Century Film Project

Celebrating the movies our ancestors loved

Tag: Mabel Normand

Mabel’s Wilful Way (1915)

This typical Keystone “park comedy” with Mabel Normand and Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle adds to its visual interest by including a variety of amusement park attractions, and uses many of the best players in a cast that never lets up on zaniness.

Mabels Willful WayIt begins with Mabel out with her parents, obviously not having a good time. She sits at a table in a large dining hall with music that she mimes to us is too loud. Her father (Glen Cavender) seems to enjoy it, but her mother (Alice Davenport) is enjoying onions for lunch, making the other two hold their noses. Mabel runs away from the table at the first opportunity. Meanwhile, Fatty and his friend Edgar Kennedy have shown up and are following any unattatched young woman until Joe Bordeaux, the cop, takes an interest in them. Fatty relives some of his routine with a water fountain as seen in “Fatty’s Chance Acquaintance” and then sprays Joe in the face. After they get away, they see Mabel trying to scam some sweets off a ice cream man (Bobby Dunn), and fight over the opportunity to be her savior. Fatty wins, then steals a large coin from the cash register to pay. He and Mabel feed most of their ice cream cones to a bear in the zoo (very bad behavior, nowadays), and Fatty even manages to feed it some peanuts from his mouth! Meanwhile, Edgar Kennedy has stumbled across a baseball throwing game, with a man in very obvious (and offensive) blackface as the target. He starts throwing balls with all his might when Glen wanders up, now on the hunt for his daughter. This turns into a chase, then a battle between the two men with their canes. Edgar runs off to the merry-go-round and the chase escalates and Glen tries to catch up to his fast-moving horse, but winds up getting kicked in the pants every time Edgar comes around. Edgar makes his escape by leaping off and leaving the old man pursuing the empty horse.

Mabels Willful Way1Fatty and Mabel are now enjoying a giant slide with mats. They are knocked down by, or knock down, several other riders, including our old friend Joe the cop. This leads to a fight in which Mabel leaves Fatty and runs to Edgar, resting on a bench. They go off to play another amusement park game, while Alice takes a rest at another nearby bench, putting her umbrella up against the sun. Fatty picks some flowers, and mistakes her for Mabel (this would have made a lot more sense if they had been wearing the same dress, but oh well) and tries to kiss her. She, outraged, leaps up and starts flailing with her umbrella. Now Mabel sees her father and tries to introduce him to Edgar, which predictably does not go well, after their fight, which now breaks out anew. Fatty dusts the old man off and sympathizes with him, earning a new “introduction” to his daughter, and of course Mabel’s mom walks up and recognizes him, leading to more violence. After Fatty is chased off, he and Edgar swear off women before being chased by Joe the cop, and Mabel’s parents turn her over for a spanking.

Mabels Wilful WayThis is another movie whose direction seems to be attributed to either Mabel, Mack, or Roscoe, depending on who you ask. My go-to authority, “The Silent Era” weighs in on Arbuckle’s side, and it’s probably right, but I do have a theory that might explain the confusion. Unlike a lot of the other “park comedies” from Keystone I’ve reviewed, this one obviously took place in a location away from the Sennett studios, and it may have been a spontaneous decision to grab some actors and cameras and go there, without even a script. In that situation, and with different actors performing in groups in different parts of the park, the duties might have been split, depending on who was available at the moment. The ending strikes me as something that was dreamed up on the spot, not a planned resolution. About that ending: I suppose that the spanking of a grown woman (Mabel would have been 22 at the time) is another example of “vulgarity” in early slapstick – certainly it would have its titillating side for some members of the audience. It’s still surprising enough to get a laugh out of me, although really all Mabel did wrong was to get bored hanging out with her parents.

Director: Mabel Normand or Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle/Mack Sennett

Camera: Unknown

Cast: Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle”, Mabel Normand, Edgar Kennedy, Alice Davenport, Glen Cavender, Joe Bordeaux, Al St. John.

Run Time: 13 Min

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

 

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He Did and He Didn’t (1916)

A lot has been made of this “dark” comedy by Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, which definitely has a more sophisticated tone than most of the work he did for Keystone Studios. However, it does manage to remain silly and even resort to slapstick for laughs, even as it plumbs the depths of spousal jealousy in a far more serious way than the usual “park comedy.”

