Archive for the Fatty Arbuckle Category

Chaplin & Arbuckle in Their Only Bona Fide Team-Up: The Rounders

Posted in Charlie Chaplin, Comedians, Comedy, Fatty Arbuckle, Hollywood (History), Movies, Silent Film with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 7, 2015 by travsd

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Today marks the anniversary of the release date of the Keystone film The Rounders (1914), the only honest-to-God co-starring vehicle of Charlie Chaplin and Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, and handily one of Chaplin’s best comedies at Keystone.

The Rounders casts the two as a couple of drunken lodge brothers out for a night on the town, always one step ahead of their exasperated wives (Phyllis Allen and Minta Durfee). The physical rapport of the two comedians is brilliant – the sight of Arbuckle and Chaplin in evening clothes, arms locked together, stumbling down the street in total synchronization is indelible, as is the image of the enormous Arbuckle dragging the passed-out Chaplin down the sidewalk like a ragdoll. In the end, the two fall asleep in a sinking rowboat. Now that’s drunk. If one didn’t know Chaplin was such an abstemious chap, one might suspect that he are Arbuckle had enjoyed many such sprees together. It’s such a shame they weren’t able to team up like this again.

For more on silent and slapstick comedy please check out my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Mediaalso available from amazon.com etc etc etc

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To find out about  the history of vaudevilleconsult 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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Chaplin, Arbuckle & Sterling in “Tango Tangles”

Posted in Charlie Chaplin, Comedians, Comedy, Fatty Arbuckle, Hollywood (History), Movies, Silent Film with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 9, 2015 by travsd

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Today marks the anniversary of the release of the Keystone comedy Tango Tangles, co-starring Charlie Chaplin, Fatty Arbuckle and Ford Sterling, directed by Mack Sennett.

This is another of those Keystone films that improvise comedy in a real-life setting, in a real life situation, this time at a Venice (California) area dance hall. Arbuckle and Sterling play two musicians in the band. Chaplin plays a variation on his famous screen character; at this early stage, it was still in flux. Thus, while he plays a drunken masher whose behavior is an all respects recognizable as “Charlie”, he does so without the little mustache! An interesting and rare combination. He keeps muscling in on Arbuckle’s and Sterling’s girls with predictable results: fisticuffs. Sadly, this was Sterling’s last film with Chaplin; the former left Keystone to star in his own productions a few months later.

Part of the pleasures of this film are documentary in nature: seeing all the real-life people dancing in the background, and even better watching their reactions to the behavior of the Keystone comedians. Sennett can’t control them of course; he’s not paying them. So they just go ahead and laugh at the free performance with little or no awareness that they’re part of the show themselves — still less that people would be watching them a century later.

For more on silent and slapstick 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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Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle in “Leap Year”

Posted in Comedy, Fatty Arbuckle, Hollywood (History), Movies, Silent Film with tags , , , , on January 11, 2015 by travsd

Roscoe Arbuckle - Escena de Leap Year (1921)

Today is the anniversary of the first release date (in 1924) of the Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle feature-length comedy Leap Year. The release, however, was in France, not the U.S. — and you know why. This was after the scandal that ruined his career. (The film, directed by the great James Cruze, had actually been made prior to that.)

Ironically, it’s a completely innocuous comedy, and quite funny. Although I’m not quite sure why it’s called Leap Year. The story is very farcical. Roscoe plays a shy, awkward rich boy who falls into every girl he meets, and stutters when excited, though he gets cured by a glass of water. When he falls in love with his ailing father’s nurse, the old man sends him to an island to get away from predatory women. And it of course turns out to be a resort which is crawling with predatory women. He manages to make three different women think he’s proposing (of course, they all make the assumption based on flimsy encouragement on his part). He escapes, but they all follow him back to his house. So he pretends to be sick and still has to juggle them all. By the end , all three have resolved to marry other men and Roscoe will marry the original nurse. The climactic scene is quite hilarious, with about 15 people chasing the unfortunate Roscoe around his house in the approved farcical fashion.

