Monday, February 8, 2016

Plagues and Puppy Love (USA,1917)

In the first scene we see a rather cute girl walking her dog in a unusual way, which gives a funny touch to the scene. Then, there is a man with a big fake beard behind her. The girl rejects the man and keeps walking (running, actually). She sits on a outdoors bench and the man sits besides her. Then she realizes there was already another man sitting on the bench and she does not get happy about it. 
All of a sudden, it appears a man who was behind the bushes and this third man also sits on the bench. Apparently, the girl had a plenty of prospective suitors, although all of them seemed to bore her to death. As if it was not enough to have three suitors, a fourth man shows up. He was a policeman and got to kick out all the other men, but he did not please the girl either and ended up being bitten by her dog. 
After a short time, Larry appears and she seems to like him very much. Even her dog was very pleased to see Larry. While the policeman confronted Larry, the other three suitors showed up again. Larry managed to kick out the policeman and in this very scene we can see a special effect similar to those of cartoons that is very typical of films by actor Larry Semon. 
But the other suitors do not give up and here they are again. Anyway, the dog was able to get rid of them this time, although the dog was really tiny. Judging by the speed and fear of those men we could think they were running from a lion or any other wild animal. 
Larry had problems with some kids, who tie up the dog with some balloons as a revenge. Consequently, the dog ended up flying away. All other suitors show up once more and the girl promises her “hand and fortune” to the man who gets to save her dog. This generates a chase involving all characters of the film, who tried to save the dog as fast as they could. 
The dog finally landed safely in the hands of his owner, then Larry goes away with the girl in a balloon, together with the dog. The other suitors try to prevent them from leaving, but it is useless. 

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Fatty's Faithful Fido (USA,1915)

In the beginning of film we see a cute scene of Fatty drinking water with his dog Fido. Both of them are close to a Chinese laundry. Fatty enters the place together with Fido and there are some women sweeping the floor. Both Fatty and Al St John love the same woman and the men end up fighting in front of the laundry. The guys keep on antagonizing each other in a typical slapstick fashion and such situation gives room to a plenty of physical gags, including throwing bricks and Fido mercilessly trying to bit Al St John at all costs.
There is a ball at the Chinese laundry and we can clearly see that the woman likes Fatty more than Al St. John. In this scene we can see that Fatty was more agile than it seems at first. Al St. John arrives at the ball, he confronts Fatty and at that same night he hires two other tough man to beat Fatty up. They’d be supposed to identify Fatty based on a cross that was marked on his back. However, that mark was deleted and Al St John had the same cross marked on his back, so the guys mistaken Al St. John for Fatty and starting beat up Al St. John.
Fatty arrives in the middle of this fight and realizes he also had that same cross on his back and he attacks Al St. John too, which causes a generalized violence outbreak in the ballroom. Not even poor little Fido was spared.
As always in Keystone films of 1910s, the physical gags were beautifully performed, mostly due to above-average acrobatic skills of Al St. John (whose legs seemed to be made of rubber in some scenes) and of Roscoe ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle. The supporting actors were regular players of the studio and equally used to play these kinds of films. The gags are rough, even gross, for nowadays’ standards, but slapstick humor was far more common at that era and those films were a huge success, specially among working classes and immigrants, who were the bulk of cinema audiences in the United States at the silent era. Such films had a universal humor, easy to be understood and it did not really matter whether the audiences were formed by foreigners or nationals, which was a factor that helped building up the American identify of immigrants who recently arrived at the country. 

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Fatty's Chance Acquaintance (USA,1915)