He Did and He DidntIn this movie, Fatty and Mabel Normand are once again a couple, as they were often in the teens. This time, however, they are wealthy enough to have servants, and we are introduced to them as they struggle into their evening clothes. Fatty has a good deal of trouble with his collar and tie, and Mabel needs help with her zipper. Despite what has been written about the somber tone of the movie, this sequence establishes it as a comedy, with people confronted by day-to-day problems, but making it worse by getting more frustrated as they go. Next, we meet Jack (William Jefferson), who apparently grew up with Mabel. He produces a picture from “when they were sweethearts” – apparently when Mabel was in her tweens. Fatty is obviously uncomfortable with the newcomer, and he becomes so disturbed that he rips the photograph when Jack is not present. He then realizes what he’s done and apologizes to Mabel, but we know the issue is far from settled.

He Did and He Didnt1As it happens, a pair of burglars (Al St. John and Joe Bordeaux) are casing the place for potential robbery. Joe even comes in and goes through the motions of having a checkup, in order to get a chance to see where the safe is kept. Fatty catches him snooping and throws him out. Then it’s time for dinner. The dinner consists of lobster, and an Intertitle reminds us that eating bad lobster may have unfortunate effects, while the camera shows Fatty becoming increasingly concerned about Jack and Mabel. The thieves make a phone call to the house, calling Fatty across town for a housecall, believing that will leave the loot undefended. He is suspicious, and not at all eager to leave his wife alone with Jack, but nevertheless goes. Bordeaux and St. John enter the house unobserved. Now the action follows Jack, who is no dummy, and plans to stay away from Mabel while Fatty is away to keep the peace. To his surprise, Mabel comes to him in her nightclothes, and leans in close, seeming to intend to initiate romance. She whispers in his ear that there’s someone in her room, and he goes to investigate, finding a robber. Now the classic slapstick Keystone chase begins in earnest, with St. John showing off his athletic talents and his rubbery lanky body to the fullest as Jefferson chases him, firing a revolver wildly around the house. By the time Fatty returns, he has chased the robbers out, dropped his revolver, and tucked an unconscious Mabel in bed. Of course, that last is what Fatty finds on return from a phony address, and he shoots Jack and strangles his wife…

Or does he? We now see Jack and Fatty, waking up each alone in his room, suffering the effects of eating bad lobster.

He Did and He Didnt2There’s no denying that the subject matter here is not as light as most slapstick comedies, but I do think a bit too much is sometimes read into that. Possibly Arbuckle wanted to make a dark film, or at least a genuine melodrama, but his bosses at Keystone wouldn’t allow it. The ending obviously undermines the horror of seeing him kill innocent people, but more than that we have considerable high-energy slapstick and deliberate humor. The dinner is the sequence that is “darkest” to me, with the fewest interruptions for laughs, and it displays the competence of Elgin Lessley, who I believe was working with Arbuckle for the first time, in placing strategic shadows to enhance the mood. Another Lessley shot I appreciated was one in which the burglar comes into a dark room, with the only lighting source being the hallway behind him – usually Keystone houses are floodlit throughout. The DVD I watched had two versions, one with color tinting used to heighten the mood, based on the original release instructions. The color also added to the sense of artistry and deliberation of the film. We also see more close-ups in this movie, particularly of the brooding Fatty as he watches his wife with her old friend.

Elgin Lessley on set for "He Did and He Didn't"

Elgin Lessley on set for “He Did and He Didn’t”

This is interesting stuff, but it winds up being anomalous in a movie that can’t quite decide if it’s dark or light. “Silent Volume” has an interpretation of this film that suggests Fatty was demonstrating the horror of an abusive relationship, but this seems to me to be a very modern interpretation, not something that a comedian would have invented then. If anything, Fatty may be showing his real nature accidentally, not acting, in this movie. In previous cases, what he does here largely came off as cute, and his baby face still undermines the sense of him as a bad guy. It’s important to remember that spouses hitting one another and being controlling is a staple of slapstick, and we’ve seen it between this couple many times. Normally, this doesn’t extend to strangulation, but up to that point the movie only strays slightly off the established patterns of previous shorts. I’m inclined to read it as an experiment that failed, though perhaps your mileage will vary.

Director: Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle

Camera: Elgin Lessley

Cast: Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, Mabel Normand, William Jefferson, Joe Bordeaux, Al St. John

Run Time: 20 Min

You can watch it for free: here (no music, b&w) or here (with music and tinting).

