Raymond Griffith: The Silk Hat Comedian [Blu-ray/DVD]

During the mid-1920s, Raymond Griffith was among the most popular stars of feature-length comedy films. With his silk top hat and crispy tailored tuxedo, the self-confidence and urbane Griffith was a suave alternative to the beleaguered characters played on screen by Chaplin, Keaton and Lloyd.

Today, Griffith is mostly forgotten – his films are either considered lost or have been out of general circulation for so many years that generations of comedy lovers never heard of him.

A new home entertainment offering provides a platform for two of Griffith’s surviving films: “Paths to Paradise” (1925) and “You’d Be Surprised” (1926), and their re-emergence offers a vintage celebration of original and invigorating comedy. “Paths to Paradise” teams Griffith with Betty Compson as rival jewel thieves who decide to partner for the pilfering of a valuable diamond. “You’d Be Surprised” finds the star as an uncommonly dapper police coroner who turns detective to solve a baffling mystery.

While neither film could be categorized as laugh-until-it-hurts, they move at a smooth pace and offer a high quotient of unexpected plot twists – especially in the early section of “Paths to Paradise” when Griffith finds himself in a politically incorrect version of an opium den. And unlike his contemporaries in silent comedy, Griffith is more of a comic actor than a clown – his brand of comedy is situational and personality fueled, and he probably could have carried his act into the sound film era if he had the voice to match his appearance. (Griffith’s voice was damaged in his childhood and could only speak in a raspy whisper that was at odds with his erudite screen persona.)

Cheers for this presentation go to Ben Model, the silent film historian and preservationist who produced this home entertainment release through his Undercrank Productions and who composed and performed the original music accompanying the films.