Arbuckle and Company in “The Bell Boy”

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Today is the anniversary of the release date of The Bell Boy (1918), starring Fatty Arbuckle, Buster Keaton and Al St. John.

In this gag-driven short, Arbuckle and Keaton play a couple of hotel bell boys, with Arbuckle as the martinet desk clerk. With these three talents involved of course many of the gags are funny, but the film is scattershot plotwise, reminding me a lot of the movies of Larry Semon. Indeed, a few years later, Semon would make a movie with a similar premise and title The Bell Hop (1921), but he was already going great guns in the year that Arbuckle film was made.

The closest thing to a plot that emerges is that the characters vie for the attention of Cutie Cuticle the manicurist (Alice Lake). But for most of the film they just bounce around the hotel doing funny things in the course of their duties. One of the best, most outlandish bits has Fatty shaving a bearded man, in successive stages making him go from resembling Svengali to Ulysses S. Grant to Lincoln to the Kaiser. There is some slapstick business with a horse-powered elevator. And a memorable teeterboard routine that leaves the girl, and then Buster, hanging from a mounted moosehead’s antlers. In the end, after an unexpected and uncharacteristic act of heroism, Fatty gets the girl.

For more on comedy film history see my new book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc

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For more on show biz historyconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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