The two shorts Berth Marks (1929)—their second “talkie”—and Brats (1930) benefit from having their original soundtracks offered as an option, in addition to the more familiar 1937 reissue sound (different music cues and, in some cases, FX).
Picture-wise, neither come off as pristine as the first reel of Battle of the Century, but few things of this vintage do. I felt Berth Marks was the clear winner of the two—Brats seems, at best, occasionally a marginal upgrade on the DVD transfer, but some shots seemed a whole lot softer than I ever remembered them from back in the 1980s on TV and VHS. Neither are in brilliant shape, and sadly it seems they will never look any better. Of course, it is high definition, so is inherently stronger than previous releases, but the condition of the source materials does place limitations on some of these items. I do believe there are much stronger items to come in this set.
The material is the thing, though, and Brats in particular has always been one of my fave L&H shorts. It’s not that the gag of the Boys playing themselves and their own sons is particularly brilliant—it’s weird, for sure, but basically a gimmick. It’s the quality of the material the idea & script delivers that makes it a superb piece of work—and the performances, which are amongst their very best.
My fave bit is probably the scene where the adult Boys are playing pool. The business with the marshmallow/chalk mixup never fails to crack me up.
Berth Marks sees them still adjusting to sound films—it isn’t self-consciously over-talky like their first sound short, Unaccustomed As We Are (1929), and if anything is quite minimal in terms of dialogue, but there are moments of awkwardness and uncertainty (Stan’s dialogue to Babe just before he chases him at the end is particularly forced) that will vanish from L&H’s work very, very quickly.
The extended set piece of the Boys in an upper berth of a train trying to get undressed is the reason the film exists, and it’s great… drawn-out, painful, humiliating and beautifully played. But some have argued that the slightly shorter reprise of this scene in the much-maligned Fox feature The Big Noise (1944) is actually superior. I’m not sure about this one, but it’s a very close call. The addition of Jack Norton’s drunk in the latter was definitely a fun twist on the idea.
The ever-dependable Randy Skretvedt provides excellent commentary tracks for both of these shorts.