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The True King Of Comedy

by Leonard Maltin
September 3, 2012 1:00 AM
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Mack Sennett, actor turned director-producer-mogul.
Mack Sennett, actor turned director-producer-mogul.

The first movie book I ever read was Mack Sennett’s autobiography King of Comedy, borrowed from my local library. I’ve bristled ever since when other people have claimed that title, but Turner Classic Movies is setting things right by devoting four Thursdays in September to Sennett films. That’s not as simple a task as it might seem: for all his fame and influence in the silent era, his movies have been scattered and shamefully neglected. Of the thousand films he produced, only a few hundred are known to exist today.

Enter Paul Gierucki and Brittany Valente of CineMuseum. These two dedicated film buffs and historians, who brought us the valuable DVD collection Industrial Strength Keaton, have scoured the archives and private collections of the world to restore 100 films to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Mack Sennett’s Keystone comedy studio. According to their press release, “These long neglected classic comedies will finally receive a desperately needed restoration in the HD format. Titles, intertitles and missing footage will be replaced, images lightly cleaned and stabilized, original tinting and toning will be restored and newly created scores by some of the best musicians in the industry will ensure that these wonderful films will once again be seen as originally intended.”

Seventy-six of their restorations will debut on TCM; the entire collection will be showcased on DVD and Blu-ray later this year.         

The Keystone Studios in Edendale (now Glendale) circa 1917; courtesy of Steve Rydzewski
The Keystone Studios in Edendale (now Glendale) circa 1917; courtesy of Steve Rydzewski

Stars include Chaplin (of course), Mabel Normand, Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, Harry Langdon, Andy Clyde, Ben Turpin, Gloria Swanson, Ford Sterling, Chester Conklin, Louise Fazenda, Carole Lombard and W.C. Fields. Many a stalwart screenwriter and director learned his trade working for Mack Sennett, from Frank Capra to Darryl F. Zanuck.

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  • Mac | October 3, 2013 9:18 AMReply

    Is there any further word on the Mack Sennett films coming out on DVD or BluRay? I had put it on my Christmas list for last year, but then they evidently were never released...

  • Jon Boorstin | September 7, 2012 6:18 PMReply

    Here's a peice in LARB about Mabel Normand and Chaplin in his first film as the Tramp, with video:

  • DBenson | September 6, 2012 3:16 PMReply

    Many many years ago, I saw "Dizzy Heights and Daring Hearts" at the Main Street Cinema at Disneyland. Stood there and waited to watch both reels through. Pretty sure that was my first whole Keystone.

  • Norm | September 4, 2012 4:10 AMReply

    He may be the King Of Comedy, but he doesn't appear to smile very much...

  • Walt Mitchell | September 4, 2012 1:01 AMReply

    When I was about 9 or 10, I saw Mack Sennett honored on "This Is Your Life." I think I had already seen a friend's 8mm print of "Barney Oldfield's Race for a Life." Aware that Mack was actually in the film, I at least had a fuzzy idea of who he was. Later, I became aware of his cameo in "Abbott & Costello Meet the Keystone Cops." It is delightful to learn of the TCM and DVD massive tributes to the brilliance of this man, whose prior performing had included dancing on Broadway in "Piff! Paff!! Poof!!!" in 1904! Thank you, Leonard, for spotlighting The King of Comedy! :-)!

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