Century Film Project

Celebrating the movies our ancestors loved

Tag: Harry McCoy

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).

His New Profession (1914)

His_New_Profession

For this Charlie Chaplin Keystone comedy, I was able to find two slightly different edits, but nothing so glaring as in the case of “Caught in a Cabaret,” or even “The Masquerader.” For those who’ve been keeping score, I found another theory as to who re-edited them: William K. Everson claims that Sid Chaplin (Charlie’s brother) created new versions from the originals during his time at Keystone Studios. Until I find a more authoritative source, we’ll assume that’s correct, although it’s interesting that Sid seems to have felt he had a freer hand in re-arranging Mabel Normand’s work than Charlie’s.

 His New Profession

Here, Charlie’s in full Little Tramp getup as he sits in the park, reading. For this opening shot we get a long close-up, suggesting that Keystone (or Chaplin) was beginning to realize that audiences wanted a good look at their favorite comedian. Nearby, a couple argues because they have to look after the man’s (Charley Chase) invalid uncle, who wears a cast. He promises to find a sitter so they can be alone together, she stalks off. The nephew pushes his uncle’s wheelchair right onto Charlie’s foot, which is the perfect opportunity to offer him the job of looking after uncle. Charlie accepts, with no great enthusiasm while nephew sneaks off to his girl. Soon, Charlie comes upon a bar. Nearby, there is a crippled man begging, which gives Charlie an idea. He waits until uncle and the beggar are asleep, then puts the sign and money cup in uncle’s lap. Soon, he has some spending money for the bar. The girl sees the uncle “begging” and breaks up with nephew. The barkeeper is Fatty Arbuckle, but he doesn’t really get any funny bits as Charlie cadges for drinks. This gives Charlie a chance to do his funny drunk bit and he stumbles out as the uncle and the beggar are coming to blows. Then he wheels him over to a pier and tries to bond over a picture of a pretty girl. Then the girl sits next to him and he loses interest in uncle while he tries to mash on her. He pushes uncle to the end of the pier, where he nearly falls into the water – but not quite. Soon, the nephew, two policemen, the beggar, the uncle, the girl, and Charlie are all exchanging blows over who did what to whom. The uncle winds up arrested, one cop falls into the drink, and Charlie is left with the girl, who, in the longer cut, seems none too thrilled.

 His New Profession1

I was sorry to see Arbuckle so wasted, and the other Keystone players didn’t get as many laughs out of me as usual, but this is a fine example of Chaplin’s early work as an actor and director. The final climax was a bit disappointing, too. Somehow having the wheelchair almost fall into the water twice made it seem like it had to happen eventually, though it may have been safer jut to have the cop go in. Charlie isn’t especially sympathetic here, either – he’s a bit of a cad and certainly not a reliable sitter for the disabled man. On the other hand, the nephew is to be blamed for giving the responsibility to a Tramp, I suppose.

Director: Charlie Chaplin

Camera: Frank D. Williams

Starring: Charlie Chaplin, Charley Chase, Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, Harry McCoy, Peggy Page

Run Time: 13 Min

You can watch it for free: here (no music, shorter edit), or here (with music, longer)

 

The Masquerader (1914)

Charlie Chaplin arrives for a day of work at Keystone.

Charlie Chaplin arrives for a day of work at Keystone.

Once again, I’ve found various “edits” of this early Charlie Chaplin Keystone short, with different intertitles and lengths. I’ll discuss the differences at the end, but first I’m going to focus on what I believe to be the more authentic “original” version (at least it’s longer).

 Masquerader

Charlie is employed at a film studio called…Keystone Studios! In fact, this movie clearly saved on money by using the existing studio for its location, but also may have deliberately given curious audiences a peek inside the “dream machine” that produced their favorite comedies. This is emphasized by the fact that the opening shot gives us Charlie in his street clothes, with no makeup on, and then the movie proceeds to his dressing room, where he turns by stages into the “Little Tramp” we’ve come to know so well. Along the way, he meets up with Fatty Arbuckle, another major Keystone star, and Fatty tricks him into drinking hair tonic before they both bump heads across the dressing room table for slapstick effect. Then he goes out to the set, where he is given simple instructions of when to enter and what his cue is. Unfortunately, he’s distracted by some pretty girls (including Fatty’s then-wife, Minta Durfee) and misses the cue, so the director replaces him with Chester Conklin. Then he messes up THAT shot, and is thrown off the lot entirely.