Wished on Mabel (1915)

This Keystone comedy stars Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle along with frequent co-star Mabel Normand and returns to the typical theme of the “park” comedy the so frequently did. In this case, the movie is shot in San Francisco, seemingly in Golden Gate Park near the Conservatory of Flowers, and at least gives us some different backgrounds from the many comedies they performed in LA.

Wished On Mabel 1915As the movie opens, Mabel is in the park with her mother, Alice Davenport, and the two of them stop to look at a fountain. Mabel’s mother wants to read her magazine, and Mabel spots Fatty, her sweetheart, standing nearby. She invites him over to meet mother, who positions herself between them until Fatty uses his bulk to shove her over. They shyly attempt to kiss, but mother keeps looking at them and stopping them, and ultimately they decide to go for a walk while mother reads. The action switches to a man (Joe Bordeaux) sleeping on a park bench and a large cop (Edgar Kennedy) who walks up and rousts him. After the snoozer has departed, Kennedy lies down for a nap himself. Joe spots Alice alone and sits down next to her, pretending to have found something interesting in the paper. While she’s distracted by the paper, Joe snips the ribbon holding on to her watch, and steals it. He runs off and into a plainclothes policeman (Glen Cavender), who checks to see if his own watch has been stolen. Since it hasn’t, he lets Joe go.

Wished on MabelAlice now realizes that her watch is missing and hollers for a cop, waking Edgar from his nap. He runs over, gets all the information, and rushes off in search of Joe…until he gets back to his comfy bench, where he lies down for another forty winks. Alice goes off in search of her daughter. Mabel and Fatty have found a sylvan glen in which to frolic together, but suddenly a bee lands on her nose. Fatty laughs at how funny she looks as she crosses her eyes to try to see it, but then realizes she could be stung and tries to be a hero. He carefully positions himself and flicks it off her nose, and right onto the lip of another man (Ted Edwards) sitting on a nearby bench! Fatty also laughs at him for a while before flicking it off again. During his absence, Joe spots Mabel and tries to move in, losing the stolen watch through a hole in his pocket in the process. She resists his advances, and soon Fatty comes back over and chases him off. Joe crashes into the bench with Ted on it and they both go over. Now, Fatty spots the watch, and gives it to Mabel as a present. She’s thrilled, perhaps because it’s just like the one her mother wears. He goes to a nearby kiosk to buy some sweets for her. Joe dusts himself off and realizes he’s lost the watch, and backtracks to find it, running into Mabel again. He recognizes the watch he stole and takes it away from her. Now Fatty comes over and starts fighting with him. Alice sees them and she recognizes her watch, and the chaos escalates. Finally, Edgar, rousted from his snooze by his police chief, arrives on the scene and gives the watch to Alice and chases Joe. Joe tries to escape by climbing through a hole in a rock, but Edgar walks around to the other side and conks him with his Billy club.

Wished on Mabel1Although the plot here is simple and typical, a bit more went into this one-reeler than was usually the case. There’s obvious care in positioning the camera to take advantage of the setting – locations include the fountain, a building that I think is the Conservatory of Flowers, a tunnel, and the glen where Fatty and Mabel meet the bee. There are few, if any, “generic” shots as we see in many of the LA park comedies. There are also some good close-ups, including the theft of the watch and Mabel’s face with the bee on it. This is one of those movies where sources dispute the directorship – Wikipedia gives it to Mabel, while imdb and “The Silent Era” both claim Arbuckle. I’m inclined to believe it was him, but perhaps the duties were split because of the fast work needed for a location shoot. This movie included commentary on the “Forgotten Films of Roscoe ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle” disc, and it’s an example of what I said about poor preparation for the commentary tracks. One of the commenters tries to lead the other into identifying the location by saying, “So, that’s some big park in San Francisco, eh?” and the other fails to pick it up. Those of the audience who have never been to Golden Gate are left in the dark, although the location is pretty obvious, even a hundred years later. A little rehearsal or pre-writing before recording the track could have fixed this problem.

Director: Mabel Normand or Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle

Camera: Unknown

Cast: Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, Mabel Normand, Alice Davenport, Joe Bordeaux, Edgar Kennedy, Glen Cavender, Ted Edwards

Run Time: 13 Min

You can watch it for free: here (scroll to bottom of page)

That Little Band of Gold (1915)

This Keystone comedy goes in different directions to the more standard “park comedies” I’ve been reviewing recently, and is generally a stronger example of “situational” rather than “slapstick” comedy. This time, Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle is married to Mabel Normand, but will his philandering and her demanding mother-in-law destroy the relationship?

