Century Film Project

Celebrating the movies our ancestors loved

Mabel and Fatty’s Wash Day (1915)

This Keystone one-reeler features two of the company’s strongest talents in the wake of the then-still-recent departure of Charlie Chaplin for Essanay. Despite Keystone’s reputation for slapstick, much of the humor here is situational in nature, and even the cops seem subdued, compared to earlier outings.

Mabel and Fattys Wash Day2As the movie opens, Mabel Normand is hard at work over a wash basin, while her husband (Harry McCoy) sleeps in. She decides to go wake him and ask for some help with the washing up, but he demurs, so she tosses a basin of hot water on him. Meanwhile, he neighbor Roscoe Arbuckle is toiling across the wall similarly, to the constant nagging of his older wife (Alice Davenport, who I thought at first was meant to be his mother). The two apartments share a clothes line, and Mabel and Fatty meet in the process of hanging up some of their respective laundries and confusing some embarrassing items of clothing. Fatty offers to use his hand-cranked drying machine on some of Mabel’s clothes, and the two seem to be hitting it off, until her jealous husband spots Fatty “accidentally” catching a fold of the dress she’s wearing in the machine! Despite his much larger size, Fatty backs down immediately in front of his opponent’s wrath, and then gets nagged again by Alice.

Mabel and Fattys Wash DayAction now shifts to a park, where the two couples are each taking a walk. McCoy settles down to read his newspaper and refuses to share it with Mabel, who gets mad and leaves him, while Fatty is forced to read to Alice until she dozes off on another bench and Fatty leaves her alone as well. The two likeable characters meet again and decide to go for a drink together, Fatty grabbing his wife’s purse to he can be a gentleman and pay. The missing purse causes confusion when McCoy and Alice meet, and she accuses him of stealing it, bringing two policemen into the case. McCoy finds Mabel and Fatty, but at this point confusion over whose purse is whose and who was cheating on whom gets lost in a fray of chaos. Both women wind up dragging their respective men home by the ear.

A cute couple.

A cute couple.

I was a bit confused at the beginning of the movie, because I assumed that Arbuckle would be Mabel’s sleeping husband. The title seems to imply that they would be together, and they were a couple in a number of other Keystone comedies. When he was introduced, I was relieved to see that I hadn’t forgotten what he looks like. This movie wasn’t quite a laugh-riot for me, and I was surprised by its low-key approach. It does end with a fairly classic Keystone chase (a short one) and it has some physical gags in it, but a lot of the comedy depends on gender stereotypes and the audience’s recognizing the situation. In that sense, it’s also less violent than a lot of Keystones, and less fast moving. Perhaps it can be seen as a good breather for anyone doing a Keystone marathon.

Director: Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle

Camera: Unknown

Cast: Mabel Normand, Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, Harry McCoy, Alice Davenport, Joe Bourdeaux, Edgar Kennedy

Run Time: 13 Min

You can watch it for free: here (no music) or here (with music).

Danse Serpentine in a Lion’s Cage (1900)

This is another French example of a circus act on film, along with “Kobelkoff.” It is very different from the other Serpentine Dance movies we’ve seen up to now, in that it wouldn’t work as well in a constant loop, having clear beginning and end points.

Danse Serpentine LionsA lion trainer and two maned male lions are in a small cage. He cracks his whip and the lions run about on cue. He brings out a cow and keeps the lions back from it. There is another performance, apparently with different cats (possibly tigers, or female lions). Then the trainer goes backstage. When he re-emerges, the male lions are back, and he brings a woman in a hand-tinted dress. He has her stand back while he corrals the lions into a corner. Then she steps forward and waves her arms so that the dress creates flowing patterns. She dances before the lions, who seem mesmerized by the dress. Then, she steps back and the movie ends.

I think that stripey blur is a tiger (?)

I think that stripey blur is a tiger (?)

The big surprise for me was that the “dance” portion of this movie only lasted about a quarter of its run time – just over thirty seconds. The rest was a pretty typical circus lion act, with the lions running up and down a small cage to the sound of their trainer’s whip. Note that he does not appear to hit the animals, the whip is used only as a sound cue. Animal rights proponents will still find the cramped conditions of the cage alarming, as well as the evidence of human dominance over wild animals. I felt a bit concerned for the cow, even though of course nothing happened to it.  Because the camera was on the other side of the bars from the animals, I had a hard time seeing whether they were striped or not, especially when they were in motion. Imdb attributes this movie to director Alice Guy, but the disc I watched it on makes no mention of this. Similarly, I have been able to find no information about the “Madame Ondine” who according to the disc is the dancer.

Director: Unknown (possibly Alice Guy-Blaché)

Camera: Unknown

Cast: Madame Ondine

Run Time: 2 Min, 8 secs

You can watch it for free: here (no music).