Century Film Project

Celebrating the movies our ancestors loved

Forgotten Films of Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle (1913-1921, 2005)


This collection of Arbuckle films includes only five actual Century Films (all reviewed on this blog), but four discs worth of his later work are included. This is quite an achievement, because few of his films had been preserved or restored until the team that made this got to work on it in the early 2000’s. The liner notes include some harrowing tales of making digital transfers literally as filmed originals disintegrated. In that sense, this is a great collection, that lives up to its name in remembering forgotten work.

As is often the case with these collections, its real strength is in the films themselves, which will please any fan of early slapstick and most film historians. Arbuckle really is impressive for being able to take the kinds of falls and other athletic moves he made, given his size and weight. And he’s a surprisingly likable slapstick star; whereas Chaplin at this time was often cast as an aggressor or even a villain, Arbuckle’s characters are lovable innocents. At worst, he occasionally portrayed a loving husband whose wandering eye got him in trouble, but ultimately came home to his sweetie.

The special features here include an extensive (36 pages) set of liner notes with multiple essays by film historians that add a good deal to the viewer’s understanding (if they take the time to read them). The fourth disc includes several movies directed by Arbuckle under a pseudonym after he was banned from acting. There’s also a slide show of Arbuckle caricatures and a music video, both of which are fun. And then there are commentaries, by three film historians, which I think could have been handled better. These were obviously done with no rehearsal or preparation, just three men in a sound booth watching a film. In some cases, not all of them have seen the movie being commented on before (a cardinal sin in my book), they wind up talking over each other, missing things, and correcting each other on historical mistakes, which is annoying.

As a final note on Arbuckle, I think I have to comment on the tragedy that ended his career; the death of Virginia Rappé after a party in his hotel room in 1921. There seem to be two camps: one dead-sure that Arbuckle raped her and possibly performed some bizarre act which ruptured her bladder, and another one dead-sure that he was totally innocent and got railroaded by the press . I find the arguments of both sides self-serving and unconvincing, and I suspect that the truth lies somewhere in the middle. Either way, although he was acquitted of any crime, the event hit the media like a bomb and ended his career, resulting in the fact that even fans of silent comedy rarely have a chance to see his movies now. But, I’d also suggest that, either way, it no longer matters. They’ve both been in their graves so long that it really doesn’t matter what happened in that hotel room anymore, and there’s certainly no reason to deny oneself the pleasure of good Century Films over something that happened off-screen and unconnected to the movies ninety three years ago.

Worldcat Link: http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/61710295

Leading Lizzie Astray (1914)

Leading Lizzie Astray

This comedy short stars and was directed by Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle during his tenure at Keystone Studios (we’ve seen Fatty already in “The Rounders” and “Fatty Joins the Force”). The premise is deceptively simple: Fatty is a powerfully strong “Country Boy” whose girl (Minta Durfee, who was married to Fatty in real life) is tempted away to the city by a slick character (Ed Brady, who was in “Sulivan’s Travels” and “The Man from Texas”) up to no good. Fatty pursues, and finding his girl being abused, takes revenge on the City Slicker and pretty much anyone else in range of his fists. But, as simple as this sounds, it involves a surprising number of set ups, a huge cast of Keystone regulars (including Mack Swain and Edgar Kennedy, both in “The Knockout” as well), multiple intertitles, and complex inter-cut editing. The whole thing is of course a satire on the “Lost Girl” melodrama which was popular grist for more serious filmmakers’ mills, but Fatty gives the audience the chance to identify with his sensitive and naïve portrayal of a middle-American man in love. The chaos he wreaks on the flashy city café and its clientele has to be seen to be believed: at one point he throws an assailant through a wall and for good measure throws a piano after him!

Director: Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle

Starring: Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, Minta Durfee, Ed Brady, Edgar Kennedy, Mack Swain.

Run Time 12 Min

You can watch it for free: here.