“The Butcher Boy” (1917) Turns 100 Today!

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We made it, folks. THIS IS IT. Buster Keaton’s very first film–Roscoe Arbuckle’s fantastic The Butcher Boy (1917), distributed by Paramount Pictures–was released on this day 100 years ago. This is when his career in cinema truly began.

Roscoe butcher boy lobby card

Please enjoy this priceless rare lobby card that just popped up on Google out of nowhere.

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Happy Centennial Of Buster Entering Films!!!

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Today is the day, folks. Chills!!

Back on Sunday we gave a nod to the day that’s thought to be when Buster Keaton visited Roscoe Arbuckle’s Comique studios for the very first time (or, at the very least, met friend Lou Anger and Roscoe himself on the streets of NYC). While there’s been a bit of confusion about these dates in the past, thanks to Buster’s surviving datebook we can confirm that he absolutely, 100% went to Comique on March 21st, 1917 to film The Butcher Boy! Today, he was captured by the motion picture camera in this very scene below…for all time! (And let’s give a shout out to the patient Mr. Méliès, who doesn’t mind that we keep interrupting his theme month. *wink*)

The Butcher Boy - Buster Keaton Continue reading

Analyzing The Molasses Scene From “The Butcher Boy”

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This is my own post for the Third Annual Busterthon–hope you enjoy!

It’s one of the most famous scenes in all of silent comedy–the “can of molasses” scene from the Roscoe Arbuckle short The Butcher Boy (1917). This had the honor of being former vaudevillian Buster Keaton’s very first scene ever committed to celluloid. He always spoke of it with fondness and in his later years he enjoyed reenacting it for TV shows. And significantly, he would say that it had been done in one take. He’s often quoted from his autobiography, My Wonderful World of Slapstick:

Incidentally, I’ve been told that my first scene in The Butcher Boy is still the only movie-comedy scene ever made with a newcomer that was photographed only once. In other words my film debut was made without a single retake.  p. 93.

Having watched The Butcher Boy approximately 458 times, I now wonder: if we examined the gag frame-by-frame, could we discover how this seemingly simple scene was put together? And was the entire molasses scene done in one take? Can we spot any clues that would prove it? Clear your schedules, my friends, ’cause this is about to get detailed.

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My Favorite Scene In All Of Silent Comedy (Yes, All)

Greetings, lovers of pratfalls and other priceless bits of physical comedy! This post is especially for MovieMovieBlogBlog‘s See You In The Fall ‘thon. Thanks for taking the time to enjoy this post–I hope you check out all the others too! 

When I saw that my friend Steve was hosting a blogathon devoted to favorite moments in physical comedy, one scene jumped to my mind right away. But just before putting my fingers to the keyboard, I told myself, “Now, wait a sec. Let’s sift through some other favorite moments first, in case there’s another one out there that’s equally hilarious and inspiring and will cause rivulets of scintillating wit and insight to flow from your brain and become immortalized on the softly glowing laptop screen. And calm down, already.”

But it was useless to resist. Simply useless. My favorite scene in silent comedy, for sheer laughs, and for sheer novelty value when it comes to the presence of a certain comedian, is–and probably always will be–the “flirting scene” from Roscoe Arbuckle’s Good Night, Nurse! (1918).

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Thoughts On “The Knockout” (1914)

If you’re already a big silent comedy fan, you might recognize The Knockout as being the one Keystone Walter Kerr used in his beloved book The Silent Clowns to illustrate how supposedly “unfunny” early Sennett films were. (And if you’re just starting to learn about silent comedy, I’m excited to be introducing you to The Knockout!) After describing the plot in some detail (“cowardice and belligerence alternate with indifferent logic through the balance of the twenty-minute film”), Kerr concludes with these observations: “It is probable that, except for an innovative detail here and there, the substance of this’plot’ doesn’t strike you as particularly funny. My point is that it isn’t, not through today’s eyes.”

So let it be written.

Walter Kerr, I love your book. The Silent Clowns is one of the most beautifully-written and thoughtful works of film criticism I’ve ever seen. You have inspired me, moved me, and made me think…but I think you’re wrong about The Knockout.  Continue reading

Polly, Minta and Louise–Three Unsung Keystone Ladies

I’m excited to have a little bit of Keystone month coincide with the Anti-Damsel Blogathon, hosted by The Last Drive In and Movies Silently. This ‘thon is devoted to take-charge women of films, both in front of and behind the screen. And really, who could be more take-charge than the Keystone ladies? Thanks for reading, and I hope you take time to read more of the great posts this weekend!

Everyone has heard the name of the great Mabel Normand–the spunky, athletic gal with Gibson Girl looks and just a touch of wistful grace. Back in the early 1910s “Madcap Mabel” was arguably the Keystone Film Company’s breakout star. Even today, her name is synonymous with the comedy studio.

But Mabel wasn’t the only funny lady at Keystone. There were many gals who worked at the Fun Factory, and there were three in particular whose talents shined almost as bright as Mabel’s. They were fearless, smart, and funny performers–Keystone simply wouldn’t have been complete without them. Let’s shine some spotlights on the considerable talents of Polly Moran, Minta Durfee and Louise Fazenda. Continue reading

Mack Sennett, King of Comedy

Today, August 3, is the 103rd anniversary of when Keystone was officially incorporated on paper. Let’s celebrate by examining the life of the laugh company’s founder, Mack Sennett!

[Edit: I’m proud to say that this is also my 100th post!  Woo-hoo!!]

Of all the bona fide legends of the silent film era–which include Eric von Stroheim, D.W. Griffith, George Méliès, Abel Gance, et al.–one of the most important  is comedy pioneer Mack Sennett. Most people recognize his name, but the man himself is a bit elusive. What’s the story behind this person whose studio produced over a 1,000 films back in the early days of Hollywood?

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Obscure Films: “His Wife’s Mistake”

I am pleased to be a part of the Shorts! Blogathon hosted by Movies Silently. Thank you so much for stopping by, blogathon readers–make yourself comfortable and be sure to check out all of the other great posts this weekend too!

Hold onto your too-small derbies, folks! It’s time to turn your attention to one of Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle’s most overlooked short comedies–a two-reel gem. (Although, in fairness, Roscoe could’ve turned any film into a comedy gem just by wandering into it by accident.) The film is His Wife’s Mistake (1916), and why no one ever seems to discuss it is beyond me.

Arbuckle his wife's mistake lobby card Continue reading