 Masquerader2

The next scene shows a very attractive, though conservatively dressed, young woman applying for a job at Keystone. All the boys are crazy for her and the director is particularly amorous. She convinces him to let her take over the boys’ dressing room (surely there’s a women’s dressing room somewhere, but never mind), and when she finally gets him to leave, she takes off her wig and turns into the Little Tramp. It’s been Charlie all along! The director is bullied by the men into finding out what’s taking so long, and finds him there with her clothes, slowly putting it together and initiating a fast chase with everyone in the joint. Charlie throws some bricks at his pursuers, but he ends up knocked by one their missiles into a convenient well. The gang resolve to leave him there.

ACT-ing!

ACT-ing!

Since this movie was directed by Charlie himself, I’m less inclined to blame him for the unfortunate re-edit, which may have been done by the studio while they still held the rights. This re-edit cuts the entire scene with Charlie missing his cue and jumps to him interfering with Conklin for no apparent reason. The added intertitles are, as usual, not helpful to the comedy, and one of them actually telegraphs the fact that Charlie is the new girl on the set, ruining the surprise when s/he takes off the wig! Of course, if you read this review before watching, that was already spoiled for you…

Masquerader_(1914)

Director: Charlie Chaplin

Camera: Frank D. Williams

Starring: Charlie Chaplin, Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, Minta Durfee, Chester Conklin, Fritz Schade, Harry McCoy

Run Time: 12 Min (original), 9 min (re-edit)

You can watch it for free: here (original, no music) or here (re-edit, with music).

Mabel’s Married Life (1914)

Mabels Married Life

With this Keystone comedy, we get to see how Charlie Chaplin and Mabel Normand worked together under Charlie’s direction, so this may be a good movie to compare to “Caught in a Cabaret” and some of the other early Chaplins I’ve discussed this week. I’ll admit, the plot holds together better and both characters seem better defined, but this may not be a result of better direction, just the fact that Charlie had come to know “the Little Tramp” better by this point in the year. At any rate, there don’t seem to be “corrected” versions floating around, so the original edit must have satisfied Charlie, or whoever was responsible for the alternate “Caught in a Cabaret.”

 Mabel's_Married_Life_(1914)

Here, Mabel and Charlie are a married couple, and his frequent film-rival Mack Swain is married to one Eva Nelson, who I don’t believe I’ve seen before. They meet in a park that is conveniently near to a saloon. Charlie goes into the saloon and tries to scam some drinks. Meanwhile Mack tries picking up on Mabel. When Charlie returns and sees this, he is unable to deter Mack, even with attempted physical force (Mack just shrugs it off). So, Charlie gets Eva, who has more influence. Mabel and Eva get into a fight, however, and Charlie takes the worst of it. She and Mack leave, Charlie returns to the bar, and Mabel goes shopping. She decides to buy a large mannequin (or punching bag) and dresses it like Mack Swain (OK, that’s weird. Maybe she is into him after all). Mack enters the bar where Charlie is and encourages the other patrons in mocking him. Charlie fights back, knocking pretty much everyone over. Then Charlie, doing his full-on “funny drunk” makes his way home to be confronted by the mannequin. Of course, he thinks it’s Swain and picks a fight. Of course, it’s weighted, so it just bounces back and hits him just as hard every time he hits it. Mabel watches him and laughs. Eventually she goes out and tries to show him he’s fighting a dummy, and winds up getting hit herself. She and Charlie end up on the floor together.

 Mabel's_Married_Life_(1914)1

This movie is paced better than a lot of the early Keystones I’ve been reviewing, and Charlie was smart to make use of Mabel’s reaction shots during the fight with the dummy; they often elevate the humor of his pratfalls. He also clearly respects her as a comedienne (whatever he later said of her as a director) because he gives her several scenes to do funny bits of her own, and plays off her well in their scenes together. Typically, a Keystone ends with a chase or just a degeneration into a scene of crowd-chaos, but here, the ending is actually somewhat understated. The biggest scenes of violence we get are those with Charlie and the patrons at the bar, but the dummy isn’t at all anticlimactic, because Charlie keeps upping the ante and getting hit back twice as hard each time. Still a very simple film, but it works.

