Century Film Project

Celebrating the movies our ancestors loved

Tag: Harry McCoy

The Face on the Bar Room Floor (1914)

In this early short from Keystone Studios, Charlie Chaplin attempts to stretch his character and his filmmaking a bit beyond the established formulae of the studio and the slapstick genre. It may not entirely work, but it’s a fascinating experiment nonetheless.

Each small scene in this film is preceded by a forward-facing intertitle containing a few lines (sometimes two, usually four), from a poem called “The Face upon the Barroom Floor.” The scenes are sometimes quite brief, and the audience spends almost as much time reading as viewing. The story of the poem concerns a young artist who fell in love with one of his models, only to lose her to a friend he introduces her to, and who becomes a dissolute drunk who cannot forget her. The title comes from his effort to depict his love’s portrait using a piece of chalk for an appreciative audience of fellow inebriates at a local saloon. At the beginning of the film, the scenes shown are generally simple depictions of the words of the poem, but as the film progresses, there is more “business” and interpretation thrown in for laughs. Charlie chews absently on his paintbrush, he steps on his palette or sits on paint. Finally, at the end, he is shown as too drunk to effectively draw on the floor, and the scene degenerates into a typical Keystone riot, with Charlie fighting off an entire crowd and a policeman that happens by.

As I suggested above, what’s impressive about this film isn’t so much in its execution, but its aspiration, and the fact that it was allowed to be made at all. Chaplin makes an effort here to break the mold of slapstick movie making, to bring greater depth and sympathy to his character. and to make something a touch more “artistic” than what he was generally doing at Keystone. He still had a lot to learn, but he already knew that he didn’t want to just go on doing things in the same way as everyone else before him. And, his stardom was such that, even here in the summer following his first releases in February, he had the clout to make something that his boss Mack Sennett had to regard as a questionable gamble. Among the problems the film faces are too much text and not enough laughs, but it’s possible that his name and image were already popular enough that it didn’t lose anyone any money. Nickelodeons were happy enough just to be able to advertise a “new Chaplin” – whether it was a success or not didn’t even matter. Fortunately, Charlie would keep working to improve, and not let his fame go to his head, because in the future, he would succeed where this movie largely fails.

Director: Charlie Chaplin

Camera: Frank D. Williams

Starring: Charlie Chaplin, Chester Conklin, Harry McCoy, Cecile Arnold, Fritz Schade, Vivian Edwards, Hank Mann

Run Time: 14 Min

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

The Property Man (1914)

This early Charlie Chaplin short has elements in common with later films, like “Back Stage” starring Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle and Buster Keaton, though all of them probably drew from Vaudeville routines as their sources. It shows both the roughness of Chaplin’s early work, and the rapidity with which he developed.

Charlie is a stage hand for a popular theater with a variety show. The opening shot shows him taking a break with an elderly co-worker (I think it’s Joe Bordeaux). Charlie is drinking out of a large pitcher, and when the old man reaches for it, Charlie twists his ear and spits out what is in his mouth at the man. We see the arrival of some stars (Phyllis Allen and Charles Bennett) who are angry to find that their act is not billed on the poster outside, although they insist on trying to take the “star’s” dressing room – which is reserved for the strong man (Jess Dandy), who is only too happy to show them the door when he gets there. Charlie sits under a “no smoking” sign, smoking a pipe, although  he eagerly points it out to the actors when thy light up. When the strong man lights a cigar, Charlie discreetly turns the sign toward the wall.  Naturally, the strong man has a lovely assistant (Helen Carruthers) and naturally, she and Charlie hit it off, enraging the strong man. Charlie does several pratfalls built around the supposed weight of the strong man’s luggage, bashing into the rest of the cast as he staggers around beneath the huge crates which the strong man lifts effortlessly. Later, Charlie takes a hatbox and straps the heavy stuff to his senior co-worker, who collapses under the weight. When “the Goo Goo Sisters” (another act, billed as “comediennes” on the billboard) show up, Charlie tries to flirt with them as well, but he hides the pitcher in his pants, resulting in an embarrassing leak.

Not helping, Charlie.

