Thursday, February 12, 2009

Sauerkraut, Snakes and the Vertical Chase

This month, Looser than Loose released "Hamddenda 1" as a supplement to their 2006 five-disk collection "The Lost Magic of Lloyd Hamilton." The new set includes seven shorts, including Moonshine, The Simp, Prized Puppies, The Reformation of Ham, Whirlwind of Whiskers, Ham's Whirlwind Finish and A Sauerkraut Symphony.

The Reformation of Ham (1914), the oldest comedy of the bunch, features Hamilton shortly before his successful teaming with diminutive sidekick Bud Duncan. Hamilton, wearing a soup-bowl haircut, is a burly, harddrinking sailor who tends to get combative with shipmates while inebriated. His shipmates, determined to stop him from drinking, hide snakes in his bunk to make him think his drinking is bringing on terrible hallucinations. Hamilton, who has a short companion he kicks around, seems to be limbering up his legs muscles for the kicking he would soon be inflicting on Bud.

Whirlwind of Whiskers (1917) is a Ham and Bud comedy. Ham thinks he has the investigation skills to track down a counterfeiter wanted by the police. Clues lead him to a barbershop. Ham, intending to go undercover, pulls a shaggy wig out of his pocket and slaps it on his head before proceeding into the establishment. The wig, unfitted and unstyled, looks like sod sitting on top of his head. The highlight of the comedy is a vertical chase scene - police chasing Ham and Bud down a hill, up a fire escape, down a long flight of stairs, and up a different fire escape. The police end up falling through a skylight and dropping straight down into the room below. Ham and Bud, happy to have been able to escape arrest, hold onto each other as they skip off into the sunset.

A Sauerkraut Symphony (1916) features the misadventures Ham and Bud have while running a sauerkraut factory. Factories had been in the news at the time that this comedy was made. Factory workers had been forming unions and demanding improvements in wages and working conditions. The government had been conducting investigations and initiating legislative reforms since the catastrophic fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in 1911. This comedy, which focused on bomb-toting union agitators trying to convince Ham and Bud to strike, was no doubt influenced by the extensive news stories. The conditions in the sauerkraut factory are certainly not ideal. Ham is chopping up cabbage, bits of which go flying in several directions, while Bud is using a pitchfork to mix sauerkraut in a pair of barrels. At one point, Bud slings soppy sauerkraut from one barrel to the other. The whole time, sauerkraut is splashing on the walls and windows. Ham climbs inside a barrel and stomps around to help mix the contents. The cinema has rarely presented a more nauseating scene. Leatherface's meatlocker is more appealing to the senses. The factory's safety conditions are as inadequate as its sanitary conditions, which is revealed when Ham and Bud get into a brawl with one another. The brawl ends with Ham nailing Bud into a barrel and rolling him down a hill. OSHA would not approve.

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