To learn more about comedy film history please check out my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Mediaalso available from amazon.com etc etc etc

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To learn about the history of vaudevilleconsult 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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Fatty and Mabel Adrift

Posted in Comedy, Fatty Arbuckle, Hollywood (History), Mabel Normand, Movies, Silent Film with tags , , , , , , , , , , on January 9, 2015 by travsd

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Today is the anniversary of the release date of the Keystone comedy Fatty and Mabel Adrift (1916), starring Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle and Mabel Normand, and directed by Arbuckle.

In the two years following Charlie Chaplin’s departure (1915-1916) Arbuckle-Normand team-ups were Mack Sennett’s most formidable box office combination. The pair appeared in dozens of films together, most frequently as a domestic couple. It’s especially exciting and instructive to watch the ones towards the end of this period, when the confidence that comes with prolonged stardom informs their performances, and when Arbuckle’s skills as a director blossom. Shortly after this, Arbuckle went on to his own starring series for his own company Comique, and Normand went on to her own starring series of features for Sam Goldwyn. These 1916 Fatty-Mabel shorts are kind of like Beatles records from 1968 or 1969. You’re experiencing artists who are about to be big solo stars, but still interacting in a format they’re beginning to outgrow, in this case the ensemble comedy short. The product of that tension can be very rich.

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The plot of Fatty and Mabel Adrfit is very simple. Sweethearts Fatty and Mabel get married and take their honeymoon at a seaside cottage, along with another of Arbuckle’s frequent Keystone co-stars, Luke the Dog. Unfortunately, Fatty’s rival for Mabel’s hand (played as usual by Al St. John) is not through fighting. He and his several henchmen put the little house out to sea. Fatty and Mabel wake up the next day to find themselves far away from shore in a house full of water.

The climactic scenes of this comedy are spectacular, on a scale we usually associate with Larry Semon or with Arbuckle’s protege Buster Keaton. Sennett rarely shelled out for such big budget extravagances, but at this stage he was trying to keep both co-stars happy so they wouldn’t “pull a Chaplin” by leaving him. (As we said, they both soon did anyway).

How can Fatty and Mabel escape their dire predicament? Perhaps their heroic pooch will be of some help…

To learn more about comedy film history please check out my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Mediaalso available from amazon.com etc etc etc

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To learn about the history of vaudevilleconsult 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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Important Lost Silent Comedies

Posted in Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, Comedy, Fatty Arbuckle, Harold Lloyd, Harry Langdon, Hollywood (History), Larry Semon, Laurel and Hardy, Mabel Normand, Movies, Silent Film, W.C. Fields with tags , , , , , , , , on December 10, 2014 by travsd

A little survey I’ve been sitting on about important silent comedies that remain lost. Amazing strides have happened in the last couple of decades thanks to the proliferation of the internet…many (scores? hundreds!) of silent films and early talkies long thought lost have turned up in the last few years, a truly joyous development. But some really important films are still missing as of this writing, and may well never be recovered. Here’s a short, subjective list of stuff some comedy fans and scholars would give anything to see:

FEATURES

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Heart Trouble (1928), Harry Langdon

This film tops my list. We are in the midst of a major reassessment of Langdon, and I’m a huge advocate for this idiosyncratic and famously temperamental comedian. Heart Trouble was the third and last of his self-directed features, after ditching his dream team of Harry Edwards, Arthur Ripley and Frank Capra. His previous two features were critical and popular failures (though I happen to love them). Langdon was new to directing and learning the ropes in the most public way possible. And by all contemporary critical accounts, Heart Trouble was better. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough of a rebound. First National dropped him, but more importantly, talkies had now become universal. So Langdon had to start everything from scratch again, making a series of talking shorts for Hal Roach, then Educational, then Columbia. I’m in the midst of wading through those now. Langdon eventually found his way in talkies but had to thrash around a bit first. But, having seen all of his silent films, I am dying to see the missing link, Heart Trouble, which by all counts could do still more to enhance his reputation as “the Fourth genius”

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Half of W.C. Fields’s Silent Features

