An Undercrank Production Blu-ray is a must for any cinephile who is a fan of the silent era. The company releases silent era movies restored to as pristine condition as possible by the Library of Congress.

What makes an Undercrank Production stand out is Ben Model provides an original score for each of the movies in the catalogue and, speaking from experience, nobody scores a silent film as beautifully and synchronically as Ben Model. This is the case here again. By the way, Raymond Griffith The Silk Hat Comedian was funded by Kickstarter.

Raymond Griffith The Silk Hat Comedian includes two films starring a silent comic actor who unfortunately disappeared from the radar. This release features Paths to Paradise ((1925) and You’d Be Surprised (1926). Both run a little over sixty minutes. I highly, highly recommend watching Ben Model’s twelve minute documentary Raymond Griffith: Silent Comedy’s Silk-Hatted Secret first to best prepare your meeting with this unfortunately lost star of the silent comedy era. The documentary really informs and sets the scene for the films included on this Blu-ray.

Paths to Paradise (1925) opens with a warning from the Library of Congress about the old days not being in sync with modern sensitivities. This mostly applies to the caricatural characters and dialogue title cards. The scene opens in a San Francisco dive called the Bucket O’ Blood which switches into an opium den in the blink of an eye at the request of a well-heeled gentleman. This top-hatted gentleman, Raymond Griffith, is not who he appears to be and who he appears to be is not who he appears to be.

The next day a valuable gem arrives in San Francisco. It is sure to attract the attention of ne’er do wells including the man with the top hat and the lady who ran the Bucket O’ Blood slash opium den, Betty Compson. The lady proposes a partnership with the Raymond Griffith character. There ensues a series of comic incidents. There is an excellent visual gag where Griffith is trying to escape the limelight of a detective’s flashlight. There is also a great chase scene where it seems eleven or so motorcycle cop units from different towns are chasing Griffith and co-star Betty Compson.

The final reel to Paths to Paradise is missing but Ben Model does an excellent job summarizing it using title cards so you do not feel you are missing that much.

Paths to Paradise is 99% pristine except for the car crash scene where a bit of dust is seen on screen.

You’d Be surprised (1926) is in very pristine condition. It features Griffith as a coroner trying to solve a murder and the very same necklace as the one stolen in Paths to Paradise. There is no connection between the two films although the necklace is stolen yet again. This time there is a murder on a houseboat following the theft.

There are a couple of great running gags at the beginning of You’d Be Surprised. The first involves a black cat. The second is that involves policemen doing and saying the exact same thing as the case goes up the ranks.

The coroner (Raymond Griffith) has a very unusual way of investigating to say the least. One gag is tossing a coin to decide if one of the women, the one he likes, is guilty of the murder. I did find if ironic that he uses sign language, whether it is real or not, considering the nature of this film. The scene with the so-called jury is quite funny.

Although there is a moment or two where I really laughed out loud and it is quite good and very original, I did not enjoy You’d Be Surprised as much as Paths to Paradise. Perhaps because the former is static in its location or perhaps because the chase scene in Paths to Paradise very funny and who doesn’t like a good chase scene.

Did I mention how perfectly Ben Model’s music works with the silent film it is supporting? I did, and do so again.

Raymond Griffith
The Silk Hat Comedian
2 silent movies
Undercrank Productions 2023

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