Today is September 5, 2021 and you know what that means. That’s right! It’s 100 years to the day since Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle held his wild party at San Francisco’s St. Francis Hotel. Four days later, one of the guests, actress Virginia Rappe died of peritonitis, caused by a ruptured bladder. A woman named Bambina Maude Delmont accused Arbuckle of rape, and by extention, causing the death, neither of which had any grounding in truth. Nevertheless Arbuckle, one of the most beloved movie stars in the nation was subjected to a lengthy trial for manslaughter, of which he was ultimately acquitted. He was blackballed from the film industry for a decade, but was able to continue working as a director under a variety of pseudonyms. A sad day for comedy fans.
Today is also Sunday, time once again for another edition of Ben Model and Steve Massa’s Silent Comedy Watch Party, at 3pm (EST). Today they’re showing comedies starring Marcel Perez and Neal Burns. Get all the info here.
Also: midnight tonight on TCM, for Silent Sunday Night, experience three great Harold Lloyd silent comedies from the period just before he made the leap to features, all now turning a century old this year! Here’s the line-up, with capsules copped from my note-books:
Among Those Present (1921)
A mother (played by actress with the delicious name of Aggie Herring) has social aspirations, egged on by a social secretary (Vera White) who turns out to be a con artist. Her daughter (Mildred Davis) is more like her father (James T. Kelley)—down to earth. When we meet them he is playing the fiddle and she is doing a jig. This infuriates and embarrasses the mother. She is having a party tonight and expecting a certain English Lord to attend. The social secretary’s accomplice is supposed to bring this swell to the party, but he balks, so he brings along Harold, a bellboy who has been having fun wearing the “glad rags” of rich guys from the coat check and acting posh. Harold is prevailed upon to tell hunting stories, which he relates in very exaggerated stories which we see in flashback. The next day they assign him a wild unrideable horse named dynamite to ride for the fox hunt. Gags with him trying to mount. He is thrown somewhere on the grounds and then has several encounters with animals, a hawk, a cow he ends up riding, a goat who butts him, a goose who bites him, and a dog who chases him. Somehow he has lost his pants too, so whenever he approaches anybody they flee. Finally he figures out ways to cover himself to get from here to there. In the end the father chases out all of the houseguests. He is about to chase Harold out too when he admits that he is an imposter and his real name is O’Reilly. This makes him oke with the dad.
I Do (1921)
This film begins with a charming little animation showing the Boy and Girl (Harold Lloyd and Mildred Davis getting married). One year later, we see them in live action, pushing bottles of wine in a baby carriage. (This is the prohibition era, after all). Then a relative asks them to babysit his kids, who are Holy terrors. Within a minute the house is a shambles. All kinds of creative havoc with hammers, firecrackers, etc. Harold has the requisite encounter with a helium balloon. In the end he discovers that his wife is expecting. Oy vey!
Never Weaken (1921)
One of the last of Harold Lloyd’s shorts, and one of the best of his so-called “thrill comedies”, paving the way for his most famous in that line Safety Last. Like many of the best short comedies, this one is in three sections. In the first part, the plucky Harold devises ingenious ways to drum up business for his sweetie’s (Mildred Davis) boss, an osteopath. In the second he thinks his girlfriend is going to marry some other guy and he unsuccessfully tries to commit suicide. In the last part, poor unsuspecting Harold is in his office minding his own business when a crane at the construction site across the street swings a girder in the window and picks up the chair in which he’s sitting. There follows an odyssey of nightmare proportions as Harold tries to make his way to earth from the upper levels of an unfinished building with no floors, stairs or elevator.
Lastly, this week, the Museum of Modern Art will be showing a program of rare early Mack Sennett comedies from 1911, his Biograph days, two years before he founded Keystone. The screenings will be on September 9, 15 and 18. All the information is here.
For more on silent comedy classics please read Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube.