The Lively Al St. John: An Appreciation

Have you ever had an actor who grew on you? Someone you really didn’t care for at first, but who finally won you over? For me, it was a comedian you may or may not have heard of: Al St. John, nephew of Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle and a key player at the legendary Keystone Film Company.

Why didn’t I care for him? Well…

The Waiters' Ball (1916) - FATTY ARBUCKLE & BUSTER KEATON - YouTube

Let’s just say he was a little much. But only at first! …Let’s take a look. Continue reading

(Supposedly) Lost Films: “In The Clutches Of A Gang” (1914)

It’s one of the most famous photos from silent comedy. Or from the silent era itself. Or, heck, from cinema itself. It’s the image that probably leaps to mind when you say “Keystone Kops.”

Keystone Kops | Description, Movies, & Facts | Britannica

This one!

It’s also key to what I think is the ultimate championship trivia question: “This famous still comes from which lost film?” The winning answer–major props if you know it–is “In the Clutches of a Gang!” *Cue lots of applause and money showering from the ceiling*

For being such a wildly famous image, it’s surprising that In the Clutches of a Gang (1914) isn’t better known–as a title, at any rate. After all, the film itself has been lost for many decades, yet another casualty of delicate nitrate paired with the relentless march of time. What a pity that such a tantalizing piece of slapstick history should have been so thoroughly, and regrettably, lost.

OR HAS IT?! Continue reading

Interview With Steve Massa, Author of “Rediscovering Roscoe”

Silent-ology is pleased to present this exclusive interview with the prolific silent comedy historian Steve Massa, author of the new book Rediscovering Roscoe: The Films of “Fatty” Arbuckle. We talk about why a book on Roscoe’s films was overdue, about his considerable directorial skills, about his wonderful friendship with Buster and Al St. John, and just how many hours he would put into filming a single difficult gag…and more!

Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle (1887-1933) - Find A Grave Memorial

I must say, after the impressively hefty Slapstick Divas volume I was surprised (and delighted) to see another sizable book from you so soon! How long has Rediscovering Roscoe been in the works?

I have to say that I was a bit surprised too at how hefty Rediscovering Roscoe turned out to be. It was originally planned to be a smaller format book, like Lame Brains and Lunatics and Divas, but it grew too large. I got very lucky finding material and I wanted each film entry to be as thorough as possible. Every one would have credits, cast, working title, contemporary reviews, and archive sources, in addition to a commentary on surviving films and as much as I could find on missing ones. I have to admit that I “borrowed” the format of the book from Rob Stone’s excellent Laurel or Hardy, one of my favorite film books. Continue reading

Book Review: “Rediscovering Roscoe: The Films of ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle” by Steve Massa

ReRoscoe_tweaked_wo_colon-FLAT

Back when I first got into silent comedy, it wasn’t long before I became a fan of Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle. I’d heard his name all my life thanks to the infamous 1921 scandal (you’ve probably heard he was acquitted), but he always seemed like more of a shadowy figure than a real man, a sort of “character” from that misty, quasi-mythical era of “Classic Films.” Thanks mainly to the wonderful DVD set of Arbuckle comedies by CineMuseum–I plug them because I love them!–I discovered that this “Fatty” was not only a very real individual, but genuinely funny, very funny. And like all fans in the know, I only call him “Roscoe.”

Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle, c. 1920.

So I was thrilled to hear that comedy historian Steve Massa, author of Slapstick Divas and Lame Brains and Lunatics, has a brand new book about this great comedian’s career: Rediscovering Roscoe: The Films of “Fatty” Arbuckle. (Don’t you love that cover?) If there’s anything I enjoy as much as watching silent comedies, it’s reading about silent comedies–and studying the colorful, hardworking personalities behind them. Continue reading

DVD Reviews: “The Round Up” (1920) and “London Symphony” (2017)

Spring is finally here! (It sure took awhile to get to my neck of the woods, lemme tellya.) And with that in mind, it’s time to take a look at a couple fresh, new (or pretty new) releases that will make nice additions to the well-curated collection of silents that we all obviously have.

Image may contain: 1 person, hat and text

It’s with a resounding “Hurrah!” that I greet CineMuseum’s newest release, a Blu-ray/DVD combo of Roscoe Arbuckle’s first feature film, The Round Up (1920). If you’ve read any of my Comique Month series from last July, you’ll know that I’m a big Arbuckle fan. So having this charming Western available is a nice boon for my collection. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

Thoughts On “The Cook,” A Buster Hiatus, And “Back Stage”

The Cook (1918)

Title cards the cook

One of the cherries on top of the Comique sundae, The Cook is a giddy, determinedly free-spirited short that features Roscoe being an impromptu Salome, Buster Egyptian-dancing with careless abandon, and Luke the dog saving the day. It also features Goatland, and lemme tellya, more amusement parks could stand to have a Goatland. We’re missing out, my friends.

Image result for the cook 1918

You’ve also been missing out on this lobby card.

Continue reading

Thoughts On: “Moonshine” And “Good Night, Nurse”

Moonshine (1918)

Title card moonshine

Following Comique’s move to the sunny spaces of California, the hits just kept coming. Moonshine is another highlight in Arbuckle’s filmography, considered one of the cleverest fourth-wall-breaking satires in Edwardian cinema. It’s also a bit of an anomaly in Arbuckle’s work, so it’s not hard to guess that Buster played a hand in its ideas.

Image result for moonshine 1918 arbuckle Continue reading

Thoughts On “Out West” And “The Bell Boy”

Out West (1918)

Title card out west

The ambitious western parody Out West is one of the most under-analyzed of the Comiques, although it’s sure been widely discussed. This is because of a stunningly racist scene halfway through the film, which tends to, shall we say, distract us from the rest of the content. But that content is important because, as I’m going to argue, it could well contain the clearest early example of Buster Keaton’s influence on the Comiques.

Image result for buster keaton charlie chaplin Continue reading