The strong man asks Charlie to sew up his tights, although Charlie winds up using them to mop the floor instead. Meanwhile, the matinee has started and Charlie and his coworker fight behind the scenes, causing a backdrop to hit an unpopular singer and knock him out. Charlie sweeps him off the stage, to the delight of the audience (which includes Mack Sennett and Chester Conklin). When the Goo Goo Sisters, in scanty costumes (for 1914 anyway) go on stage, Charlie first follows them out to stare, then blindfolds his partner to prevent him from staring. Their backstage fighting causes them to bump the sisters through the backdrop, again to the delight of the audience. Charlie throws the wet tights, which miss his target and hits a sister, who then throws them into the audience, thinking someone has thrown them instead of booing. There is a long gap between acts, because the strong man lacks tights and his assistant is busy flirting with Charlie, so when the old man raises the curtain, the audience finds the three of them arguing, with the strong man’s garters exposed. He gamely goes ahead with his act, but his assistant has been knocked out in the fighting, so Charlie tries to help, causing more chaos and riotous laughter from the audience. Charlie goes backstage to help the assistant, while the other actors harangue his partner. The old man lowers a backdrop on the strong man while he tries to balance over 1000 lbs of weight, ruining his act. Now the strong man goes back stage and finds Charlie fanning his unconscious assistant, and goes on a rampage, also ruining the dramatic act of the other performers. To defend himself, Charlie grabs a fire hose and sprays him and the other performers, also drenching the entire audience.

As I commented above, this movie has a lot in common with “Back Stage,” most obviously including the angry strong man and his lovely assistant, but I doubt if Arbuckle was actually being any less original than Chaplin – both would have been drawing from established Vaudeville routines which many in their audience were already familiar with. “Back Stage” is also a rather more polished movie in terms of camerawork, plot, and character, but it’s not entirely fair to compare 1914 with 1919, or Chaplin at this point in career with Arbuckle at that point in his. What I can say is that this is one of the funnier movies Chaplin directed himself in during the summer of 1914, and this is so despite the constraints of the Keystone formula and his own limitations due to lack of experience and knowledge of his character. Chaplin isn’t really the “nice” version of the Tramp here – his constant use of violence, especially against his older and demonstrably weaker colleague argues against that – but he manages to evoke a degree of sympathy or identification in the audience nonetheless, perhaps just by being the little fellow who gets the best of everyone around him. There’s a kind of metaphor at work when his various inopportune moments on the stage prove more popular with the in-movie audience than the planned performances; it seems to reflect how his growing fame took studio heads at Keystone by surprise.

Chaplin delights an audience.

There’s a question here, also: Is he playing the “Little Tramp” or not? His mustache is now established (he’d abandon it later in “Tillie’s Punctured Romance,” but not often after that). but the rest of his costume consists her of oversized overalls and a bowler hat with a rim that is nearly falling off. The strong man refers to him in an intertitle as “that bum,” which at least makes a bit of a connection. It seems likely that Chaplin himself didn’t know for sure whether the Little Tramp would take a job as strenuous as property man, and may have been ambivalent about the character here.

Director: Charlie Chaplin

Camera: Frank D. Williams

Starring: Charlie Chaplin, Jess Dandy, Helen Carruthers, Joe Bordeaux, Phyllis Allen, Charles Bennett, Mack Sennett, Chester Conklin, Alice Davenport, Harry McCoy, Norma Nichols, Cecile Arnold, Vivian Edwards

Run Time: 24 Min

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

The Star Boarder (1914)

Way back in 2014, I watched every movie Charlie Chaplin made at Keystone Studios, but there were so many (and so many other things I wanted to cover), that I never finished reviewing them all. Now I’m taking the time to fill some of those gaps, starting with this early film about Charlie getting in trouble in a boarding house.

The movie begins with a wide shot in a kitchen, establishing the household staff. Minta Durfee is the landlady, and she supervises a man in an apron (Edgar Kennedy) and another woman as they do the cooking. A boy (Gordon Griffith) has a small camera box, but Minta shoes him away. Minta goes into the dining room and sets up the dinner, then rings a bell to summon the guests. A large group of them appears, but we cut back and forth to Charlie’s room, where he is lounging and smoking a cigarette. He slowly gets up and dresses for dinner, while Minta continues ringing away. He flirts a bit with Minta on his way into the dining room, and Edgar glares at him as he serves the food. After dinner, another man seems to want to talk to Minta, but Charlie throws his napkin at him. He and Minta flirt a bit more until Edgar interrupts them.

