Undercrank Productions deserves a ton of credit as they are releasing films and silent cinema that no one else has even approached yet. While boutique studios are dabbling in eighties and seventies obscure gems, Undercrank and Ben Model are back in the early 1900’s restoring the short films of Alice Howell, a silent cinema comedic actress who was once compared to her contemporaries Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. Thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign, folks that want to bone up on the history of women in comedy cinema, this is a great place to continue your education on how much they’ve contributed, and the unsung voices of comedy.
The 2 DVD collection compiles a dozen very rare shorts from Alice Howell spanning the years 1914 to 1925, and I have to admit I’d never heard of her until now. I consider myself very familiar with silent cinema, and I’d just now discovered Alice Howell. It was a real treat seeing how she could stand toe to toe with the best of the silent cinema’s comedians, and Undercrank Studios manages to offer up a beautiful restoration. This isn’t simply a transfer, they do their best to deliver a crisp archive for interesting movie buffs, and it’s worth watching, for sure.
The DVD set features the shorts Shot in the Excitement (1914), Father Was a Loafer (1915), Under New Management (1915), How Stars Are Made (1916), Neptune’s Naughty Daughter (1917), and In Dutch (1918). Disc Two of the set featyres Distilled Love (1920), His Wooden Leg-acy (1920), Her Lucky Day (1920), Cinderella Cinders (1920), A Convict’s Happy Bride (1920), and finally Under A Spell (1925). As expected there are some film artifacts within the shorts and mild degrading here and there, but it doesn’t hinder an otherwise entertaining experience. There are written introductions for most of the films explaining the process of acquiring and restoring the rare prints, and they fit snugly within the compilation.
Alice Howell brings something completely fresh to the comedy genre, engaging in some top notch physical comedy and slapstick in most of the shorts presented here. Howell manages to rise up throughout the shorts from bit parts as someone proving a foil for certain characters, and inevitably becomes the main star. In “Shot in the Excitement” she plays a woman being pulled back and forth between two men vying for her affection. This results in gags involving paint and holes in walls. Howell was a beautiful women and she was also quite the comedian. For fans that have been following what Undercrank Productions has been giving releasing for the past few years, “The Alice Howell Collection” is another very good addition to their collection, and a great education in comedy cinema.