That_Little_Band_of_Gold_1915Our story begins with Fatty and Mabel in the back seat of a large, well-appointed automobile (no lowly farm couple in this outing!). Fatty produces a ring and Mabel expresses joy: we see that they are happy together and on the road to marriage. We next see them entering the courthouse, and wedded inside, in front of witnesses. Soon, the scene shifts to their state of domestic bliss – sort of. Mabel sits in front of a mirror weeping as Fatty stumbles home drunk, and presumably late). Her mother (Alice Davenport) is there, and expresses her disapproval in the strongest possible terms (jabbing Fatty in the gut with his cane, for example). Fatty makes a pass at the maid in her view, which does nothing to improve her temper. Fatty reluctantly puts on evening clothes and joins the two of them to drive to the opera. In the car, mother-in-law objects to Fatty’s smoking a cigar, which only heightens tensions. Meanwhile, Ford Sterling arrives at the opera with his wife and “a friend,” a young woman whose dress shows a lot of her arms for 1915 (May Emory). As they settle into their box, she attracts a good deal of attention from the male members of the audience, and Ford keeps trying to look down her dress. When Fatty’s party arrives, he resists entering the opera, but finally concedes, and they take to booth opposite from Ford’s party.

That Little Band of GoldDuring the show, Fatty consistently displays his disinterest in the opera, and Ford continually displays his interest in the young woman. They notice each other not watching the opera and signal to each other, Ford trying to do so without his wife observing, and Fatty without alerting his mother in law. Finally, they arrange to meet in the lobby, Fatty leaving Mabel and Alice behind, and Ford bringing both of his women companions. Ford’s plan (we mostly figure this out from body language) had been for Fatty to entertain his wife so that he would have a chance to sneak off with the floozy, but it doesn’t quite work out that way. Ford and Fatty go through a show of recognizing one another, and making introductions, and instantly the floozy gravitates to him, the wife barely noticing. Fatty and May go out to a neighboring restaurant together, and Ford drags his wife along as well. He keeps trying to get back with the young woman, but both she and Fatty consistently prevent it. Finally, Ford loses patience and goes to use the telephone. He calls the opera and pages Fatty’s wife, telling her that he is at dinner with “a strange woman.” Mabel and her mother head over and catch Fatty, and Mabel bursts into tears. Fatty figures out what has happened and breaks a bottle over Ford’s head, resulting in everyone getting thrown out. The next scene shows Fatty and Mabel’s reluctant divorce, urged on by Alice and the judge. They meet again outside the courthouse, sweetly make up, and go back inside to get married.

That Little Band of Gold1While hardly devoid of violence, this is a less “slapstick” movie than we’re used to from Arbuckle, and it deals with somewhat more grown-up subject matter, including the concept of divorce. Divorce was already a part of the Hollywood tradition, but it was largely unspoken and not treated in screenplays except as a social evil. The happy ending here prevents it from being too serious, and in fact I hoped that Fatty and Mabel will end up all right – their chemistry always seems to suggest that they should be a couple, even in movies that separate them – but this movie does take us right up to the edge of the unthinkable. It’s interesting to note the implication that marital troubles can all be laid at the feet of the nagging mother in law, never mind the fact that Fatty definitely behaved inappropriately on several occasions here.

That Little Band of Gold2I quite enjoyed Ford Sterling’s performance as the hopeful masher. He was not known for his subtlety, but in the right role his over-the-top facial expressions and body language can be hilarious. There’s also some interesting parallels with Chaplin’s “A Night in the Show,” which also involves shenanigans in a public theater, although Chaplin brought his own unique style to that film. This movie avoids toppling over into the riotous mayhem we might expect, particularly from a Keystone production, whereas “A Night in the Show” pulls out all the stops. Arbuckle and company seem to have been out to prove they could be funny without doing a giant chase scene or fight at the end, and even sneak in some sympathy with the happy ending.

Director: Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle

Camera: Unknown

Cast: Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, Mabel Normand, Ford Sterling, Alice Davenport, most of the Keystone company in audience.

Run Time: 25 Min

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

Fatty and Mabel’s Married Life (1915)

Keystone’s classic comedy couple star again in this one reel story of evil gypsies and mistaken identities. The Keystone Cops put in a good appearance and we also get some great street footage of old Los Angeles.