Actor Roscoe ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle, in his first years at Keystone studios, often played roles of helpless men who behaved like babies. Not the best characterization by Arbuckle, but he fortunately honed his humor and played more sophisticated roles after a short time in his cinema career.
In this film it is visible a common example of setting in silent comedies of the era, which is the use of parks. They were widely employed by directors due to their natural lightning and beautiful landscapes, everything for free.
In this specific film Fatty, who seems to behave like a grown up child, is a henpecked husband and he is even beaten by his wife in public. They both sit on a bench in a park while the wife mercilessly oppressed Fatty.
Meanwhile, a pickpocket arrives at the park with a pretty female companion. Fatty’s wife refuses to buy him a soft drink. A short time later, he drinks some water in a outdoors water fountain and ended up talking briefly to the pickpocket, who soon leaves.
While the wife stays alone, she falls asleep. The pickpocket approaches and takes money out of her purse. She does not realize she was robbed, but a policeman witnessed everything. While the theft happened, Fatty spots the pickpocket’s friend and starts flirting with her.
The policeman confronted the pickpocket, who got to run away. Fatty gets his wife’s purse while she’s asleep on the park bench and goes to a restaurant with the other woman, where they have an ice cream. Unfortunately, Fatty did not realize his wife had just been robbed and there was no money in her purse. In the next scene, we can see the policeman was still trying to catch the pickpocket, without much success.
Then, another couple sits besides Fatty’s wife. She awakes and thinks it was that couple who stole her purse. And she tries to take the woman’s purse away, without realizing it was NOT her own purse that the other woman was holding.
When Fatty had to pay the restaurant bill, he realized there was no money in his wife’s purse. Then, he returns to the park, where he meets the pickpocket again. Fatty gets some money with him to pay the bill. The pickpocket gets very angry after realizing Fatty had taken his girl to the restaurant and a there is a fight between both men.
Fatty’s wife finds her purse and sees him embracing the other woman at the restaurant. While the pickpocket is laughing at Fatty’s misfortune from a distance, the policeman returns and finally gets to arrest the criminal. As expected, the film ends with Fatty’s wife beating him due to his flirting out of turn.

When Love Took Wings (USA,1915)

This film is ahead of its time with regard to showing airplane scenes. Nevertheless, it was not new in Keystone studios, which had been making films with airplanes since its very first year, being “A Dash Through the Clouds” (USA, 1912) a fine example of a early Keystone film with very this same sort of plot. 
This is a typical Keystone film of 1910s, with a plenty of broad gestures and physical humor, including the traditional kick on the butt gag. 
In a unspecified rural area, a girl (played by actress Ollie Carlyle, who was somehow physically similar to Mabel Normand, then a star of Keystone studios), had a very jealous father and three suitors. Those characters lived in a rural area and all suitors tried to get the girl’s love. The suitors are in conflict among themselves and with the girl’s father, but nothing prevented the suitors from keep on coming. Not even the risk of being beaten by her father keep those men away from the girl. 
The girl is taken out of home, against her will, by one of her suitors. Her father calls the police. Another suitor finds them and a fight starts. 
Then, ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle and the girl see an airplane and they fly away. Yes, they were minding their own business and suddenly found a empty airplane. A chase happens, with cars and even a bicycle trying to reach the airplane. Despite all mess, both Fatty and the girl landed without a scratch. And they both tried to get married, but something unexpected prevents the marriage from happening. 
At the end, the suitors end up giving up the girl, although one of them unwillingly remain. Actually, he was forced by her father to marry her, as the other two suitors had already run away. 
This film, no matter how exaggerated it is, gets to show the influence of some recently invented technological items in daily lives of people, like the telephone, car, airplane, etc. The chases involving different means of transportation were relatively common in comedies of this studio and were often very funny, also giving a modern touch to those films in the eyes of audiences of the era. 

Friday, February 5, 2016

Mabel's Dramatic Career (USA,1913)

Mack Sennett’s character is in love with his mother’s kitchen maid, played by Mabel Normand. However, his mother is not happy about the involvement of her son with the maid. Meanwhile, it arrives another woman from the city and Mack’s mother is fond of her since the beginning. Both the mother and Mack start talking to the woman while Mabel was in the kitchen. Then, Mabel shows up in the living room, rather jealous of seeing her sweetheart getting close to the city woman. After a fight, Mabel ends up being dismissed and is left alone “into the cruel world”, as one of intertitles says.
Mack starts treating Mabel in a mean way, even taking from her the ring he had given her in the beginning of film. 
And, he soon offers “his hand and fortune” to the city woman. She refused and both the city woman and Mack start fighting in the traditional slapstick fashion. Right after the incident, Mack regrets the rude way he treated Mabel. 
Mabel arrives at the city, jobless, and ends up finding a job at a cinema studio. Years later, Mack sees Mabel’s picture in a placard as starring in a comedy of Keystone studios (the same studio that made this film in real life) and gets shocked. Mack enters the cinema, sees Mabel in the film and starts yelling, which annoys the rest of the audience. 
At the end, Mack shoots at the screen villain who was attacking Mabel, causing a huge mess inside the cinema. But the final shock for Mack was finding out that the film's villain was actually Mabel's husband in real life. 
This film is a valuable historical witness of how a cinema was like in the 1910s and of universal appeal of early Keystone comedies. Those films focused on showing lives of working class people aimed at working class audiences, so gags were quite easy to understand and performed by a fixed group of competent stars. In addition to his Keystone studios, another historic contribution of Mack Sennett was having focused on his responsibilities as a study mogul and director, as his acting was too over the top and often more ridiculous than funny. We can also see a young Roscoe ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle as one of audiences members. Arbuckle was still at the beginning of his film career, but would soon become a star on his own right. 

