Color,Full Screen
DVD Release Date: 02/24/2004
Original Release Date: 12/27/1926
Theatrical Release Date: 12/27/1926
Release Year: 2004
Run Time: 3hr 53min
Screens: Color,Full Screen
Number of Discs: 2
SwapaDVD Credits: 2
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 7
MPAA Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Languages: English

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Movie Reviews

Eye-popping effects! Definitely of interest to film buffs
Scott MacGillivray | Massachusetts, USA | 03/09/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)

"Charley Bowers is an almost forgotten master of stop-motion animation. The busy world of Bowers is filled with omnivorous birds that lay miraculous eggs, frisky animals, things that appear out of nowhere, machines that assemble and dismantle themselves, and usually Bowers himself as a typical silent-comedy patsy. The craftsmanship of his films is astounding, and animation enthusiasts will especially enjoy this collection of his rare short films. They are so rare indeed that surviving elements are often incomplete or partially damaged. In this DVD set, some of the silent subjects are shown with French title cards (and optional English subtitles). Others are American prints, and the quality is often extraordinary.A sampling of Bowers's traditional animated efforts of the 1910s reveals that Bowers was an excellent pen-and-ink artist. The Mutt & Jeff cartoon GRILL ROOM EXPRESS gives the comic-strip characters little pantomimic touches that are very enjoyable. AWOL is a cautionary tale (predating Warners' Private Snafu cartoons) showing what happens when a soldier goes joyriding. (Nothing illicit here, the soldier just has tough luck throughout). In the 1920s Bowers starred in live-action comedies that he embellished with his camera tricks; few exist but the DVD set is representative. The set claims to contain every surviving Charley Bowers title; this is incorrect. (His silent short THERE IT IS!, in which Bowers looks like Buster Keaton and acts like Harry Langdon, is not included.)There is a certain archaeological fascination in watching the highly visual Mr. Bowers attempt the talking picture. IT'S A BIRD is the bizarre adventure of a bird whose eggs hatch into automobiles. Bowers speaks on the screen for the first time, and mixes silent-comedy visuals with dialogue sequences deftly. but his clown-white makeup is so overdone that he looks anachronistic, even for 1930. This DVD offers the 1947 reissue, circulated shortly after Bowers's death; the print shown here is infinitely clearer and cleaner than the film and video copies offered for years. BELIEVE IT OR DON'T is a rock-bottom-budget compilation fashioning old Bowers clips into a screen magazine. WILD OYSTERS, released as one of Paramount's :"Animated Antics" in 1940, shows "Mom, Pop, and Snoozer" Mouse using household objects as home furnishings, with little Snoozer bedeviled by an angry cat and some vicious oysters. Bowers's 1940 approach is visually the same as his silent-era approach, with razor-sharp photography and amazingly fluid movement of three-dimensional objects -- and on top of animating the action figures, Bowers works in some synchronized dialogue! The source print on the DVD is a French release print with French titles, but the original English soundtrack is heard. A SLEEPLESS NIGHT, from the same series, is shown mute, with what may be a home-movie-distributor title.The most amazing find in this collection is PETE ROLEUM AND HIS COUSINS, showing the Bowers technique in vivid color. Main and end titles are not shown and there is an occasional jump-splice, but it's good to see what survives. Narrator Bowers reads clever verses about how oil products improve everyday life. PETE ROLEUM resembles one of the George Pal "Puppetoons," but without as much sweetness or polish; instead of being a cute Pal fantasy for kids, it's an odd little industrial film. Bowers's quirky humor comes through despite an inferior soundtrack (the dialogue is distant, as though Bowers recorded it at home). The reel ends on a bright but strange note, with a good swing band accompanying Bowers's peculiar chorus line! The vocalist (sounds like Buddy Clark) and the song will stay with you for days.The DVD also has a short documentary about Bowers (in French, with optional English subtitles), but it's basically the story of how film curators finally figured out who Bowers was. There is little biography, and nothing about Bowers's behind-the-scenes methods or his longtime director, Harold L. Muller. (Could Muller actually be Bowers? Hmm.)This DVD set will appeal mostly to a specialized audience. Silent-film enthusiasts will admire the many off-the-wall ideas, while others may consider Bowers's work a little too weird. Either way, it's definitely something different, and one has to admire his painstaking approach to filmmaking, his ingenious special effects, and his flair for the absurd. Technical quality of the DVDs is excellent; print quality varies according to the surviving film elements but is generally excellent; most but not all of the silent subjects have musical accompaniment."
What is it with Charleys and Comedy?
Samantha Kelley | USA | 12/04/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)

"When I first heard about this set, I thought, "Is that the fake guy from Peter Jackson's Forgotten Silver?" I had no idea who Charley Bowers was or that he truly was a comedian whose career spanned over a long period of time. Thanks to this set, classic film fans are able to peek into the career of a forgotten comedian who used some truly unusual techniques to make his audience laugh.