 

Later, Minta and Charlie are play tennis together, though Charlie’s occasional pratfalls suggest he may have had a few drinks in his room first.  He knocks a tennis ball well out of court, and they go to look for it together. The child spots them and begins snapping photos, all the while laughing uproariously. Edgar again finds them and intervenes, finding the ball before either of them, since they seem more interested in one another. Minta now goes over to a rosebush, climbing up on a ladder, but falls off when Charlie comes over to her, and again the child is snapping photos and laughing. They go back to the house together, and Edgar escorts an older lady boarder. Left alone briefly in the kitchen, Charlie raids the liquor cabinet and there are several more pratfalls as he drunkenly attempts to sneak up to his room with two bottles and a pie.

 

 

The child now approaches another boarder (Harry McCoy), and shows him the slides he has prepared and he agrees to set up a projector so the whole house can enjoy his slideshow. When the audience is assembled, the child, laughing hard again, starts to show them shots of Charlie and Minta together, though he also shows Edgar with his companion, and soon the audience devolves into chaos as Edgar and Charlie fight and bump into the others, causing a general rout. Charlie manages to escape the room, stumbling through the screen, and Minta spanks the naughty child.

 

There are no surviving intertitles on the print I’ve been able to see, so a certain amount has to be inferred. Evidently, Minta and Edgar are married, although the cliché is for the landlady of a boarding house to be widowed or a spinster. Also, evidently Gordon is their son. Minta really does seem quite receptive to Charlie’s advances, and (surprisingly for the time), we see Charlie quite openly admiring her backside. No doubt this contributed to the idea that his movies were “vulgar.” Charlie is in full “Little Tramp” getup at this stage, even his mustache is down to the familiar width, and some of his signature gestures (such as his “what, me?” shrug) are clearly established. He’s still building a lot of his act around “funny drunk” bits, and he’s less inclined towards violence in this picture than in others around the same time. That doesn’t stop the movie from ending in a classic Keystone riot, however.

Director: George Nichols

Camera: Frank D. Williams

Starring: Charlie Chaplin, Minta Durfee, Edgar Kennedy, Gordon Griffith, Harry McCoy, Alice Davenport, Phyllis Allen, William Nigh, Al St. John

Run Time: 11 Min, 30 secs

You can watch it for free: here.

The Garage (1920)

This is the last short film from the Comique Studios starring Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle and Buster Keaton. after this, Keaton would strike out on his own and Arbuckle would make a brief stab at feature films before being embroiled in scandal, but for now, we get to enjoy the duo in action for one last time.

Arbuckle and Keaton play automobile mechanics and firemen at a garage in a fire station. They work for an old man who seems to have high blood pressure (Dan Crimmins). Molly Malone plays the boss’ daughter who is being courted by a man named Jim (Harry McCoy), though she turns him down after the flowers he brings her end up accidentally soaked in motor oil thanks to Fatty and Buster. Livid, Jim raises the alarm in the fire station to make Fatty and Buster think there is a fire and forcing them to rush across town. However, Jim accidentally starts a real fire while trying to exit the station and the firemen return to put out the fire and rescue Mollie who is trapped inside. When Fatty, Buster and several of the townspeople try to rescue Molly using a life net, she bounces up into the telephone wires. Fatty and Buster eventually get Molly down but become trapped themselves; luckily Mollie moves a car beneath them just before they fall and all three ride off together.

The summary above focuses on the “plot,” but really misses most of the film. Like most of the Keaton/Arbuckle shorts, the story is just a thin skeleton on which to hang a series of gags, which come fast and thick here. Right off the bat, we see Arbuckle washing down a car at the opening, and he seems to work extra hard on a window, before leaning through the window to clean the outside of the car, demonstrating that it was open the whole time! Keaton has some beer with his lunch, but decides it’s a bit thin and adds some wood alcohol to the mix. Keaton and Arbuckle get into a fight, throwing pies, soapy rags, oil and everything else they can find at one another, making a huge mess of themselves and the car Arbuckle just finished washing down. Then they put it on a giant spinning plate and spray it with a hose while the manager does pratfalls to distract the customer. And all this is just the first few minutes of the movie! Probably one of the best-loved sequences is where Keaton, having been chased by Luke the Dog and losing his pants as a result, pretends to be a Scotsman by cutting a kilt off a poster for Scotch whiskey and does a ridiculous jig in front of a policeman. Then he hides by walking behind Arbuckle, then switching to the front when the cop is behind them. None of this has anything to do with the garage (though it is loosely tied in to Jim’s attempts to date Mollie), but it works because it doesn’t need to make sense to be funny.

