Raymond Griffith was a major comedy star during the silent era, with a successful string of nine features made and released 1925-1927 by Paramount Pictures. Griffith’s name and face may be unknown to fans because most of his films are lost, but the few that survive have won him a loyal following from film festival screenings over the last few decades. This is largely thanks to a chapter devoted to him in Walter Kerr’s landmark book The Silent Clowns (Knopf, 1975). Raymond Griffith: The Silk Hat Comedian presents two of Raymond Griffith’s surviving features – Paths to Paradise (1925) and You’d Be Surprised (1926) – in new 2K digital restorations from 35mm archival preservations by the Library of Congress, and new musical scores have been created for them by Ben Model.
Raymond Griffith’s screen persona was that of a light-hearted bon vivant, always dressed in a tuxedo and silk top hat, who greeted every situation with a breezy optimism. In PATHS TO PARADISE Griffith and co-star Betty Compson play rival jewel thieves who form an alliance to steal a valuable diamond. The film’s tightly-constructed plot twists culminate in one of the wildest comedy car chases of the silent era. YOU’D BE SURPRISED finds Griffith as the coroner called upon to solve a murder committed during a party on a wealthy man’s houseboat.
For thoughts on Raymond Griffith: The Silk Hat Comedian Double Feature (Paths to Paradise/You’d Be Surprised), please check out our discussion on The Video Attic:
Paths to Paradise and You’d Be Surprised make their Blu-Ray debut thanks to Undercrank Productions with a dynamite restoration effort. Both films are presented courtesy of a new 2K digital scan of a 35mm nitrate print from the Paramount Collection at the Library of Congress. Both films share a disc, but with such brief runtimes at play there is no concern about compression artifacts or anything of that sort. Despite both films nearing 100 years of age, these are two of the most stunning restorations we have seen from the silent film era with only minor inconveniences to keep them from being perfect
While these two films largely reflect a similar level of quality, there are certain elements that will be pointed out that are unique. The gorgeous color-tinted photography of Paths to Paradise impresses in high definition after being reinstated as detailed in the original script. While this is a nice return to its original glory, it is this picture that holds the biggest deficiency. The film looks very fetching throughout, but unfortunately the final reel is not known to survive and was recreated using stills and a cutting continuity script from the Margaret Herrick Library. While not ideal, if this is the only way to get this work out in some form, we are glad to have it. You’d Be Surprised survives fully intact with its glorious original black-and-white photography.
Each film showcases its natural grain well with no wild fluctuations in quality. You will be thrilled by the amount of detail present with nice textures on the clothing and within the setting thanks to the enhanced resolution. Black levels present with some admirable depth with no major occurrence of black crush or compression artifacts. The contrast is really firmly defined with not much in the way of flicker or unsightly damage to the print. There may be a few stray vertical lines that make a quick appearance, but the level of care taken here is a marvel thanks to Undercrank Productions.
This Blu-Ray set presents these films with a Dolby Digital 2.0 lossy audio track that really brings them to life. These two are graced with original scores composed by Ben Model which are tonally appropriate and conceptually pleasant. The music is the only element to contend with in this track, and it comes through with unwavering fidelity with no clipping or age related anomalies. Silent film fans will love the sound quality of the tracks, as these compositions fit right in with these narratives. A lossless audio track may have been able to push things a bit further, but you really cannot complain here.
- Raymond Griffith – Silent Comedy’s Silk-Hatted Secret: A great 11-minute featurette which details the overlooked career of Raymond Griffith which spans from his early life to the qualities that separated him from his peers to his decline with the introduction of sound in pictures. There is some great information fans will definitely not want to skip over.
Paths to Paradise and You’d Be Surprised are two efforts which convincingly argue why Raymond Griffith should be better known in the history of silent cinema. The two characters in these films are completely different from one another, but they are both very memorable and hilarious in their own ways. You’d Be Surprised gets the slight edge when it comes to overall entertainment, but you cannot go wrong here. Undercrank Productions has released a Blu-Ray with a 5-star A/V presentation and a nifty supplemental feature which ties everything together. Silent film fans should not sleep on this standout release curated with care. Recommended
Raymond Griffith: The Silk Hat Comedian Double Feature (Paths to Paradise/You’d Be Surprised) will be available to purchase on Blu-Ray and DVD on June 13, 2023.
Note: Images presented in this review are not reflective of the image quality of the Blu-Ray.
Disclaimer: Undercrank Productions has supplied a copy of this disc free of charge for review purposes. All opinions in this review are the honest reactions of the author.
Dillon is most comfortable sitting around in a theatre all day watching both big budget and independent movies.