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*)
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.