Thoughts On: “The Hayseed” And “The Garage”

This is the final Comique Month post. Man, it’s gone by fast! A great big THANK YOU to everyone who’s been following along. If you haven’t seen much of Arbuckle’s post-Keystone work before, I really hope these posts inspired you to check it out. And I hope it will bring you as much joy as it has brought me!

The Hayseed (1919)

Title card the hayseed

The Hayseed revisits Arbuckle’s beloved rural setting, with yes, another quirky small-town store. It was one of Arbuckle’s most successful shorts, popular with small-town audiences and city slickers alike.

Fatty Arbuckle The Hayseed Film Daily 1919.png

 

There’s more of a plot to The Hayseed than other Comiques. Roscoe works at a village general store and is also the mail carrier (he always seemed to be a jack-of-all-trades in his films). Buster also works in the same store. Roscoe loves Molly, a country girl, but she’s also being courted by the local sheriff, played by gangly John Coogan (father of famous little Jackie). Naturally they become romantic rivals. It turns out, though, that John is not such a nice guy as he seems.

By this point Al St. John had moved on to the green pastures of his own starring comedy series, which is why John Coogan has a prominent role. I gotta say, while Al sure had no qualms about looking like a crazed gremlin, he was actually quite good-looking out of makeup. Just enough of that came through to make him convincing enough as a romantic rival (in silent comedy land, anyways). John, on the other hand…

Hayseed john coogan

Yikes.

The plot is a flimsy coat hanger hung with some of Arbuckle’s most memorable gags. When a customer phones in an order for Swiss cheese “with lots of holes,” Roscoe helpfully drills in some extra ones. Buster acts as a sentry for the general store, an idea he no doubt got from his WWI service. Roscoe finds an empty whiskey bottle and gives it a mournful little funeral. At the end there’s a funny scene where all of Roscoe’s friends appear to turn away from him–he doesn’t realize it’s because he has bad onion breath. (Speaking of which, the “onion eating” scene cracks me up but puzzles me too–were onions thought to have “revitalizing” properties? Was there some sort of onion-eating health fad? Was this just plucked out of thin air? I’m really not sure.)

Image result for the hayseed arbuckle

Image credit: Silentera.com

One part intrigues me–during the village dance, Roscoe and Buster dance with a tiny older woman who they whip around, accidentally tumble over, and otherwise fling around like a little doll. She’s perfectly fine, of course, and gives a little bow when the song is over. There are no credits anywhere for this gal, so I’m assuming she was some sort of vaudeville performer who specialized in tumbling/eccentric dancing routines.

Hayseed little dancer

By this point Roscoe’s character had grown more vivid and less child-like than he was in the earlier Comiques. Buster’s role is smaller, but he still gets in some funny moments. And it seems like The Hayseed is the short where he officially settled on the exact costume he’d wear in his own shorts–that specific style of vest and all.

Image result for the hayseed arbuckle

Check. Out. This. Lobby card. One of Buster’s “last smiles”!

While there’s still some lively slapstick, The Hayseed is a bit more “genteel” than, say, The Rough House or Good Night, Nurse, with sweetness added to the rural scenes (and who could resist the shots of Roscoe and Luke in a horse-drawn buggy, delivering the mail?). It’s maybe a little lower on my list of top Comiques, but it’s well worth watching and offers a lot of charm.

 

The Garage (1919)

Title card the garage

And now we’ve arrived at the final film by Arbuckle’s Comique Film Corporation, The Garage. Henceforth the reins of Comique would be handed over to Buster Keaton, and Arbuckle would begin starring in feature-length comedies, an arrangement which would make him one of the highest-paid actors in Hollywood. Joyously, his series went out on a heck of a high note.

Image result for the garage 1919 arbuckle

Roscoe and Buster work at a garage which also doubles as the local fire station. The owner’s daughter, Molly, has a suitor named Jim who comes to call on her. Buster and Roscoe accidentally get everyone covered in grease. While Molly takes a bath to get off the grease, Jim hopes to apologize to her without running into her angry father. He pulls a fire alarm to get Roscoe, Buster and the father out of the building.

Finding himself locked in the garage, Jim uses a blowtorch to try and open the door and accidentally sets the whole building on fire. Yes, that means the fire station is, in fact, on fire, and Buster and Roscoe have to try and save the day. Evidently a couple of the sets were set quite thoroughly on fire, which must’ve been an exciting shoot!

