Century Film Project

Celebrating the movies our ancestors loved

Tag: Slim Summerville

Dough and Dynamite (1914)

For this two-reel comedy from Keystone, Charlie Chaplin threw in a whole lot of ideas and gags he’d developed partially in other movies, apparently trying for more of an opus, showing off everything he could do at once. It may have been more ambitious than successful, but it was a precursor of later things.

Charlie is a waiter at a bakery with a small café. We see him dropping food on the floor, only to pick it up and serve it, spilling things on customers, and generally being completely obnoxious. When a young female customer stands in front of a counter advertising “Assorted French Tarts,” however, Charlie snaps into action to help her, forgetting all about the trail of spoilt meals behind him. In the process of flirting ineffectually with her, he tosses the display tarts across the room, causing several customers to leave in a huff. He now heads into the kitchen, where he begins a slapstick fight with Chester Conklin and the cook, coming out very much on top, despite a clumsy beginning. Now Charlie opens the trapdoor that leads to the basement, which is where the bakers are working hard at making bread and pastries. Chester gives Charlie a kick down the ladder, causing a baker to drop several loaves of bread, and soon he is caught up in surprisingly sticky dough, which he wipes off on a hanging jacket. Now he goes over to look at the ovens, providing the first of many opportunities to burn his hand. The bakers watch his antics and laugh for a while, then suggest that he head back up to safer ground, where the new paucity of customers gives him a chance to flirt with the waitresses (Peggy Page and Cecile Arnold). Soon, he’s back in the kitchen, where he breaks several dishes in the process of making things up with Conklin.

An intertitle now introduces a new subplot, telling us that, “the bakers want less work and more pay.” Their negotiations with the owner quickly stall and they stage a walkout (causing one to discover all the dough on his jacket), and so the owner hands over their aprons to Charlie and Chester, who have now been promoted to scab bakers. One of the bakers threatens Charlie with a knife, but Charlie gets the better of him and stalks off, and the bakers all walk off the floor after getting paid out by the owner. Chester seems reluctant at first, but finally consents to go down into the basement, and then Charlie is sent down with a truly massive sack of flour on his back. After several comic mis-steps, Charlie finally drops it down the ladder onto Chester. In the basement, Charlie continues to fight with Chester, burn his hands, get stuck in dough, and drop food on the floor before putting it out to be served. Meanwhile, the strikers meet in a barn and take out a large box of dynamite, which they plan to use on the bakery. Charlie’s flirtations and incompetence continue apace, and soon he has managed to get flour onto the behinds of all of the waitresses, something the owner notes with concern. When his wife is briefly down in the basement and also innocently gets flour on herself, he goes ballistic. Meanwhile, the strikers carry out their plot and manage to infiltrate a dynamite-loaded loaf of bread into the ovens, which soon explode. The cast find themselves amidst the rubble of the ruined shop and the movie ends.

This movie apparently was conceived by Chaplin and Conklin while they were on a break from “Those Love Pangs,” having lunch at a café-bakery not unlike the one in the movie. It is certainly much more well-developed than that movie, and it’s been suggested that one of the reasons for the weakness of that movie is that they decided to move their better gags over to the new project. Whatever the case, this movie reminded me of later work that Keaton and Arbuckle would do together, such as “The Butcher Boy,” which takes advantage of a customer service setting to provide an opportunity for brief comic vignettes and a variety of characters to interact. In that sense, it’s also like “The Floorwalker” and “The Pawnshop,” by Chaplin as well, though the freneticism and randomness matches a Comique more than a Mutual. Still, this has most of the roughness of Charlie’s Keystone period, and only the glee which he and Conklin bring to their comedy fighting makes it stand out from the “park comedies” at times. Charlie does bring some of his dance-like moves to bear; I was particularly entertained by a sequence in which he prepares donuts by twisting dough around his wrists in a series of rhythmic moves.

Director: Charlie Chaplin

Camera: Frank D. Williams

Starring: Charlie Chaplin, Chester Conklin, Fritz Schade, Norma Nichols, Glen Cavender, Cecile Arnold, Peggy Page, Vivian Edwards, Phyllis Allen, Edgar Kennedy, Slim Summerville, Charley Chase, Jess Dandy, Ted Edwards

Run Time: 24 Min

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

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.

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’s New Role (1915)

Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle seems to be imitating Charlie Chaplin’sLittle Tramp” character in this one reel comedy from Keystone about a homeless man’s efforts to patronize a bar. Arbuckle brings his own personal style, however, and a subplot about a mad bomber and a prank on the tavern owner makes this different from any obvious slapstick models.

