“Days of Thrills & Laughter”: A laugh-filled look back at silent movie stars & pop culture icons

By on January 22, 2019

In Robert Youngson’s Days of Thrills & Laughter — the producer’s third anthology-type compilation of public-domain clips from silent film comedies and action-packed thrillers, originally released in 1961 — offers up what amounts to a tribute to Hollywood’s silent movie era, a laugh-filled look back at silent movie stars & pop culture icons.

Watch this excellent examination of some of the talent on display during first decades of the 20th Century — from the turn of the century through the end of the 1920s — on Night Flight Plus.

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By the early Sixties, two-time Academy Award-winning producer Robert Youngson — who had already won Oscars for 1951’s World of Kids and 1954’s This Mechanical Age and he would be nominated for six more during his long career — was already well-known for his first two compilations of silent screen comedies, When Comedy Was King (1960) and The Golden Age of Comedy (1957).

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He’d become known as the 20th Century Fox producer who had successfully revived the then-flagging interest in silent films with audiences who probably didn’t have any idea (and likely didn’t really care either) what their ancestors had been able to see on movie screens during the nascent years of the movie business.

For Days of Thrills & Laughter — featuring a background score composed and conducted by Jack Shaindlin — Youngson attempted to broaden the scope of what he wanted audiences to see, expanding the format include dramatic scenes, including Perils of Pauline, 1914 melodrama film serial shown in weekly installments starring Pearl White.

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Opening to a banjo plinking out Frédéric Chopin’s Étude in C Major, Opus 10, No. 3, Days of Thrills & Laughter begins with a French silent, The Bath Chair Man (1904), which features three people plus a man taking a bath in a rolling chair involved in a chase through the city.

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We’re then treated to a look back at the laughed-filled sequences from silent serials by Laurel & Hardy (excerpted from 1917’s The Hobo, 1923’s Kill or Cure, and 1926’s Say It with Babies), Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, Ben Turpin playing checkers with Cameo, the Wonder Dog (1922’s Home Made Movies and  1923’s Asleep at the Switch), and several more.

However, for this compilation, Youngson also presents the most chilling of the thrilling moments from action-packed serials featuring Douglas Fairbanks Sr. as a dashing adventurer braving the starkness of the Old West (Wild and Woolly, 1917), Harry Houdini (1919’s The Master Mystery and 1922’s The Man from Beyond), and Boris Karloff (King of the Kongo, 1929), among others.

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Among the highlights featured here are Mabel Norman in Mabel’s Dramatic Career (1913); Mack Sennett’s Keystone Cops in Her Torpedoed Love (1917); and, Charlie Chaplin, seen in scenes from The Cure (1916) and The Adventurer (1917), and these are just a few among the literally dozens of interesting sequences from early Hollywood silents.

Read more about Days of Thrills & Laughter below.

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Jay Jackson humor-filled narration begins by telling us a little about Youngson’s intentions during the film’s opening moments:

Days of Thrills & Laughter proudly presents the first double feature titles, especially designed for the members of our audience who are tired of reading credits. If you are one of those, watch the screen being formed on the left and rough it with [Harry] ‘Snub’ Pollard in that day long past when motion pictures were called nickelodeons. For the moviegoers who feel no film is complete without them, the usual credit titles will unfold on the right.”

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There are other humorous moments during the film’s credit sequences, intended to give the audience the impression that they’re about to hear some self-deprecating humor.

When they get to the credit for producer/writer Robert Youngson, his name is enlarged and spun around until it fills the screen, and then shrinks until it disappears, all while Jackson jokes, “Hold it. What a show-off. Take Youngson down. All the way down. Let’s keep this movie moving.”

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An advertisement which first ran in the March 19, 1961, edition of the New York Times — a few days prior to the opening night at the 68th Street Playhouse in NYC — promised: “The Most Exciting Episodes From the Great Thrillers… The Highlight Moments from the Immortal Comedies…All Together In the Fun Film of the Year!”

A New York Times reviewer called Days of Thrills & Laughter a “meticulous compilation” which provided enough footage from what they called “pioneer pictures” — “illogical and inane though they might have been” — to give audiences “…more than a modicum of action, adventure & laughs.”

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Unfortunately for Youngson, though, even though the comedic film moments once again proved to be timeless, the straight stuff from the silent serials fell flat, and this film ended up doing about two-thirds of the box office business of the previous compilation, When Comedy Was King.

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Days of Thrills & Laughter takes its name from a snatch of Jackson’s narration at the end of the film:

“These, then, were the days of thrills and laughter. A time so long past, that the youngest members of this departing audience are today in their fifties. As for the laugh-makers and thrill-makers, they too have vanished. Leaving behind no successors, but only moving shadows. So the crowds depart. The show is over. And alas, dear friends, our little show is over, too.”

Watch Days of Thrills & Laughter on Night Flight Plus.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.