Unlike some of their earlier work, this one seems to flow naturally from one scene into the next, despite the madcap pacing. There is sort of a divide between reel one, which is mostly about fixing cars, and reel two, which is mostly about fighting fires, but there isn’t quite as much sense of the film being two movies stitched together as in “The Butcher Boy” for example. Arbuckle and Keaton are clearly having fun every minute, and although the movie ends with Keaton acting as chauffeur while Mollie and Fatty snuggle in the back seat, there is very little sense of Arbuckle being the “lead” and Keaton being a “sidekick.” The two of them are fully a team now. It’s sort of sad to think that they never worked together again, but in fact Keaton was headed for bigger things. We’ll be seeing some of that in months and years to come.

Director: Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle

Camera: Elgin Lessley

Starring: Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, Buster Keaton, Molly Malone, Harry McCoy, Daniel Crimmins, Luke the Dog

Run Time: 25 Min

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

Fatty’s Suitless Day (1914)

Also released as: Fatty’s Magic Pants

This early work from Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle while he was working for Mack Sennett doesn’t have a lot of originality, but it provides plenty of chaotic Keystone anarchy, and puts its star to good use. Crude, but effective in its way.

Fatty is talking to co-star (and his real-life wife) Minta Durfee about an ad in the newspaper. A “Grand Benefit Dance” is to be held that evening, and Minta is eager to go. Minta gives a brief demonstration of her ability to tango, and Fatty does a sort of imitation of her moves. At this point a rival, played by Harry McCoy, walks up carrying fancy-dress evening clothes. He points out to Fatty that he won’t be able to get in, because the ad reads “Strictly Full Dress.” Fatty responds with violence, knocking Harry out, which results in Minta hitting Fatty. There’s a bit more slapstick violence until a Keystone Cop (Slim Summerville) walks up and chases Harry off, throwing his clothes after him. Fatty slinks home and asks his mom to loan him 50 cents so he can hire some clothes, but she responds by bopping him on the ear. Fortunately, Harry lives next door, so Fatty just steals his clothes off the clothes line after he washes them (presumably because of the beating they took during the fight). Of course, they don’t fit, but Fatty fakes things up by drawing buttons on a towel to make it look like the shirt goes all the way down.

Where’s My Pants?

Harry can’t figure out where his clothes went, but he goes down to the dance anyway while Fatty escorts Minta. They dance up a storm, although Fatty’s antics threaten to expose his last-minute alterations. The go into another room for punch, but Harry has sneaked in here, and he recognizes his own suit on Fatty. He sneaks up behind him with a pin and loosens an already-straining seam on Fatty’s pants, then attaches a string to make sure they rip when he gets up. Fatty and Minta have a brief chat with another guest (I think this might be Charley Chase), and suddenly Fatty is pants-less! He runs about in panic while Minta and Charley laugh. He tries hiding behind the punch table, but a waiter comes in and moves it, and soon he is exposed before the whole ball. Now Harry grabs his jacket as well, and Fatty realizes what’s up. He tries to fight Harry, but Harry has a gun. He chases Fatty about the dance hall, causing more chaos along the way. Finally, Fatty escapes out the window, into the clutches of Officer Slim, who puts a barrel on Fatty in the classic method of concealing indecency, then hits him repeatedly with his billy club.

It’s Arbuckle’s physicality that really makes this movie work, from his assaults on Harry, to his pratfalls, to his tango dancing, to his running around in a panic, the movie hinges on well-timed, fast movement from the big man, and he’s fully up to it. Apart from Harry falling down once or twice, and Minta hitting Fatty, none of the other actors really even get a chance to keep up. The filming is standard Keystone, with locked-down cameras at wide shot establishing stages for the actors to work on, and the only editing is occasionally between stages, to show clothes being thrown or stolen or ripped off Fatty’s body. Fatty’s trick with the towel is hard to describe, and doesn’t seem like it would work at all in reality, but it sort of looks OK on camera, given the quality of the print and the camera’s distance from the actor. Given the set-up, I was expecting to see Fatty in drag again, as in “The Waiter’s Ball,” but this was at least different from that movie.