The first disk in this collection focuses on Bowers' appearances in film.
First is Egged On, a film with cute gags. The story is about a man who invents a machine that creates unbreakable eggs. However, the eggs are not turned to stone; the shell just simply refuses to break unless cut, in which case a regular inside is expelled. The machine is large and elaborate; the idea of using one to utilize stuttery animation is used in several Bowers shorts. At the end of the film, there is water on the camera which is a bit distracting.
He Done His Best is a scratched film featuring a machine and animation. The story revolves around a man going to ask his girlfriend's father for her hand in marriage. Instead, he gets roped into taking a job as a waiter in the father's restaurant. Bowers is reminiscent of Buster Keaton in this film because of his agility and lack of expression.
A Wild Roomer features an average print of a film about a man who wins and inheritance if his machine to do anything works. There is lots of animation in this film which becomes a bit tedious and many elaborate gags.
Fatal Footsteps is the story of a man who tries to learn to Charleston using placemat footprints in his room. However, this Charleston is like none that I've seen before. The gags are funny and more traditionally slapstick although some are used for too long. There is only a little bit of animation in this short, but it is fitting.
Now You Tell One is a good short to use animation in. It is about a club whose goal is to tell the best lie. There are animated elephants, hilarious mice, and cats.
Many A Slip is a film with a great music score. It is about Bowers' quest to make the no-slip banana peel. There is some animation used and a very strange ending.
Nothing Doing is the last short on disk one, a damaged print. It is about a man who wants to join the police force to win a girl. In the process, he thoroughly ruins the town with his comic ignorance.
All of the shorts on this disk are in French with English subtitles. A few of the shorts have two available scores.

Disk two features shorts in which animation was used a lot or in all of the film. This disk is the better of the two.
Grill Room Express is a cartoon short in black and white about a day in a restaurant. It is similar to the live action short He Done His Best. The drawings look similar to Popeye; they are cleanly drawn and fun to watch.
AWOL is another fully animated short about a man who goes AWOL from the military in order to gallivant around town with a beautiful woman. It is a fun and cute film.
Say Ah-h! is a film that was preserved in The Library of Congress. For this, it is a gorgeous, clear print when it is not irrevocably marred. It seems that the first half of the film is missing and two scenes of the film are badly deteriorated almost to the point of being unable to understand what it going on. There is also no sound for the film, although one can hear the actual projector's sound. It is a pretty funny film about a man who is ordered to give his employer untainted ostrich eggs. He feeds the ostrich a combination of household items like pillows and feather dusters and the egg hatches a cloth ostrich, the major animation in the film.
Its A Bird is a great talking film with animation, much more fluidly done than in the silents. It is similar to that done in The Incredible Mister Limpet although not in color. The animated bird has an annoying voice, but the rest is great. There are hilarious random practical jokes but a strange ending.
Believe it Or Not is a film done completely in animation. It shares a few similarities with other Bowers films like cars being hatched from eggs, also done in Egged On.
Pete Roeleum and His Cousin is a very very strange fully animated color film about the history of oil and how great it is. It is very long and tedious, seemingly only used to show off the animation.
Wild Oysters is a really funny story based on a trite plot reminiscent of the Marry Melodies cartoons of Warner Brothers: a family of mice tries to skirt the family cat to steal some food. It is purely animation.
A Sleepless Night is very similar to Wild Oysters; several of the jokes are re-used. It has no sound thought it was obviously meant to be a talkie. The film does not suffer from the lost soundtrack though, partially because Wild Oysters proceeds it in this collection. It too is a very funny fully animated short.
Looking For Charley Bowers is a short documentary that explains the finding of the Bowers films and who exactly this man was. It is great simply because he is such an obscure figure in comedy. The documentary is in French with English subtitles.