Garage fire hose

In their final short together Buster and Arbuckle are very much a team, more consistently than in the other shorts. Interestingly, there aren’t any of the usual romantic rivalries. A young couple is added to the cast instead, played by Molly Malone and hardworking Keystone veteran Harry McCoy. Fellow Keystone regular Polly Moran also has a small role, as does comedian Charles Doherty–who would one day be a Keaton imitator for a brief time..

Garage jack cooper

And Arbuckle, no doubt wanting to help out his pal before he took the next step of being a solo artist, generously let Buster have a lot of footage. He takes the lead in several sequences, and doubtless designed the funny gadgetry in the firemen’s sleeping quarters. (Speaking of which, I’ve tried and tried to identify some of the girls in the photos on the walls, but Mabel Normand’s the only one we get to see clearly!) The highlight is probably the sequence where he impersonates a Scotsman by cutting out a kilt and hat from an ad for famous actor Sir Harry Lauder. I won’t spoil it for you, but the timing in the end of this sequence makes it one of the best gags he ever filmed with Arbuckle.

The Garage is one of the early comedy greats. It has the pitch-perfect pacing that the best silent comedy directors excelled at, it’s gag-driven but there’s still a clear plot, and the cinematography is clean with “just right” camera placements (another sign of Buster’s involvement?). It’s a winner.

Image result for the garage fatty arbuckle

Along with Coney Island, The Garage was one of the most widely-available Arbuckle shorts. Now that all of them save A Country Hero are available, we can see the progression from the mayhem of The Rough House to the gentler pace of The Hayseed. But make no mistake, all the Comiques offer quality production values, clever ideas, and classic gags. And best of all, they offer priceless moments almost too numerous to count.

Image result for fatty arbuckle comique

EDIT 8/1/17: Historian Steve Massa was kind enough to let me know that the actor I thought was Jack Cooper was actually Charles Doherty, wearing a costume similar to Jack’s. Doherty was a comedian who didn’t really have a character of his own, and who sometimes imitated other comic’s looks–including Keaton’s at one point. Fascinatingly, Doherty’s costar in one such Keaton-imitating short would be Sybil Seely!

I wanted to give a final shout-out to my sources for Comique Month! My most important one is James Neibaur’s book Arbuckle and Keaton: Their 14 Film Collaborations, published by McFarland. So far, this is the only book to focus exclusively on the Comiques. It includes the historical background behind each short, detailed information on all the main players, and a lot of thoughtful analysis to help us understand why these films are highlights of the silent comedy era.

I’ve also been benefiting from the excellent new Blu-ray set Buster Keaton: The Shorts Collection from Kino-Lorber, produced by Lobster Films. This set offers not only beautiful new restorations of the Comiques–some shorts are clearer than I’ve ever seen them, and a few even have new footage–but excellent soundtracks. If you don’t own this set yet, rush out and get it asap! (No, no one is paying me to say this–I really do recommend it that much!)

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6 thoughts on “Thoughts On: “The Hayseed” And “The Garage”

  1. Fantastic post as always. Your attention to detail and your solid research is awesome. Your reviews helps me better understand the movies and the process when they made them. I especially love the Keaton/Arbuckle collaborattions 😊

  2. This was my first time seeing Hayseed, and I enjoyed it. Like you, I wondered about the actress being slung around. Man, that gal had to have been professional acrobat, and a resilient one at that!

    It’s been a long time since I’ve watched The Garage, and I found myself roaring with laughter. That one is nonstop, full throttle fun from start to finish. Amazing—I can imagine it took quite a bit of effort to make that thing. (And I wonder how they did the trampoline bounce thing with Molly Malone?)

    Lea, you’ve really outdone yourself with this Comique series. All the articles have been most interesting and enjoyable from start to finish. I’ve had a wonderful time reading them, seeing new films, and rewatching old favorites. Bravo!

    • Aw, thank you! I’ve been planning on doing a Comique Month for so long that it’s strange it’s over. 😀 It was a mighty pleasant task–these films are like old friends.

      Right now I’m getting myself excited for future theme months–even though the next one is a ways away (aside from my usual Halloween-themed month). Might as well start planning for it now! 🙂

  3. Hey there Lea- I found your site a couple weeks ago and can’t seem to stop reading it!
    This whole month of posts comes at the perfect time for me- it was only a few months ago I discovered how great Arbuckle is and that he and Keaton did these shorts together. Thanks for all the research and time and effort you must put into this site- Holy Toledo! I have learned so much from your old posts and your pictures and comments crack me up!

    • Thank you so much Debbe!! I’m thrilled that you’re enjoying Silent-ology, it’s a real labor of love as you can probably tell. Stop by anytime! 🙂

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