Moonshine, take two

by popegrutch

I predicted that I would probably find a longer version of this movie when I reviewed it last week and as it turned out, there was already one in my house at the time. I’m not really surprised, but I’m sort of glad I started with the shorter fragment first. This one has more of the story (still not quite everything, I suspect, based on the length), but is a much worse print. This version is from the “Buster Keaton Short Films” collection, also released by Kino, if anyone’s keeping score.

This one begins with a somewhat longer demonstration of the Bootleggers’ secret hideout and an intertitle that explains it was “the director’s idea” (one of many reflexive jokes in the titles). Next, we see “Jud Grew” (actually Charles Dudley) as the lead moonshiner, who guns down a “revenuer” at a distance and praises the stunt in the intertitles. Next is the scene introducing Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle and Buster Keaton as the chief revenuer and his lieutenant, respectively. It’s not much longer than the first one, but does include a shot of Buster getting pitched from the automobile and an intertitle comment about Arbuckle’s “dirty pants.” The extra footage also introduces Arbuckle’s monocle, which is something of a recurring gag in the rest of the movie. Once they’ve tumbled off the cliff, Arbuckle digs Keaton out from the sand, then take him over to the river to wash him out. He hangs him on a tree by his feet to dry, then goes off by himself.

It is at this point that Alice Lake and Al St. John are introduced. Alice is reading in a hammock when Al comes up and tries to tickle her feet. She responds by knocking him down, and when he tries to fight back, she gives him a couple of good wallops. Her father sees this, and remonstrates that she should “wait until you are married, to hit him as much as you wish.” She insists she will not marry St. John, and the bootlegger begins to beat her with a stick and she fights back. Arbuckle sees this and intervenes, informing Lake that she shouldn’t strike her own father. He chokes her and throws her into the river and she declares, “I love you!” This is explained in an intertitle: since it is a 2-reel short, there isn’t time to develop the love interest. Arbuckle and Lake kiss, and St. John comes over to challenge him. A brief exchange of gunfire ensues, in which Arbuckle shoots off St. John’s hat, and St. John shoots out Arbuckle’s monocle (while he’s wearing it!).

At this point, Keaton frees himself from the tree, and observes the bootleggers going into the secret hideout. He tells Arbuckle about it, but can’t remember the password. It doesn’t matter, because the door opens up anyway when Keaton moves his foot on the right rock. They go inside and sample the bootlegger’s whiskey. Then the bootleggers run in and surround them, but Keaton is able to run out the door. This is when he encounters St. John, but ultimately he runs away. During the brief chase, the two of them show off their physical talents in rapidly climbing a tree, and at the end Keaton escapes by tricking St. John into falling into a pit trap.

The moonshiners bring Arbuckle back to their shack and lock him in “the cellar,” which turns out to be the well-appointed apartment from the earlier footage. It is Lake who brings him the gun he uses to fake his own suicide, and an intertitle explains that the bootleggers, as “nouveau riche,” make a point of dressing for dinner. Arbuckle gets the idea for his escape plan from a copy of The Count of Monte Cristo which is conveniently in the cellar-apartment. Arbuckle makes a grand declaration after successfully swimming the river, and Keaton applauds him from a nearby tree (“Bravo Fatty! Play it again!”).

Since the reinforcements are on lunch break, Arbuckle decides to “rehearse the explosion,” but before they can do that, Al St. John jumps out of the same tree, causing Arbuckle to run back to the arms of the bootleggers. They put him in their shack with a gas can and a lit fuse, but Arbuckle shows no fear. A shack is shown exploding, but then the film is run backwards and it reconstructs itself. Arbuckle runs out of the regenerated shack unscathed, and the bootleggers draw their guns, but Keaton shoots them all down. Al St. John runs up to Keaton with his rifle, but Arbuckle gets him. Keaton predicts that Lake will marry Arbuckle, the hero of the story (despite the fact that they just killed her father, brothers, and probably anyone else she even knew), but he announces that he’s already married and Keaton gets the girl.

This is definitely a more complete version of the story, although at 18 minutes it’s still not a full two reels, so there may be yet more to see. This version clearly inter-cuts the Cineteca Nazionale footage with an inferior print with very washed-out images, but that made it easier for me to identify the “new” (to me) material. A lot of the new material involves intertitle gags about how the story is really a movie and Arbuckle is the director, which has led some people to make a big deal about “breaking the fourth wall,” but I found this got a bit old even in the short run time. The ending is a bit funny, but really comes across as a desperate effort to wrap things up. I was rather disappointed that they didn’t ever use all those extras from the clown-car bit at the beginning, they were just there for one gag and then gone. Seems like a missed opportunity for a spoof on large-scale battle scenes in the style of D.W. Griffith.

This is definitely a big role for Buster Keaton, who is a full-fledged sidekick now, not just a character actor. He even winds up with the girl, although really only as a gag. He does a lot of great stunts here, and is central to much of the plot, even though he gets a little lost while Arbuckle is making his escape. I particularly enjoyed his chase with Al St. John through the trees; at one point Keaton hangs from a limb and imitates a monkey. With that, and the “hanging out to dry” bit, Keaton spent a lot of this movie in the trees!

Director: Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle

Camera: George Peters

Starring: Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, Buster Keaton, Alice Lake, Al St John, Joe Bordeaux, Charles Dudley

Run Time: 18 Min