Sunday, January 19, 2014

Fatty Joins the Force (USA,1913)

American comedian Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle (1887 – 1933) started in films at Keystone studios in 1913. We can see he was already a skilled and mature comedian in his first year in films. Although he sometimes played the role of a grown-up baby who could not control his impulses, his roles and gags would only become more sophisticated and ellaborate as time passed, and the audience always laughed and rooted for his character. His potential was already evident at the very beginning of his screen career, as we can see in this cute little film. 

Fatty is in a park with his sweetheart. A cop passes them by and sits besides a woman and his little daugther on a bench. While her mother talks to the policeman, the girl goes to play too close to the park’s lake. She slips and falls in the lake. Fatty and his sweetheat see everything. Fatty’s sweetheat makes him jump in the lake to save the girl, although he is afraid of doing so. In fact, Fatty ends up falling in the lake accidentally. Anyway, it does not matter what made him fall in the lake, as he actually saved the girl from drowning in the long run and, as an intertitle says: “It turns out to be the police commissioner’s child”. The girl is brought back to her family and Fatty is acknowledged as the hero who saved her. Being now a respected and admired man, he is invited to become a policeman and “the whole force does him honor”.

Fatty has his own uniform and it is time to go to the streets and perform his duty. However, he soon finds out things will not be as easy as he thought they would be. He is talking to his sweetheart when he sees some boys figthing. He tries to stop it, but one of the boys ended up accidentaly punching him and runs away immediately afterwards, leaving a virtually unconscious Fatty behind. Fatty is helped by his sweetheart and they both sit on a bench. Then, a group of boys start teasing Fatty by throwing stuff on him. He runs after the boys, but falls on the ground, and consequently falling behind and getting dirty. His sweetheart comes back home and Fatty decides to have a bath in the lake, leaving his cop uniform on the ground while he swims. But the worst is about to happen: The boys see him in the lake, find his clothes and decide to leave them somewhere else. After a while, his uniform is found by another guy, who takes it straight to the police station. The police officers recognize the uniform as being Fatty’s and assume he drowned. 

Meanwhile, Fatty finds himself half naked and all alone. His situation worsens when two women see him and report to the cops they had seen a “wild man”, which make the cops chase Fatty. While the chase takes place, his sweetheat is leading a search in the lake with the purpose of finding Fatty or at least a clue to his whereabouts. Fatty tries to hide in vain and is caught and arrested by the cops. Fatty’s fellow policemen mourn his death. When the cops arrive in the police station bringing Fatty with them, it becomes obvious that Fatty is immediately recognized, even though he is dressed with rags. The other cops are not happy to see him again and throw Fatty in prison, probably because they thought he staged his own death on purpose.


The film finishes with Fatty crying in his cell. His experience as a policeman did not really leave good memories. We tend to feel sympathetic for Fatty; after all he was working in a job to which he had no previous formal training and ended up being a victim of unfavorable circumstances, rather than being a corrupt schemer. It is impossible not to compare the end of this film with the consequences of Virginia Rappe scandal that would engulf Fatty Arbuckle’s life in 1921. Therefore, this end is probably more disturbing and ironic now than it was for 1910s audiences. 

Further reading and materials: 

2. Room 1219: The Life of Fatty Arbuckle, the Mysterious Death of Virginia Rappe, and the Scandal That Changed Hollywood

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