Plot: This remarkable release from Flicker Alley houses 17 of Charley Bowers’ comedic shorts, all presented in new 2k scans of the best available materials, so these look quite good in this presentation. The quality varies from short to short as expected, as these were sometimes made decades apart and the surviving elements weren’t often kept in optimal conditions. So some debris and damage can be seen, but that is inevitable and as this release is the result of decades of searching for elements and intense restorations, this is a lavish treatment that fans should appreciate. On the extras side, we have an introduction, a fifteen minute look into the rediscovery of Charley Bowers’ work, and an extensive selection of still photos from the productions. You can also browse a well made, informative souvenir booklet that has insights into Bowers and the shorts, as well as a guide to the restoration work done. This is a must own release for fans of silent films, animation, or slapstick comedy, as Bowers was an innovative master who crafted some remarkable motion pictures.
1. The Extra-Quick Lunch: This is a light, humorous animated short about a restaurant and its colorful patrons and staff. I think the pancake sequence was my favorite and has a surreal moment that leads to a dance routine, a quirky and enjoyable touch in this wonderful short.
2. A.W.O.L.: Another very short animated piece, this time about a soldier who takes a quick leave to ride with a beautiful woman. Of course, things don’t go as planned and while simple, the animation is well crafted. Has a lot of personality even if the material isn’t always full of laughs.
3. Egged On: This is a live action short that runs a little short of half an hour, with an odd premise, as Bowers wants to invent a tougher egg shell. The centerpiece here is a massive, Rube Goldberg style machine that is fun to watch in action. The transition to live action from animation is an effective one, as Bowers builds a humorous short that has plenty of memorable moments. The short does have some slow points, but they’re minimal and overall, this is a delightful piece.
4. He Done His Best: I loved this one, another nearly half hour short that centers on a Rube Goldberg contraption. A waiter tries to streamline the dining experience, with predictable, but hilarious results. A lot of slapstick, screwball moments here and the time just flies by. Love the visuals, the machine is creative, and the lead performance is a wonderful one. Super fun.
5. Fatal Footsteps: A comedic masterwork about the art of dance, told in an over the top, slapstick style that always entertains. Has a couple of remarkable sequences, such as the shoes dancing by themselves and the bits of stop motion. A lot of laughs here, with a classic silent film style comedic approach that never disappoints and at just over twenty minutes, doesn’t wear out its welcome.
6. Now You Tell One: This was a fun one, a mice problem that is solved in the name of romance in the most ridiculous, slapstick ways possible. If you like cats, there’s a metric ton of felines in this one and the plot involves the creation of a tree that grows cats, so there’s that. A creative, hilarious short that again runs just over twenty minutes and consistently entertains.
7. A Wild Roomer: A blend of live action and stop motion animation, this is a remarkable short that runs about twenty-five minutes. I was blown away by the animation in the doll sequence, such attention to detail and artistry, insane stuff even by Bowers’ usual high standards. The other functions of the contraption are humorous as well, so this proves to be a brisk, enjoyable short. Perhaps not as hilarious as some of the others, but more than worthwhile.
8. Many a Slip: This one has a surreal premise, as Bowers tries to solve the riddle of a banana peel that doesn’t pose a slip hazard. Some outlandish moments here and a good amount of laughs, but Many a Slip didn’t resonate as much as some of the others with me, for whatever reason. I love the concept, but the humor just didn’t land as often as in some of Bowers’ other work.
9. Nothing Doing: This is a more narrative driven short than most, but has some wild set pieces as well. A stop motion boxing match between a cat and a dog is outlandish and Bowers includes some other neat special effects tricks as well. I didn’t find the humor in this one to be as consistent as most of the shorts here, but the special effects alone make it well worth a look. The run time of about twenty-three feels a little long in places, but the often frantic on screen actions help balance that out.
10. There It Is: This one gets weird, between the odd stop motion, bathtub scene, surreal boxing match, general wackiness. I love the taxi ride sequence, but There It Is is fun from start to finish and rarely lets the pace ease up. Another one that clocks in at just over twenty minutes, but feels much shorter thanks to the brisk pace. A wild one that has Bowers’ signature elements throughout.
11. Say Ah-h: Sadly, this short is only available as a fragment, as the tolls of time have claimed the first reel of Bowers’ work here. But there are still some laughs and kind of unsettling animation to be found in the surviving thirteen minutes, such as the really bizarre ostrich stop motion. I’d love to know what lead into this reel and its desperate hunt for eggs, as it had to be off the wall, given how outrageous the atmosphere is when this second reel kicks off.
12. Whoozit: Another of Bowers’ films that exists only as a fragment, with the second reel once again all that survives. Seeing how surreal and unpredictable the second half, I can only imagine what must have led up to this, as things boil over into nearly pure insanity at times here. The stop motion animation is simpler than usual, but quite odd and humorous. So many strange things happen in Whoozit, it is an absolute tragedy the first half has been lost to the ravages of time.
13. It’s a Bird: This short moved Bowers in the world of talkies, but he doesn’t miss a beat and his signature elements remain intact. The tall tale club is back in action, this time with a host of stop motion animated birds and an absurd narrative that has a good amount of laughs. The little worm creature is hilarious and while the voice work leaves a little to be desired, this one is a lot of fun. And at about fifteen minutes, runs at a fast pace and has little to no filler present.
14. Believe It or Don’t: An eight minute short about performing peanuts, chickens that lay special eggs, and lobsters, presented as a variety show of sorts. I liked this one and appreciated the animation elements, but it just didn’t have the humor like Bowers’ usual output. Still a fun curio and a piece that animation buffs should have a good time with, especially the peanut and lobster segments.
15. A Sleepless Night: This eight minute animated short is presented in silence, as the soundtrack elements haven’t survived. This is bad news of course, but on the plus side, the animation is still fun to watch and for the most part, the humor still reads, so this still offers a lot of entertainment. The humor comes mostly from physical and sight gags, so Bowers’ silent film expertise is more than evident. I had fun with this one and animation buffs should be impressed as well.
16. Wild Oysters: A brisk ten minutes or so of animation, once again with a family of mice, but this time we also have a couple of cats and of course, a violent gang of oysters is also around. A fun watch with some old school cartoon style humor, slapstick, physical humor abounds here. The oyster scene alone makes this worthwhile, but the entire short is a delightful experience.
17. Oil Can and Does: This is a fifteen minute animated promotional video for oil, an interesting, creative slice of propaganda. The craftsmanship is as always remarkable and the approach taken is ambitious, certainly not what I would have expected for an extended commercial for the virtues of the oil industry, to say the least. I like to watch this kind of old school propaganda regardless, but having Bowers’ towering creative energies involved takes it to another level.