Overall, this collection certainly exposes a man with many ideas not really used in the mainstream. It is nice that his films were not left to completely deteriorate from consciousness forever although he certainly is no comic genius the way Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton are seen to be."
The true insight to Bowers and MUTT AND JEFF
Raymond D. Pointer | Los Angeles, California United States | 06/22/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)

"Much of what is credited to Charlie Bowers in the documentary is in fact the work of Dick Huemer. The translated version of "Grill Room Express" is such an example. First, there was no title originally released as this. The original title appears to have been "Flap Jacks" from 1917. The level of drawing, pen work, and execution of animation in this cartoon is superior to that displayed in the short exerpts seen in the documentary that are obviously from an earlier period. These were done by Bowers and Rauol Barre. Adding to this, the documentary shows drawings credited to Bowers that were Huemer's, including a gag cartoon done in 1969 where Jeff points to the thought balloons, asking, "Gee Mutt, do we always ahve to talk this way?" Mutt replies, "Of course you sap, sound ain't been invented yet."

Regarding the translation of the title cards from French to English, this is a classic case of the joke being lost in the translation. Besides the generic and unoffical title, "Grill Room Express," the translations from French are too literal, and the original dialogue seems altered to the extent that the humor is lost due to differences in context and idioms between the languages. This is a problem where plays on words that work in one language do not translate in other languages. In spite of this, "Grill Room Express" ("Flap Jacks") is a nice suriver from 1917, and displays a great amount of skill, but most of all displays personalities in the animated versions of these important comic strip characters at a time when other animated charcters had no personality. Although FELIX THE CAT has been recognized as the first animated character with personality, he came three years after the appearance of MUTT AND JEFF.

The MUTT AND JEFF animated series began in 1916, not 1912 since there were no commercially produced animated cartoons made this early. Winsor McCay displayed his first animated work, "Little Nemo" in 1911. His more famous "Gertie the Trained Dinosaur" came out in 1914. Two years later the first commercial animated cartoon studio was opened by Raoul Barre, followed later that year by John R. Bray. Barre, who was a French Candian, is not mentioned at all in the French documentary. This is ironic since this is a fact that Louise Beaudet, currator of La Cinemateque Quebecoise is certainly aware of. But it appears that the interview with her was edited in such a way that she appears not to mention Barre at all.

It is fortunate, however that interest has been renewed in MUTT AND JEFF, which has been a part of our culture for nearly 100 years. Although many today do not connect with the comic strip characters, they are familiar with the term referring to the teaming of tall and short. Having just completed a documentary showcase on the subjectof MUTT AND JEFF has given me the insight and authority for these comments, allowing me to present a more accurate portayal than what is given in the DVD discussed here."
Comic Buried Treasure
W.C. Snelgrove | Los Angeles, CA | 04/24/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)

"This is an amazing package for any silent film buff. Genuinely ingenious comedy films by a forgotten master of comic fantasy.
This is a two-disc set with all the available information on Bowers, a former animator who moved into live-action two-reelers starring hiimself. The coup de grace of every film are the stop motion sequences--precise, inventive and surreal visual gags as bizzare as anything ever done in a cartoon. The meticulous attention to detail in the execution is awe-inspiring. There are also working mechanical marvels that pre-figure the oddball inventions of Dr. Suess and double-exposure tricks that are suprisingly sophisticated. Between "EGGED ON," "THE WILD ROOMER" and "NOW YOU TELL ONE," literally every trick in the book is employed to maximum effect.There are only nine of twenty silent films here, and the others are considered lost. Thanks go to a Belgian filmographer for hunting down what's here and restoring it.
Each silent comedy is a gem of plotting and escalating lunacy. All are accompanied by French screen captions, which have been more or less faithfully translated back into English in the subtitles. Nice accurate piano recordings on the soundracks of the silents, too, several offer altnernate music.The only failing in my opinion is Bowers himself, a nimble stuntman who seems like a poor man's Busteer Keaton with zero screen presence. He could almost pass for Keaton in some of the shots, and in a few scenes he seems to be trying on Harold Lloyd's everyman. Unfortunately he just comes off as ordinary.
The other problem is that every film ends on an abrupt downer for the hero. Maybe these things hindered Bowers' popularity with audiences, but he deserves considerable credit for his imaginative storylines, eccentric gag and his meticulous craftsmanship in every aspect of his work.The second disc has a short but sketchy bio along with two early cartoons by bowers and his last few talkies. These are all technically competent and fascinating, but the advent of sound didn't help him much. The best of the bunch is IT'S A BIRD which is hampered by clumsy, spoken jokes and an anti-climactic spoken punchline.All quibbles aside--buy this disc if you love silent comedy!"