While several of the silent features W.C. Fields made for Paramount in the 1920s survive,  five do not. The reason why is not hard to fathom — they did not do well. Tellingly, four of these films were among Fields’ last five of the silent era. At that point, he was in decline and these films were not much watched, and clearly no one cared to save them. The missing silent features are That Royle Girl (1925), The Potters (1927), Two Flaming Youths (1927), Tillie’s Punctured Romance (1928),  and Fools for Luck (1928). He played a smaller role in That Royle Girl, so that’s less of a loss, but one bemoans the loss of the other four, for The Potters was co-written by J.P. McEvoy, author of the Fields stage revue The Comic Supplement and it forms the basis of Fields’ many later domestic comedies. And the last three vehicles all co-star Chester Conklin, a historic teaming of which we have NO record to look at. Two Flaming Youths has a carnival setting that anticipates You Can’t Cheat an Honest Man and is chock full of cameos of top vaudevillians, including Weber and Fields, Clark and McCullough, The Duncan Sisters, Savoy and Brennan, Moran and Mack, Kolb and Dill, Jack Pearl, et al, AND it features some bona fide sideshow freaks, including Fat Lady Anna Magruder. Tillie’s Punctured Romance was a critically panned, much altered version  of the Mack Sennett film of 14 years earlier, transplanted to a circus, and including in addition to Fields and Conklin, Louise Fazenda, Mack Swain (who’d also been in the original), and Tom Kennedy. 

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Two by Larry Semon:

Semon famously melted down in features: he overspent and went bankrupt, no doubt contributing to the health problems which killed him in 1928. But like Langdon, he is presently undergoing a reappraisal, and I personally rank him high. Some of his shorts are incredibly well made and hilarious, and though his version of The Wizard of Oz (1925) is terrible I rather liked his feature The Perfect Clown (1925) and others have praised Spuds (1927). The record is just mixed enough! To properly gauge his talent it would be so very useful to be able to see his two missing features The Girl in the Limousine (1924), and Stop, Look and Listen (1926). Of added interest, the latter film was based on an Irving Berlin Broadway show.

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Fatty Arbuckle’s Post-Scandal Features

Arbuckle grows on me all the time. Others have been quicker to rank him near the top of the pantheon. I have been slower to see it, but now that I have seen almost all of his work (and some of his directing work), my respect has increased, and I too would have to put him near the top.  Complicating matters is the fact that his features are less personal — they are studio product in which he was just an actor. I have seen a couple that have survived, The Round-Up and Leap Year, both what they used to call “straight comedies” as opposed to slapstick. They are okay, but dull compared to the features of the Big Four. Seeing more of that work would help that assessment, and he certainly pumped out a downright sick number of features in that year before scandal ruined his career as a star. Among the lost features are The Fat Freight, Brewster’s Millions, The Dollar a Year Man and Traveling Salesman, all 1921. These were made prior to the scandal but many were never distributed once the scandal hit and no one bothered with them in the aftermath for obvious reasons. No one dreamt that decades later people would actually care about the films of this washed-up comedian.

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Mabel Normand’s Goldwyn films

As with her frequent co-star Arbuckle, Normand moved away from slapstick in her features and consequently they are a little duller to watch. Still her work was excellent and in recent years we have seen the rediscovery of the features she made with Mack Sennett (Mickey, Molly O, Suzanna, The Extra Girl). Today it’s possible to see many of her features, but we’re largely missing the numerous features she made for Sam Goldwyn during the years 1918-1922. Sis Hopkins (pictured above) is of special interest being as it was a famous stage vehicle associated with Rose Melville.

From "Wedding Bill$", lost Griffith feature from 1927

From “Wedding Bill$”, lost Griffith feature from 1927

Raymond Griffith features

Often called the Sixth Genius, Griffith too is enjoying a Renaissance thanks to surviving comedy features such as Hands Up and Paths to Paradise. But Griffith (much like Arbuckle and Normand) made a ton of features for Paramount. In those days the big studios seemed to pump them out the way Sennett, Roach et al did shorts. Griffith and Paramount parted ways acrimoniously, no doubt contributing to the fact that we have so little to look at today.

SHORTS

Charlie Chaplin, Her Friend the Bandit (1914)

This is the only missing Chaplin film. It’s easy to glean why there is such a high survival rate for Chaplin films; essentially they never went out of circulation. There has always been demand for practically ALL of them. There seems to be some debate and confusion about whether Her Friend the Bandit even actually existed. But there is some evidence that it did. More here. 