Director: Charlie Chaplin

Camera: Frank D. Williams

Starring: Charlie Chaplin, Mabel Normand, Mack Swain, Eva Nelson, Harry McCoy, Al St. John

Run Time: 13 Min

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

Caught in a Cabaret (1914)

Caught_in_a_Cabaret_(poster)

For this Charlie Chaplin Keystone comedy, I had to look a bit to find the most “authentic” 1914 version. Charlie, you see, bought the rights to most of his early films and re-released them in the sound era, often re-editing them to “improve” them for sound audiences. You can read a good analysis of the two versions of “The Gold Rush” over at Movies Silently. For this one, the first version I came across (and you can find this one several places on the Internet) had a suspiciously large number of Intertitles, which got me wondering. Movies from 1914 were generally pretty light in Intertitles, and Keystone shorts in particular. Sure enough, it’s the re-edit, which lacks several critical scenes and is actually less funny (to me, at least) because the Intertitles try to put verbal spins on the physical action, but just wind up interrupting it. Since this is a historical project, I’m going to focus on what seems to be the older version, without getting into debates about who has the right to re-edit movies.

 Caught in a Cabaret

Here, Chaplin’s “Little Tramp” is a waiter in a low-class tavern establishment with dancing and a floor show, which I guess qualified it as a “cabaret” by California standards of the day. Minta Durfee is present as a singer and dancer and Chester Conklin is one of Charlie’s fellow employees (he dances a bit as well, possibly off the clock). He takes his dog for a walk on his lunch break and meets Mabel Normand, a wealthy but clueless society girl, while she’s in the process of getting robbed in a park. She takes to him and he poses as someone above his station (the re-edit calls him “Ambassador from Greece,” the older one says “Prime Minister of Greenland;” possibly in a truly original print there’d be no on-screen title for his calling card at all), so she invites him over to meet the folks. They ask him to return for a party later, but a wealthy suitor has been watching it all and follows him back to his dive-y restaurant. Charlie makes up with the boss for being late by conking a large trouble-maker on the head with a mallet, and then dresses “up” and goes off to the party. He flirts with Mabel, getting extremely drunk in the process, then goes back to work again (sheesh!). Now the suitor sees his chance, and suggests to the garden party that they go slumming in town. They pile into the car and head to Chaplin’s place of employment, where he comes out to serve them and does a very funny bit pretending that he just happened to wander in there, which is completely ruined by the Intertitles in the newer version, but of course he is found out, and a fight breaks out between him, his boss, and the rich folks, which rapidly descends into complete chaos. Yes, a pie is thrown in someone’s face (but only one), but that’s only the start of the troubles…

 Caught_in_a_Cabaret_(1914)1

Like a number of Chaplin’s early films, this was directed by Mabel Normand, who, he would insist years later in his autobiography, Chaplin did not regard as a competent director (she was only 22 at the time). He also made it sound like it only happened once or twice, but as this project has demonstrated, there were a few instances. Still, Charlie may have felt more at liberty in his re-edits after the fact since he didn’t think she was a good director. The story is somewhat more complex than is usual for a Keystone short, with Charlie bouncing back and forth between two locations and identities, and the climactic scene of pandemonium takes longer to get to (and is somewhat less satisfying) than in many of the simpler ones. Unfortunately, by cutting out necessary explanatory scenes, Charlie’s later attempt to “fix” the movie only made it less coherent, and, oddly, he cuts down the climax as well (including the pie-in-the-face). Where I chuckled a few times at his version, hers got belly laughs from me.

How many Keystone regulars can you name in this shot?

How many Keystone regulars can you name in this shot?

Director: Mabel Normand

Camera: Frank D. Williams

Starring: Charlie Chaplin, Mabel Normand, Minta Durfee, Chester Conklin, Edgar Kennedy, Harry McCoy

Run Time: 19 Min (longest version)

You can watch it for free: here. Or take your chances with the re-edit: here.