Director: Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle

Camera: Unknown

Starring: Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, Minta Durfee, Harry McCoy, Slim Summerville, Charley Chase, Alice Davenport, Phyllis Allen

Run Time: 12 Min

You can watch it for free: here.

Fatty and Minnie-He-Haw (1914)

This two-reel comedy from Keystone shows Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle as he was still honing his craft, though he tries out some gags that would be put to better use in later movies. True to the Keystone spirit, it is fast-paced and incoherent.

 

The movie begins similarly to the later movie “Out West,” with Fatty riding the roof of a train, only to be abandoned in the middle of a Western desert with no apparent resources. In this case, Slim Summerville comes along to kick him off the train, and unfortunately that’s his only appearance. Fatty spots Minnie-He-Haw (played by Minnie Devereaux), a Native American woman of about Fatty’s own girth. He decides to pretend to be dying of thirst to get her help, and she calls over some braves from a nearby camp to drag him home. Of course, since she’s now “saved his life,” she expects him to show his appreciation by marrying her. She takes him into her teepee and there’s a bit of funny business about the challenge of kissing when both have such large bellies. Then Minnie goes out to announce her betrothal to the tribe, and Fatty spots Minta Durfee having trouble with her horse nearby. He sneaks over to help her out and when Minnie finds out, the “green-eyed monster” takes over and she drags him back to a feast in their honor. Fatty eats a little and then either becomes ill or fakes it and makes another attempt at a getaway.

Minta rides into town up to the saloon and tells her father (Josef Swickard) about her adventures. He defends her from a funny drunk played by Harry McCoy, who does some good stunts, getting tossed around a bit. She then goes over to the corner to prepare dinner on a convenient stove. Fatty now arrives and also heads to the saloon and pushes McCoy down before spotting Minta and eating most of her dinner. McCoy tries to start another fight and gets shoved again, but now Swickland sees what’s going on and gets out his gun. At the same time, Minnie, also armed, shows up in town looking for Fatty. Swickard tells Fatty to keep away from Minta and shoots at his feet to make him dance, which is so amusing all the local cowhands join in. When he runs outside, Minnie is shooting at him also, so he runs back inside to further gunfire. After this has gone on awhile he runs out of town, winding up back at the Indian camp, where the Indians tie him to a stake and start a fire to punish him for his betrayal of Minnie. Minnie has a change of heart and frees him, but again he uses the opportunity to escape, and now the whole tribe mounts horses to pursue him. He evades them by crossing a skinny rope bridge that won’t hold the horses, but now they fire arrows at him. Several hit him in the behind and he runs off into the distance as the image irises in to indicate the end.

As we might expect from Keystone, the movie is short on plot and big on excesses, and your capacity to enjoy it depends on your comfort with Native American stereotypes and jokes at the expense of fat people. At least Minnie-He-Haw is a person with her own motivations, which is more than some Western dramas were managing at the time. Devereaux definitely fits right in to the madcap atmosphere at Keystone, even if she isn’t wearing bizarre facial hair, and plays her role with gusto. Arbuckle is also committed, even if we don’t get many of his famous stunts, and his run across the rope bridge looks genuinely hazardous. It was fun spotting various Keystone regulars in their Western garb, given a break from always playing cops. I sort of wanted Fatty and Minnie to end up together, but I suppose a mixed-race marriage would have been controversial in a comedy at the time.

Director: Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle

Camera: Unknown

Starring: Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, Minnie Devereaux, Minta Durfee, Slim Summerville, Josef Swickard, Harry McCoy, Frank Hayes, Edward Dillon.

Run Time: 24 Min

You can watch it for free: here.

Fatty’s Chance Acquaintance (1915)

In another of Keystone’s “park comedies” Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle again finds new ways to make us laugh at old material. In this case, he’s recycling a lot from “Mabel and Fatty’s Wash Day” with a new cast, and some new ideas.

Fattys Chance AcquaintanceFatty is married to Billy Bennett, a shrewish woman who I thought might be cast as his mother. She makes him sit on a park bench and do nothing while she reads from a magazine. When Fatty tries to buy a soda, she denies him the change, telling him to drink from the water fountain to save money. This initiates one of the funniest sequences, in which fatty is repeatedly sprayed in the face by the unpredictable water fountain, but fails to get much of a drink, until he fills his hat and drinks of of that. Meanwhile, pickpocket Harry McCoy is out with his best girl (Minta Durfee, who was married to Arbuckle in real life) in the same park. She’s hungry, but he’s too cheap to buy anything.