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Arbuckle and Keaton, A Country Hero (1917)

This, in turn is the only known missing Keaton film, though he is second billed behind Arbuckle. Learn more about it here.

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Laurel and Hardy,  Hats Off  (1926)

Oh this one is a major loss. By all accounts it’s the prototype for their popular Oscar winning classic The Music Box, with the boys moving a washing machine instead of a piano, and a large hat fight at the end.  So easy to see in the mind’s eye — but how I wish we could see the real thing.

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Harold Lloyd shorts:

We of course have dozens of comedy shorts by the prolific Harold Lloyd to see and enjoy today. Lloyd was also a pioneer in the field of film preservation, a fact which resulted in an ironic tragedy. In the 1930s he’d bought up negatives to all his films and stored them in the same vault. See where I’m going? In 1943 he had a major fire in which the only known copies of many of his earliest films were lost. The specific reason why this was especially unfortunate was that 53 of these lost shorts were ones in which he played his previous comedy character Lonesome Luke. Luckily a few Lonesome Luke movies survive (I’ve seen a couple), but how much better to have been able to evaluate those other 53. Also lost were 18 of his earliest “glasses character” comedies.  Learn more here: http://haroldlloyd.us/the-films/the-state-of-the-lloyd-films/

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W.C. Fields, His Lordship’s Dilemma (1915)

Fields’ second silent comedy short, after which he quit making films for an entire decade. It would be nice to see for ourselves what might have convinced him to stop for awhile. Learn more here. 

ENTIRE STUDIOS! 

In the mid-teens, many of Mack Sennett’s comedy stars bolted to other studios, notably L-KO, a kind of Sennett defection led by Henry “Pathe” Lerman, and Fox. Only 10% of L-KO’s output remains. Nearly all of Fox’s silent comedy library was destroyed in a 1937 fire that also destroyed nearly all of the silent comedy films of Educational Pictures, another important slapstick factory.  And Universal, which had its own major comedy shop, destroyed most of their films from the silent era in 1948 on purpose! The odds of recovering prints of any of that stuff are very small and it. is just. maddening.

For more on silent and slapstick comedy please 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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To find out more about show business past and presentconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famousavailable at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle in “The Round Up”

Posted in Comedy, Fatty Arbuckle, Hollywood (History), Movies, Silent Film, Westerns with tags , , , , , , , , , , on October 10, 2014 by travsd

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Today is the anniversary of the release date of Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle’s first feature film The Round Up (1920).

Arbuckle was one of the first of the slapstick comedians to make it up from the rough and tumble world of comedy shorts to the headier world of features.  To put that into perspective, when Arbuckle fell from grace with his scandal a year later he was still a much bigger star than his friend Buster Keaton, bigger than Lloyd, and even had the advantage in some ways on Chaplin.

The Round Up, a comedy western, was a very well thought out “next step” vehicle for Arbuckle. He plays a baby faced sheriff named Slim who is frequently ridiculed for his size. The idea of an overweight sheriff is natural fodder for comedy, but it also becomes an opportunity for pathos, and the film makes some attempt to touch the heart strings. “Nobody Loves a Fat Man” bemoans our lonely hero. Poor Roscoe has it bad for a girl named Echo (Mabel Julienne Scott) but alas she loves another. And Wallace Beery is the evil “half-breed” villain. So while Arbuckle splits his pants and falls down and breaks things a lot, he gets to be the hero and save the day. Has to! This is a feature and we need to care about the story, although the constant begging for sympathy tends to strike the modern sensibility as a bit nauseating.

Arbuckle managed to squeeze out an astounding number of features over the next several months. The Round Up remains one of the best of them.

To learn more about comedy film history please check out my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Mediaalso available from amazon.com etc etc etc. To learn about the history of vaudevilleconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

 

Arbuckle, Keaton and St. John in “Back Stage”

Posted in Buster Keaton, Comedy, Fatty Arbuckle, Hollywood (History), Movies with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 7, 2014 by travsd

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Today is the anniversary of the release date of the Comique comedy Back Stage (1919) starring Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, with 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.

For more on silent and slapstick comedy please check out my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Mediaalso available from amazon.com etc etc etc

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To find out about  the history of vaudevilleconsult 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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