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Walter Kerr comes full circle. Before the legitimate theater captured his affections in the '30's, the diminutive Kerr was a movie maniac. Not just an undiscriminating buff, mind you, but a faithful fanatic of that lost art which more critics than Kerr have rated above its mindlessly loquacious successor, the silent comedy. The silents were knocked out of the screen in the late '20's and many film strips decomposed in the archives. But now that the theater has become the twin sister to the Vast Wasteland, KerFs made a project of going home again. Luckily there will be hundreds of pictures to accompany this text, which consists of scores of plot summaries chock-a-block. Since most of these are unavailable to general moviegoers, KerFs book will be a reference for the serious student. Beginning his history with the crass antics of Mack Sennett, Kerr proceeds chronologically to pay high tribute to a medium killed in fullest flower by market-minded studio chiefs. Only Laurel and Hardy and W. C. Fields made the transition to talkies since their comedy was as verbal as it was visual. Kerr reserves the full force of his analytical nostalgia for the greats--Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, Harry Langdon--and a comedian-director named Raymond Griffith whose genius was more short-lived. The critical approach is to dissect and rate the gags, interpolating data on the production and detailing the gradual self-definition of these purveyors of illusions. Kerr is an uneconomical writer and tedious to read. Nevertheless all the world loves these stardusted clowns just as much as Walter Kerr does. Given the 400 stills and the 9 x 12 format, a sure-fire popular number.

Pub Date: Nov. 17th, 1975
Publisher: Knopf