Kendra Steiner Editions (Bill Shute)

September 5, 2020

rare early-sound Mack Sennett one-reel short “Strange Birds” (1930), with Marjorie Beebe

Filed under: Uncategorized — kendrasteinereditions @ 6:21 am

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The great silent film comedy pioneer MACK SENNETT did move into the sound era in relatively good shape: with his own studio, a distribution network, huge name recognition and much public love, going back to the Keystone Kops era. As a producer, with a career running from 1911 through 1935, he has 1118 credits! Think about that number for a second….wow!

Sennett’s sound work is not that well-known. I had a number of his early-sound shorts on VHS tapes that I traded with other collectors in the 1980’s and early 1990’s, but of course, with each taping, you would lose a generation of quality, so in the trading world, you’d often be looking at a 3rd or 4th generation copy, making a lot of the shorts I viewed a bit murky and with muddy sound. What I could see and hear, though, was often quite odd. A number of the shorts were in color, and some had bizarre underwater sequences.

I have not seen any of those in decades and few the ones I owned have popped up on You Tube or elsewhere. Let’s hope that they surface in good quality….

However, here is a beautiful print of a fascinating Sennett short from 1930, from a series I’d never heard of, posted on You Tube by Geno’s House of Rare Films (you should subscribe to Geno’s You Tube channel, as there is a lot of first-rate and super-rare content there).

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The “Mack Sennett Brevity” series (there’s one of them on Flicker Alley’s mutli-disc Sennett set, but I don’t own that, alas) seem to mix documenting of  real-world phenomena with some comedy added to the mix. A promotional blurb issued at the time about the series said that it would document “our sports, our hobbies, all our clouded interests.”

bird park

This one is a fascinating tour through Catalina Island’s Bird Park (see pic), and not only do we get beautiful sharp color photography of the birds (the Sennett-Color process has an interesting and appealing color palette), we get an informative commentary by tour guide Frank Eastman, given to our Sennett stock-company players, Luis Alberni and the wonderful comedienne Marjorie Beebe, on whom I’ve had a serious crush ever since seeing a lot of her work in the 1980’s.

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and now….thanks to Geno’s House of Rare Films, please enjoy the one-reel
“Mack Sennett Brevity” short, STRANGE BIRDS, released through Educational Pictures on 23 November 1930, with Marjorie Beebe, Luis Alberni, and as the “guide,” Frank Eastman.

I’d LOVE to see other early-sound Sennett shorts, particularly the color ones, in this kind of picture quality. A re-evaluation of this period in Sennett’s career is overdue. Yes, some of the shorts are more odd and clever than funny, but they always entertain. He did have a few mis-steps in the early 30’s (the feature HYPNOTIZED, for instance), but with hindsight, we can perhaps appreciate the work for what’s valuable and entertaining in it, rather than criticize it for what it is not (and probably did not intend to be). Certainly, the Sennett approach in the early sound era is unique….nothing at all like what was going on over at Hal Roach, for instance.

Settle back for about 10 minutes and enjoy a trip to the Catalina Island Bird Park, with the charming and witty presence of Marjorie Beebe, in Mack Sennett’s 1930 short STRANGE BIRDS….

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