Feet of Mud (USA,1924)

The character that would bring Harry Langdon world fame was already fully well-rounded in this film. There was a football game (American football, to be more precise) between the Mohicans and the home team. Then we are introduced to Harry Langdon’s character, naive, not understood by others and helpless on circumstances around him. Langdon is in love with a girl who has another suitor and was a substitute in the football team, merely because there were not better players available. 
Football is always a very physical sport, but that specific game seemed to be particularly violent and players left the field in a very bad condition, looking more dead than alive. Comedy films about physically weak guys who overcame difficulties were common and were made even by the most famous comedians of silent era, like Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd. So, this is Langdon’s version to a rather known comedic plot. 
Langdon is called to play and the audience does not take him seriously, specially because he was not a strong, muscular man. However, against all odds, Langdon got to stand out in the game. 
Then, he tries to marry his sweetheart, but her father did not give his permission, unless Langdon got to keep a job with the City Engineer. The girl’s father wanted Langdon to be as skilled in his professional life as he was in the football field. The “engineering” job ended up being street cleaner in a rather crowded and busy city, full of garbage. Langdon tries to do his best in the new job, but he cannot help being involved in many troubled situations. 
Langdon catches the train and finds himself in the Chinese area, where a kind of inner war was going on. His sweetheart shows up there with her father and a group of tourists. Violence suddenly escalates, the girl is in danger and it’s Langdon who saves her despite all his initial fear. 
The Chinatown was portrayed in a rather stereotyped way, as a place of poverty, violence and a kind of exotic curiosity to be seen by white tourists. Those jokes can be considered ethnically insensitive. 

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Flapper Fever (USA,1924)

Like most situational comedies, this one also talks about equality of genders and marriage. 
At the Rosebud Theater, located in the town of Bird Center, there will be a presentation by the Rawsbury Sisters and the local men are very excited about it in advance. We can see by the placard that the girls would not wear lots of clothes in their act and their legs were bare. How outrageous! The actresses clearly represented the 1920s young liberated women, the so-called flappers. 
By the way, in one of intertitles it is mentioned that the guys were not exactly Valentinos, in a clear reference to Italian actor Rudolph Valentino, then at the height of his popularity in America, as a symbol of beauty and desired by many women. Another mention to Valentino is made in “The Sheiks of Bird Center”, which was a reference to his most famous film. 
The guys were very excited about the show in the opinion of their wives, who are not happy with their husbands’ behavior. The wives are defined as “watch dogs”, which signals their morally strict posture, related to Victorian values and they are also older than the actresses. We can see here another traditional prompt in 1920s comedies: Henpecked husbands. So, the wives bring them to the purity league, probably to avoid them to misbehave during the Rawsbury Sisters act.
However, the husbands would not miss the opportunity to meet the girls in person and they went to the hotel where the actresses stayed to greet them. Unfortunately to those men, their wives caught them red-handed having fun and dancing with the actresses at the hotel. But the guys would not give up the actress so easily. So, the wives tried to censor the Rawsbury Sisters’ act by inspecting their costumes and act before they appear at the theater, as one of intertitles says. And the opposition of Victorian X modern 1920s moral standards gets even more noticeable in this part of the film. Such clash would remain unsolved and not even the misunderstanding in the end of the film could sweeten the wives.