 Fatty and Mabels Married Life

The movie begins with an Intertitle that tells us “she reads exciting books,” which I think is meant to signal us that Mabel Normand’s character is given to fantasy and over-excitement. She and Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle are sitting together in the park reading when an organ grinder’s monkey suddenly attacks her. Fatty fights it off, but this offends the organ grinder, who comes over to challenge him. Fatty easily overcomes him with superior strength, even going to far as to toss his organ after him, but the man vows revenge, leading Mabel to imagine that they are under a gypsy curse. Fatty walks Mabel home, where he meets a business associate (Charles Lakin) with whom he has an appointment. He sends Mabel into the house and starts to leave with Charles, but then realizes he has forgotten important papers. He brings Charles into the house to look for them, but Mabel is already upstairs reading in the newspaper about daylight robberies in the area. She gets out her gun when she hears someone going through the drawers and fires it through the door, hitting Fatty in the rear. Fatty runs and hides in a wardrobe, and his colleague runs back out to the car in a panic. Mabel finally discovers who she’s been shooting at and Fatty throws the gun away. Then he goes off with his associate to an office and leaves her alone. Mabel locks the door.

Fatty and Mabels Married Life1Now the organ grinder from before is outside with a friend of his. Mabel sees them from the upstairs window, but decides she is safe inside. Then the curtain in the room moves by itself. She tries to convince herself she’s imagining it, but the curtain keeps moving every minute or so. Finally, she grabs the phone and calls the police, reporting an intruder in her house. Fatty and the other fellow see the cops racing toward his house from downtown, in a classic Keystone crowded cop car. Meanwhile, the organ grinder has come up to the door and knocked. Mabel starts to open it, thinking it’s the police already, but when she sees his face, she tries to slam the door. The organ grinder forces his way in and she flees, throwing things at him as she retreats. Finally, she locks herself in the upper section of the house, but the curtain in the back room is still moving ominously. Now, the police arrive and a crowd of neighbors gathers to see what’s going on. The police work on crowd control and a few, led by Al St. John, enter the house to investigate. They find the organ grinder and hold him. Al assures Mabel everything is all right and she opens up to him, then leads him to the room with the moving curtain. Al tries to investigate, but every time the curtain moves, he jumps back. Finally, the organ grinder breaks free and rushes to the curtain, where the culprit is revealed: his little monkey, of course! Fatty comes home and is held back by the police as he tries to find out what’s going on. The police release the gypsy and Mabel and Fatty are reunited.

Fatty and Mabels Married Life2While it was pretty predictable, this movie was a good example of the work that Keystone was putting out after Charlie Chaplin left in 1914. I particularly enjoyed Al St. John’s cowardly cop act, his gangly legs shaking as he approaches the curtain, then jumping back a bit further each time it moves. Fatty does seem a bit more prone to violence than usual, taking out a good deal of wrath on the organ grinder, who is after all only concerned about his little monkey. But the chemistry between the leads is still strong, and we see all the established techniques of slapstick put to good use here, including a sequence of rooms that are integrated and yet cut off from one another to allow for greater confusion.

Fatty and Mabels Married Life3Director: Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle

Camera: Unknown

Cast: Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, Mabel Normand, Al St. John, Charles Lakin, Joe Bordeaux, Josef Swickard

Run Time: 12 Min

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

Fatty and Mabel’s Simple Life (1915)

This two-reel Keystone parody of a farmer’s daughter’s elopement has similarities to a number of comedies I’ve discussed before, including “Leading Lizzie Astray,” “Fatty and Mabel Adrift,” and “A Jitney Elopement.” Mabel Normand and Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle demonstrate their considerable onscreen chemistry in the midst of slapstick mayhem.

FattyAndMabelsSimpl1915-01Mabel and Fatty live on neighboring farms and are shyly sweet on one another. The opening sequence involves a lot of cuteness with baby animals and Fatty tasting the animals’ food. Then Mabel settles down to milk a cow and the comedy ramps up. Fatty waves to her over a fence and peeks through a knothole, waving to her, and Mabel turns the cow’s udder to spray Fatty’s eye. After taking a couple of hits this way, Fatty goes to get the water hose. Unfortunately, Mabel’s dad (Josef Swickard) has seen what is going on and steps up to the knothole in the fence to see who his daughter is flirting with. Just as he puts his eye to the hole, Fatty lets loose and the dad gets drenched. Mabel and Fatty run away, and when the dad gets to the other side of the fence, a farmhand (Joe Bourdeaux) has picked up the hose to take a drink. The dad kicks him, and gets sprayed again when Joe turns around.

