Tonight starting at Midnight: several Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle shorts, some starring the man himself (always a bonus) and several additional treats — shorts starring other comedians directed by Arbuckle during his blacklisted period under the name William Goodrich. On the menu are:
That Little Band of Gold (1915)
Keystone comedy directed by and starring Arbuckle, with Mabel Normand and Ford Sterling.
This little movie feels a trifle more mature and sophisticated than the usual Keystone comedy, if ever so slightly, touching on the consequences of infidelity, and having notes of pathos. Fatty and Mabel are a wealthy married couple, but Fatty has become a rogue. Mabel and her mother (Alice Davenport) are preparing to go to the opera one night and Fatty comes home sloshed and makes a play for the maid. When the three finally get to the opera house, Fatty spies his friend (Sterling) and his two lady friends and they plot to meet up later so Fatty can make up a fourth. When he joins them later at a nightclub, Fatty steals the girl Ford had his eye on, so Ford blows the whistle on him to Mabel. So far, a run of the mill Sennett farce. But then Fatty and Mabel get divorced! And Fatty is blue. So they get re-married almost immediately.
What’s interesting to me about this film is that it reminds me of a cruder version of Lubitsch — who wouldn’t be making his sophisticated comedies in America until almost a decade later. I’m also interested in the unrealized potential of Arbuckle as a director. He could stretch when he wanted to, but he oddly didn’t always want to. Strangely, many of his late films for Sennett are much more sophisticated storywise than his solo comedies for Comique, which came later but were straight ahead slapstick. Arbuckle was an artisan, sometimes a lazy one, but if he hadn’t died so young in 1933 he might have gone on to do some interesting things as a director.
My Stars (1926)
Arbuckle as William Goodrich, directs the hilarious “nance” Johnny Arthur in this comedy short .
Back Stage (1919)
One of the last of Arbuckle’s Comique shorts, co-starring Buster Keaton and Al St. John.
By now, the backstage comedy was a well established silent comedy subgenre, almost obligatory. Mack Sennett, Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd had all done comedies with similar settings. This one (like most) rambles muchly, the comedy mostly suggested by available props and routine tasks rather than anything so high-falutin as a plot.
The very first image sets the tone. We think we are looking at a room, but it instantly dissolves as its component pieces of scenery are taken apart by stage-hands revealing a bare stage. This is followed by a short segment in which Arbuckle is splashing some whitewash or paste onto a fence. When a kid won’t stop pestering him, Arbuckle hangs him on the fence and coats him in the goo, which they both discover tastes delicious.
Back in the theatre, a thespian (William Collier, Sr.) arrives and demands the star’s dressing room. Buster shows him the way, then uses a wire to move the pre-rigged star to another door. Then comes a famous bit where it looks like Buster is going down some stairs, until the flat he’s behind is moved and we see he is just going down on his knees to nail something. An eccentric dancer comes (Jack Coogan, Sr, father of Jackie Coogan) and rehearses his act, and keeps accidentally kicking people in the head. Arbuckle does his own humorous dance and falls down. Buster does his own dance with the same result. Then an enormous strongman Charles A. Post), a total jerk, comes in, with a girl (Molly Malone) carrying his luggage, which turns out to include his barbells. He goes to the room with the star, but Arbuckle uses the trick wire to movethe star to the girl’s room. He then attempts to punch the strongman, but chickens out. Keaton bonks him with an axe repteadly. No result. “Quit ticklin”, says the strongman. So, they electrify the guy’s barbells, knocking him out. Then they throw him in his room and throw suitcases on top of him.
Third act: all the vaudeville performers go out on strike, so Buster and Fatty perform all their acts. First an Asian themed opera. A romantic melodrama (featuring a serenade in the snow). Buster knocks all the scenery over. Then Fatty kisses the girl. The strong man, who has been watching, gets jealous and shoots the girl with a gun! Buster swings up to the balcony from the stage on a rope, grabs the guy and drags him down. Fatty and Buster keep jumping on the strongman but he keeps brushing them off. Finally they drop a trunk on his head and he’s out. In an epilogue, Fatty visits the girl in the hospital. He brings her an apple – then eats it himself.
Another comedy short directed by Arbuckle as William Goodrich, this one a rural caper starring his acrobatic cousin Al St. John, with much parody of the old mellers.
The Movies (1925)
Another comedy short directed by Arbuckle as William Goodrich. In this crazy one, Lloyd Hamilton plays a young man who looks just like…. Lloyd Hamilton! And doubles for him on a movie set.
Fool’s Luck (1926)
Another comedy short directed by Arbuckle as William Goodrich. In this one, Lupino Lane in his character of “The Dude” is due to meet up with his fiance and her old man — just when he learns that he has been cut off from his money and evicted from his apartment.