Fattys Chance Acquaintance1McCoy meets Billy about the same time that Fatty runs into Minta, and each has plans of his/her own. McCoy steals the money from Bennett’s purse, and Durfee talks Arbuckle into taking her to a nearby café. Unfortunately, cop Frank Hayes has watched McCoy in action, and tries to arrest him, leading to a madcap chase. Fatty goes back to Bennett, and, finding her asleep, takes the purse to use for money to feed Minta (of course, we know there’s no money in it). McCoy is able to swipe a couple of sodas off the soda man and use an ice cream cone to divert the cop, but now he can’t find Minta. Meanwhile, Bennett wakes up and accuses an innocent woman of stealing her purse, leading to more slapstick silliness with her and her boyfriend (Glen Cavender). Minta does at least get part of an ice cream cone out of Fatty before he smooshes it, but then Fatty can’t find any money to pay the waiter. The waiter insists on keeping Minta “for security” while he goes to look for money. He borrows a dollar from McCoy, who doesn’t realize it’s Minta he’s “pawning,” but when he sees it, he comes over and starts a fight. That’s about when Bennett wanders up as well, trying to figure out who took her money. She finds the purse, and then Fatty with Minta, and things get predictably chaotic from there.

Fattys Chance Acquaintance2The funniest parts of this movie, actually, are the bit roles of Frank Hayes and Glen Cavender (who is noticeably afraid of Bennett), and the bit with Fatty and the water fountain. A lot of the rest of it is pretty similar to other movies from this series. Interestingly, Minta and Fatty seem to have less chemistry together than Fatty and Mabel Normand. You always sort of feel that they belong together, even when they’re married to other people, but Minta seems to be only interested in using Fatty, and Fatty just seems to think she’s an improvement on Bennett, not a serious romantic interest. They did divorce, eventually, so this could have been a bad moment in their relationship, or just a less successful performance for other reasons.

Director: Fatty Arbuckle

Camera: Unknown

Cast: Fatty Arbuckle, Harry McCoy, Billie Bennett, Minta Durfee, Frank Hayes, Glen Cavender.

Run Time: 13 Min

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

Fatty’s Reckless Fling (1915)

In this one reel comedy from Keystone, Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle plays a hapless husband of a domineering wife who just can’t seem to keep out of trouble. Set in a hotel-style apartment house with a bar on the first floor, it resembles a number of Charlie Chaplin’s familiar plots, including “A Night Out” and “The Rounders.”

Fattys Reckless FlingFatty comes home drunk and happy, as usual. He trips and falls on a woman sitting on a chair in the lobby and winds up getting into a fight with the concierge, which spills over into the bar, when Fatty winds up there on the floor. Things are starting to settle down when his wife (Katherine Griffith) shows up and throws her weight around even more than he did. Soon, he’s been dragged upstairs to their room. The wife tells him to get ready for bed and sleep it off, while she goes out shopping herself, taking the precaution of fixing the lock so it will lock behind Fatty if he goes out. Of course he does, in his nightrobe and pyjamas, and soon he finds the poker game across the hall. When he knocks, the gamblers disguise the room to look like a bible study meeting, which he finds very funny, but they invite him to join in. He draws four aces and a joker, winning the pot, but just at that moment the house detective (Glen Cavender) bursts in on a raid. One of the gamblers knocks the gun from his hand and a brawl breaks out, each of the gamblers escaping in turn and leaving Fatty to fight the detective. The detective recovers his gun and Fatty makes a break for his room, which is, of course, locked. He takes several bullets to his rear end.

Fattys Reckless Fling1It occurs to him to try the room next door, and he bursts in on Minta Durfee, who is quite shocked by his attire (he lost his robe in the fight, and is down to short-legged pyjamas. Then Minta’s husband (Edgar Kennedy) comes home. Fatty tries hiding in the Murphy bed, but the husband finds him. Meanwhile his wife has come home and convinced the house detective that Fatty is not in their room. When Fatty attempts to escape Edgar by pushing the bed back into the wall, it bangs on the wall of Katherine’s room. Then, he manages to crack the wall. Finally, the bed breaks all the way through the wall and he’s in the room with his wife. Unfortunately, Minta was also on the bed at that point, and she now sees him in his pyjamas with another woman in bed! The house detective breaks in again, and finds Fatty, and the chase escalates to both rooms and the hallway, with guns and angry spouses in pursuit. Finally, Fatty’s wife pushes him into the bathtub, and he decides to take a quiet nap while everyone else continues the fighting.

