Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Ripley Believe It or Not Vitaphone shorts (1931/32) And the Warner Archive Collection

To me they are manna from heaven

In 1931 Robert Ripley began a series of one reel shorts for Vitaphone and Warner Brothers. The series lasted for 24 entries before ending and Ripley starting on his radio show. The series evolved over the course of its run from Ripley being put into a situation where he would end up drawing some of his believe it or not cartoons, to a mix of cartoons and photos to Ripley showing film of his travels to the complete disappearance of Ripley in the final three entries which are film footage with slightly snide narration by Leo Donnelly.

Watching the series in the new release from the Warner Archive Collection is like being wrapped in a big comfy blanket and fed cookies and milk. I’ve been dolling these bad boys out since I got the set, one or two a night. Its tough since the shorts run between 7 and 9 minutes and leave you wanting more. I could so easily put on one the DVDs and let it play to the end, but I don’t like to “use them all up” in one go.

The series started with Ripley talking to the audience explaining how he puts his strip together. It evolved quickly having Ripley in a situation that would lend itself to his creating some of his drawings. Only once was it Ripley in the newspaper office, more times then not he’s addressing a civic association, sailors on a ship or a Ripley Believe It or Not club gathering. Toward the end of the series, as they moved away from the drawings into the whole hog use of film, Ripley introduced and narrated the clips that are shown. Ripley is such a personality that he draws you in and the sameness of the early set ups remain interesting because they almost always instantly lead into the first Believe It or Not. Once Ripley is telling you about a person with horns or an 18 year old grandmother or an Indian mystic or what ever you’re hooked and waiting for the next tale…

…and the next…and the next; which is why these DVDs are addictive like you’re favorite candy, you can’t eat just one you just want more and more and more.

In the final three films Ripley was said to be out on a trip and didn’t appear at all. These last three films are missing a great deal of the charm that Ripley imparted in his narration. I think it’s the tone and the narration which is slightly condescending, something that Ripley never was. On the plus side the film is simply a great series of Believe it or Not footage (there are more facts in these three than in any three of the earlier ones, plus for fans of old New York there is lots of footage from the city in the 1930's), but at the same time something is missing. As interesting and fun as the films are they just don’t work as well; Ripley the man is missed.

The set of the complete 24 shorts is out from the Warner Archive Collection and it's worth the 29 bucks

The collection is a Made on Demand series, where the DVDs are made when you order them and is Warner's attempt to get every film in their library out. You order the films and they make the DVD and send it to you. Its great and its allowing an ever growing number of titles to hit DVD faster.

Lots of retailers have been selling the films from the Warner Archive collection and charging a pretty penny. Don't buy them from places like or Critics Choice or elsewhere because they are pretty much raping you price wise. A single title from Warner directly is $19.995 (multi film sets are more). The prices else where run $25 or $30 or higher. Its not worth it. You're essentially handing your money over to these other companies for no good reason. If you check the site you can get titles as cheap as $10 in one of their sales.

Buy direct from Warners and save yourself some cash.

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