Fatty and Mabels Simple LifeThe plot thickens when the son of “the Squire” (Al St. John) shows up with a letter promising the old man free rent if his daughter marries the son. Of course, he goes for it, although Mabel is not at all happy about it. Dad calls the preacher to come over for a wedding. Fatty overhears the plan and springs into action, putting a ladder up to Mabel’s window and telling her to pack up so they can get married. She throws her heavy suitcase down, which breaks the ladder and pitches Fatty through the living room window and on top of her father. Now, Fatty resorts to force, kicking and pushing the dad and his rival into the kitchen and locking them in. He rushes upstairs and breaks down Mabel’s door, and the two of them run to an automobile and make a run for it. The dad and Al St. John pursue, stopping to pick up some rural Keystone Cops on bicycles. The car breaks down and goes in reverse, knocking over the pursuers and pursued in a sequence of silliness that ends with Mabel thrown by an engine explosion into a tree that happens to be perched on top of a well. The whole cast now tries to rescue her, Al St. John providing a rope (I want to point out that he was good for something), and in the process of getting her down several of the pursuers wind up in the well. Fatty tells the preacher to marry him and Mabel when he shows up, and presumably they live happily ever after.

Fatty and Mabels Simple Life1

What a knotty boy!

This is a pretty standard Keystone comedy with a chase, various gags, cops and a fight over a girl. Fatty is charming and sweet throughout, and one never gets the impression he means to initiate violence. Mabel demonstrates her ability to be the cute heroine and the physically active comedienne at the same time. The best sequence is that with the automobile running wild, which is what brings to mind comparisons with “A Jitney Elopement.” While the Chaplin film is better shot and edited, and the chase more thrilling, I found this sequence to be funnier. The car becomes a character, and a whimsically malicious one at that, as it alternately helps and hinders our heroes, sometimes running over their enemies, sometimes chasing them around a tree, sometimes exploding at the most inopportune moments. I quite enjoyed this movie, and it speaks well of the careers of all of its stars.

Man vs Machine

Man vs Machine

Director: Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle

Camera: Unknown

Cast: Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, Mabel Normand, Al St. John, Josef Swickard, Joe Bordeaux

Run Time: 24 Min

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

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).

Fatty and Mabel Adrift (1916)

Fatty_and_Mabel_Adrift_1916We get a lot of recognizable farm humor and newlywed jokes as well as a typical jilted lover out for revenge in this Mack Sennett slapstick movie starring Roscoe (Fatty) Arbuckle, Mabel Normand, and Al St. John.

Careful Mabel, don't cut yourself on that thing!

Careful Mabel, don’t cut yourself on that thing!

The simple love-triangle premise of this movie is established in a credits-sequence in which we see our principals outlined by jagged (and rather dangerous-looking) hearts. Fatty and Mabel move their hearts together and then join inside of one big heart. St. John watches this and then begins crying so hard his heart falls apart. This is then played out again as we watch Mabel and Fatty doing their chores together on Mabel’s father’s farm while St John shows up with a letter from his father (a neighboring farmer) suggesting that he turn over Mabel’s hand in marriage. When he’s refused, again he begins bawling so loud that they kick him into a haystack, from where he observes Mabel and Fatty together. Fatty shows off his great strength when he helps some city slickers fix their car and runs St. John off when he tries to put a move on Mabel in his absence.

Fatty and Mabel AdriftThose city slickers just happen to be renting beach cottages for vacations, and after the wedding, Fatty and Mabel head for one for their honeymoon. Mabel makes biscuits that come out like rocks and Fatty spends his days fishing with the dog – you should have seen the one that got away. Now St. John goes into full-on Ford Sterling mode and hatches an evil plan. After finding which cabin is theirs, he get into a fight with Fatty and runs into a gang of evil doers in a cave. Their boss eats dynamite and drinks gasoline. St. John hires a couple of the goons to help him undermine the posts holding up the cabin by during a storm, allowing it to slide down the beach at high tide and be swept off to sea. They wake up as their beds begin floating about the room. The house is far from land, and sinking! Meanwhile St. John and the goons get into a card game – they’ve seen how much money he’s got and plan to take him for all he’s worth. Fatty and Mabel send the dog to get help and climb to the top of the house. The dog goes to Mabel’s father and mother, who alert the coast guard that there’s a free-floating house, and there’s a multi-vehicle race to the rescue, including Mabel’s mom and dad diving into the drink on their bicycle before the coast guard speedboat finds them and pulls them in. The bad guys blow themselves up in the cave, and Fatty and Mabel kiss inside their jagged heart.