Fattys Reckless Fling2This short really ramps up the situational and slapstick comedy as it runs, and would probably have been seen as “vulgar” by the critics of the period, but no doubt was a crowd-pleaser. Fatty still gets away with his bad behavior in part because of his baby face and his refusal to initiate violence. Much of the trouble begins when he falls over due to being drunk, and he does play the “funny drunk” bit to the hilt. His performance is at the center of this movie, and it is his ability to make the audience identify with his plight, however ridiculous or self-initiated it may be, that carries the narrative. The title is of course a deliberate misdirection – Fatty gets blamed for having a reckless fling he never actually had or wanted.

Director: Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle

Camera: Unknown

Cast: Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, Katherine Griffith, Minta Durfee, Edgar Kennedy, Glen Cavender, Frank Hayes, Harry McCoy

Run Time: 13 Min

You can watch it for free: here.

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).

A Movie Star (1916)

Movie Star3This Sennett-produced short is a rare starring vehicle for Mack Swain, who often played the “heavy” in films with Charlie Chaplin and other comedians. It also gives us a chance to see a more extended satire on movie-going than had been established in “Mabel’s Dramatic Career” and similar movies.

Movie StarMack Swain is “Handsome Jack,” whose movie is playing at the local Nickelodeon. There’s a good turnout, which is making the theater owner happy, but he gets even more excited when Jack himself walks up and stands next to the poster! Jack is enjoying himself, allowing female fans to “notice” him and swarms of children to run over to see him. The manager invites him in at no charge, and uses his presence to sell more tickets. In the theater, he sits near two couples, and annoys the males by accepting the attention of their dates. A famous Shakespearean actor comes in and snubs him, but most of the audience doesn’t notice, and he gets up to give a little speech before the movie begins. The movie is a simplified Western (from “Thrill’em Pictures”), in which he loses his girl to a slick city boy, only to have to save both of them from an Indian attack. At first, the audience seems to be laughing at Jack’s misfortune and acting, but they get increasingly caught up in the story as it proceeds, nearly everyone (except the Shakespearean) crying when he loses his girl. At the end, he is given an ovation and the girls follow him outside, much to the consternation of the boyfriend of one of them. As he stands over to one side, a matronly woman announces “There’s Your Father!” to the two moppets at her feet. It’s Jack’s wife! She hits him and the disloyal girlfriend, and chases Jack down the street, pausing to knock over a Keystone Cop who had been attracted by the commotion.

Movie Star1By 1916, the concept of the “movie star” was pretty well established (though still new), and this movie satirizes some of the irrational enthusiasms people had for their stars already at the time. I can’t help but think about how Sennett had lost many of his most lucrative players when they became famous and demanded more money (Chaplin, famously, but also a stream of later actors including Harold Lloyd, Fatty Arbuckle, and Harry Landon). This movie takes film divas down a notch, without actually parodying any of his actors specifically. “Thrill’em Pictures” seems to be a send-up of Kalem Studios, while Swain seems to be portraying the kind of Western star established by “Broncho” Billy Anderson at Essanay. Possibly the funniest part of this movie (to me, at least) was Harry McCoy as the “One-Man Orchestra,” providing piano as well as sound effects for the movie-within-a-movie. He is constantly pulling out bizarre props to make funny noises that go with the film, and also gives a frenetic performance as a musician forced to keep pace with the movie. During the Indian attack, he gets out drums and tomahawks and gives visible “whoops” and hollers.

Movie Star2The theater in this movie is still a small Nickelodeon and certainly not a movie palace by any standard, but it does seem rather upscale compared to what we’ve seen in earlier movies that show the inside of a theater. The seats are fixed in place and there is paneling on the walls. The projectionist seems to have a sizable room to himself, and there is a bit of room to move in the aisles. It’s still a bit difficult for audience members to see when a big fellow like Mack Swain sits in the front seat, however, and the framing of the screen during the movie matches “Those Awful Hats” almost perfectly.

Movie Star4

Director: Fred Hibbard

Camera: Unknown

Cast: Mack Swain, Harry McCoy, Phyllis Allen

Run Time: 24 Min

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