Fattys New RoleFatty wakes up in a hayloft and combs his hair in front of a cracked mirror hanging on a fence. He is dressed in ill-fitting clothes and seems to have several days’ growth of beard. He smokes a cigar. He sees a dog and panics, perhaps expecting to be chased off the property, and finds himself in front of “Schnitz’s Bar.” He goes in and asks for a refill on his empty liquor bottle. The bartender (Slim Summerville) agrees, but then gets annoyed when he starts taking free samples of the food that is laid out for a breakfast buffet. The tavern owner (Mack Swain) comes out to moderate and takes the food back and also dumps out Fatty’s bottle. Then he forcefully ejects Fatty. Fatty breaks his bottle open and takes out the handkerchief inside, wrings it out into a glass and takes a drink.

Fattys New Role1Back at the tavern, some of the patrons have seen a newspaper article about a bomber that has destroyed three taverns after being ejected for stealing food. They decide to play “a prank” by writing a threatening note which seems to be from Fatty. Meanwhile, Fatty runs into a rich gentleman (Edgar Kennedy) who gives him some money. He uses it to buy a round block of smelly cheese. The patrons and staff are clearing out of the tavern as the appointed time draws near, but Mack is still hanging around nervously, jumping at the slightest sound, when Fatty wanders back in with his cheese tucked under his coat. Mack finally panics and runs away, tearing through the streets of the city and leaving Fatty alone in the bar. He eats his cheese and pours himself free drinks, getting bolder and thirstier as he goes. Finally, he heads down to the basement to investigate the barrels of booze on hand. Mack has found some Keystone Cops to come back to the bar with him, thinking it has already blown up When they get there, Fatty is standing on a whiskey barrel with a mallet in the basement and he hits it, causing an explosion that knocks him upstairs and into the cops’ arms. Fatty finally passes out from all the booze.

Fattys New Role2I was a tad hungover when I watched this, so not really in condition to appreciate all the drinking humor. I do think that Arbuckle manages to give the “tramp” character an original portrayal, somehow managing to keep his good-natured innocence even as he portrays an alcoholic bum. The disc I watched this on claimed the movie features “Mack Swain and Ford Sterling.” I spotted Swain well enough, and there’s a number of other recognizable Keystone players, but I never saw Sterling. I think it’s a mistake, because imdb, Wikipedia, and “The Silent Era” all give similar cast lists without Sterling’s name on them. Fatty does get a lot of screen time alone in this movie, despite the large cast, and some of the funniest bits are just him being drunk or doing bits of business by himself.

Director: Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle

Camera: Unknown

Cast: Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, Slim Summerville, Mack Swain, Edgar Kennedy, Joe Bordeaux, Glen Cavender, Luke the Dog, Al St. John, Fritz Schade, Frank Hayes

Run Time: 13 Min

You can watch it for free: here.

Mabel’s Busy Day (1914)

This Charlie Chaplin film from Keystone studios works as a kind of sequel to “Kid Auto Races at Venice.” At least some of it seems to have been filmed on location at a live event, but this time Charlie’s acrobatics noticeably engage part of the crowd, and there is a much bigger cast for him to play off. It was directed by his co-star, Mabel Normand, about whom he would say mean things in his autobiography years later. In this, she keeps up with him in terms of physical comedy and audience sympathy.

 Mabels Busy Day

Mabel and Charlie both enter the grounds of the races under questionable pretenses. She wants to get in to sell her hot dogs, and bribes a cop (Chester Conklin, from “The Masquerader” and “Mabel at the Wheel“) with a free sample to get in a side door. He tries to bluff his way in the front, and winds up chased by several cops, and knocking them down several times in the process of getting away. She gets ripped off by a couple of customers (including Mack Sennett, studio owner and reputed boyfriend of Mabel), and Charlie gets into trouble while flirting and going through women’s purses. They meet up and he distracts her in order to steal her hot dogs, then becomes wildly successful at selling them, although he also fights with some of his customers. Mabel goes back to the cop and gets him to threaten Charlie, which can only lead to more chaos.

 Mabels Busy Day1

Altogether, it’s pretty primitive slapstick, and not up to the standards Charlie would later set but it’s better than some of the really early shorts he made, and is a chance to see quite a number of Keystone regulars all in one place. Certain edits suggest that parts were shot on location and part back at the studio, and they mesh pretty well if you’re not looking for it, showing that it was less spontaneous than it at times appears.

Director: Mabel Normand

Camera: Frank D. Williams

Starring: Charlie Chaplin, Mabel Normand, Mack Sennett, Chester Conklin, Edgar Kennedy, Slim Summerville

Run Time: 9 Min

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