Fatty_and_Mabel_AdriftThis movie is directed by Arbuckle, and it’s one of the best things I’ve seen him in. It has a much more complex story than the simple Keystones of earlier years, and time is taken to set up each gag and play it out, while the story often sits on the back-burner for a while. The image of the floating house is wonderfully surreal, and it clearly required a decent budget to make this happen. There are also some interesting lighting effects, as when Fatty leans over Mabel in bed, so that his shadow kisses her on the lips – although he’s still in the next room. I laughed particularly at the scenes involving getting wet or falling into water, which there are plenty of. Al St John makes sort of an odd villain – he comes off mostly as spoiled and clueless, rather than evil, although he does conceive the idea of drowning Mabel and Fatty in this odd manner.

Director: Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle

Camera: Unknown

Cast: Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, Mabel Normand, Al St. John, Joe Bordeaux

Run Time: 34 Min

You can watch it for free: here

A Muddy Romance (1913)

Muddy Romance4

One off the most famous Keystone romps includes Mabel Normand and Ford Sterling, a whole bunch of Keystone Cops, and a curiously muddy dry lake. This may not be high art, but it brought butts into seats at the Nickelodeons, and remains a great example of the comedy factory’s style and initiative.

Muddy RomanceThe movie begins with Ford and Mabel as next door neighbors with a friendly flirtation going on. All seems well until rival Charles Inslee shows up and charms, first, Mabel’s mother (Minta Durfee) and then Mabel herself. Inslee gets the better of Sterling, first by pouring milk over him and then tricking him into hitting Mabel in the face with a pie. Now, the couple take up arms (er, bricks, anyway), and begin pelting Ford wildly. Sterling puts on a brave defense, but ultimately he’s overwhelmed by their superior numbers and runs back into his house. Mabel and Charles hijack a passing preacher so they can elope, but Sterling pursues them and fires a gun at the rowboat they take out onto the lake to escape him. Unable to hit at that range, Ford comes up with another plan – he’ll turn the convenient crank that drains the lake! He does, and suddenly the rowboat, plus a boat full of Keystone Cops who had heard the shooting and were coming to arrest him, are stuck in the mud. Now someone calls in a squad of “water police” (more Keystone Cops), who are able to drag the stranded unfortunates back to land by use of a javelin-throwing cannon. Sterling is discovered by the parks attendant and dragged away from the crank before he can cause any more mischief. That’s where the “Slapstick Encyclopedia” version ends, but rumor has it an alternate ending exists with Sterling committing comic suicide.

Muddy Romance1The “story” behind this production is that Mack Sennett found out that the lake in Echo Park was due to be drained, and piled a cast and crew into cars to run down there without any kind of script, but with plenty of cop costumes on hand. It’s used as an example both of the lack of planning and arbitrariness of filmmaking at Keystone Studios, but also of the genius Sennett had for improvising with whatever was at hand and saving money by shooting around real-world events. See “Kid Auto Races” and “The Gusher” for similar examples. However you see it, it is both fun and unpredictably goofy, but probably not to everyone’s taste.

Muddy Romance2The same can probably be said about the comedic star/villain, Ford Sterling. According to Charlie Chaplin, when he first arrived on the set at Keystone, he was struck by the fact that all through shooting, Ford Sterling would keep the cast and crew in stitches with a running dialogue in his fake Dutch accent. What was the point, when the audience would never hear it? This is a movie where you can sort of see that happening. Sterling’s lips are in constant motion, and he seems to be rolling his r’s and otherwise being funny with his speech, although I’m no lip reader, so I won’t claim to know for sure. He doesn’t forget the movie audience, though. When he needs to communicate what he’s saying, he pantomimes with his hands or makes appropriate facial expressions so that you can follow his meaning. I suspect that he kept his line of jokes going because he felt it lightened the atmosphere on set (making a movie can be a lot of hard work, especially when so little is planned in advance) and in the hopes of inspiring his fellow comedians to “think funny.” It’s shame we can’t hear them, though, because I bet he’s as funny with his voice as without it.

