Friday, April 7, 2017
Peeping Pete (USA,1913)
The subject of peep hole had been explored in films virtually since the invention of cinema and this split reel (a film shorter than a one-reeler, in other words, lasting less than 11 minutes) shows this theme in a typical slapstick fashion.
The greatest distinction of this film is not really its simple plot, but the fact that it is the earliest surviving appearance of Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle in films, back to 1913. He worked at Keystone up to 1917, and it did not take long until he was very popular among the audiences. During this time, his pairing with Mabel Normand was also very successful, which can put those actors among the pioneers of romantic comedies, a genre that would end up establishing itself in the next decade.
Pete (played by Mack Sennett, the head and founder of Keystone studios) spies on the wife of a neighbor through a hole on the fence. Her husband (Ford Sterling) finds it out and gets furious.
Sterling had his typical acting of broad gestures, ridiculously fake mustaches and an almost surreal temper. However, Sterling is less over the top here than in other films because all the other actors are equally exaggerated. The wife is played by Fatty Arbuckle in drag, which gives an. extra funny effect to the film. The trend of appearing in drag on screen was with Arbuckle throughout his career and he performed quite well in this type of role.
Sterling also had some quite funny scenes when he tried to take revenge of Sennett for spying his wife and carried a revolver (which shot lots of smoke) with him, causing a plenty of confusion and misunderstandings when he inadvertently intimidated and scared people away while he was trying to find Sennett.
We can also see Arbuckle falling and tripping often in this film. Do not be fooled by his overweight, as Fatty was a quite skilled physical comedian and dancer and he often displayed such skills on screen. Arbuckle also had a very pleasant voice and it is said he could sing very well. Were not for the scandal that virtually ended his career in 1921 and it seems he could have made a smooth transition to talkies, if only he had a chance of doing so.
In the end, both husband and peeping Pete ended up forgetting their disagreements and became friends. Not before the wife and a plenty of other neighbors got desperate in fear that a double murder would happen (as one of intertitles of the film) said.
Not really an easy film to be understood by modern-day audiences, as the film is very short and it’s logically not possible to develop the psychological profile of characters well. The plot is also not narrative, but revolves around a simple premise and random gags. Still, it’s interesting to see how Arbuckle was a good comedian from the start and how comedy shorts would develop more and more each year. On the following year. Keystone studios would hire Chaplin (who was also starting his career in films) and produce its first feature-length comedy with most of famous Keystone comedians + Marie Dressler (already a famous stage actress). But this is another story.