Muddy Romance3Director: Mack Sennett

Camera: Unknown

Cast: Mabel Normand, Ford Sterling, Charles Inslee, Minta Durfee, Mack Swain

Run Time: 11 Min

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

Barney Oldfield’s Race for a Life (1913)

Barney Oldfields Race for Life3

One of the thinnest plotlines in history seems to have introduced one of the most lasting impressions about silent film. This Keystone short has been cited time and again to support a premise that drives silent movie fans up the wall.

Barney Oldfields Race for LifeThis movie begins with Mack Sennett in the same bumpkin costume that he later used in “Mabel’s Dramatic Career.” He gives Mabel Normand a flower and they shyly smooch under a tree. This all seems to make villainous Ford Sterling inexplicably mad, and as soon as he can get Mabel alone, he tries to steal a kiss, which is rebuffed. He only gets angrier, and calls in his two goons to grab Mabel and drag her off to the railroad tracks, where they find chain and fasten her to the tracks with a railroad spike. Then, they take the convenient handcar to the nearest station and commandeer an engine (apparently just waiting for a train to do the job for them wasn’t good enough).

Barney: No actor, but boy can he drive!

Barney: No actor, but boy can he drive!

Ford gets angry with one of his associates when he asks to be paid and knocks him out. When the goon wakes up, he tells the railroad workers what’s going on and they inform Mack. Then, world-renowned racecar driver Barney Oldfield drives up and Mack informs him of Mabel’s peril. And the race is on! The car and the train speed toward the same location, but Oldfield’s expert driving assures the Mack will be able to rescue the damsel just in time. Meanwhile, a group of five policemen have taken the handcar to try to apprehend Sterling. Sterling, foiled by his inability to kill Mabel, takes out his gun and shoots all five. He tries to kill himself, but he’s out of bullets, so resorts to strangling himself to death (!).

Barney Oldfields Race for Life1This movie is a patently thin veneer hung over a thrilling chase and a lot of silly satire. Ford Sterling takes his mustache-twirling villain role to unheard-of extremes, climaxing with his own bizarre suicide when thwarted. When he so easily kills the five policemen, the question is immediately raised why he didn’t just shoot Mabel in the first place when she refused him a kiss, but that wouldn’t make for a thrilling movie, just a psychotic act of violence. Trying to crush her with a steam engine is clearly more cinematic. The chase itself includes some impressive photography for 1913, including tracking shots from the hand car, the engine, and the car, as well as from other vehicles just in front of or beside them. The shot where Sennett pulls Mabel off the tracks just in the nick of time appears to have been a double-exposure, and on the print I’ve seen it looks very dark and high-contrast, suggesting that the cinematographers couldn’t manage it with the finesse of Georges Méliès. Oldfield seems to have no interest in even trying to act, his only job is to drive a fast car, and he does that fine, letting Sennett do all the emoting. I suppose the five guys who get shot are technically “Keystone Cops” (they’re men in police uniforms in a Keystone movie), but they don’t do any of the characteristic antics one associates with that name.

Barney Oldfields Race for Life2Although Fritzi at Movies Silently has already covered this in detail, I need to say a few words about the girl-tied-to-the-railroad-tracks thing. Yes, this is a silent movie in which it did happen. No, it wasn’t all that common of a theme. Apparently, it was a trope in Victorian Theater, because you could build suspense by having off-stage train whistles without having to actually show a train. Whatever the case, this example is clearly satire – the situation is outrageous on purpose and being played up as ridiculous, as Sterling’s performance emphasizes. It wasn’t something silent audiences wanted or thought of as serious drama. I found it sort of a disappointing role for Mabel Normand (after all I said about her NOT being a “damsel”), she sort of sits there and weeps instead of taking charge of the situation, but it was hardly representative of her career, either. I’d say this movie doesn’t hold up that well, and isn’t even of great historical interest, inasmuch as it seems to lead people to false conclusions.

Wikipedia calls this a "screen shot" from the movie. I think it's actually a publicity still, judging by the posed look of the actors.

Wikipedia calls this a “screen shot” from the movie. I think it’s actually a publicity still, judging by the posed look of the actors.

Director: Mack Sennett

Camera: Lee Bartholomew and Walter Wright

Cast: Mabel Normand, Mack Sennett, Ford Sterling, Barney Oldfield, Al St. John, Hank Mann

Run Time: 13 Min, 30 secs

You can watch it for free: here.