Wednesday, September 6, 2017

He Did and He Didn't (USA,1916)

Roscoe Arbuckle started making films for Keystone studios in 1913, and it did not take long for him to become very popular. This film was made only three years after he started working at Keystone and, by this time, Arbuckle already directed a plenty of his films (like this one) and had considerable artistic freedom. And it`s interesting to see how much his humor evolved during this time.
Much more sinister than in previous films Arbuckle (still with occasional mannerisms and facial expressions of his usual slapstick films) plays the role of a wealthy doctor married to Mabel Normand who suspected his wife was cheating on him with her old school mate called Jack. Jealousy had already been quite commonly approached in films back to the 1910s. Another interesting shift was the portrait of life of wealthier people, considering Keystone slapstick comedies usually focused on lives of working-class citizens.
As soon as Jack arrived at his house, Arbuckle could see that both Jack and Mabel had been quite close when they were younger and such fact made Arbuckle instantly jealous. Mabel`s friend has been an overnight guest at home and Arbuckle received a suspicious phone call asking him to leave home. The call was actually made by some burglars who wanted to rob him, but Arbuckle thought it was Mabel who did it only for her to be alone at home with Jack.
To make things worse, the audience thinks that Mabel was actually having an affair with Jack, which was later shown as something that did not actually happen. Actually, Jack did not have any interest to be Mabel`s lover, but a series of unfortunate coincidences have only made Arbuckle more distrustful.
Something noteworthy is that one of burglars (a “bounding burglar”, according to one of intertitles) was played by actor Al St. John, who was Arbuckle`s nephew in real life and also worked for Keystone studios for some years, often as part of Arbuckle`s usual troupe of actors. Al St. John was also famous for his good physical skills, which he often employed in his films.
Finally, it was all just a bad dream due to the lobster they had eaten at dinner time and while both guys were almost getting mad out of fear, Mabel slept peacefully and it became clear that she had never been unfaithful to her husband.
This film, in having shown Arbuckle playing a more shady character on screen, became ironic considering that Arbuckle was accused five years later, at the height of his career, of having murdered an aspiring actress called Virginia Rappe. The resulting scandal caused much pain to Arbuckle, destroyed his career and popularity.  Mabel Normand kept the same high level of performance and spontaneity of her slapstick films and she would competently make good romantic comedies and dramas some years later. Her career would also have problems due to bad publicity and poor health and she did not get to make the transition to talkies. Arbuckle, despite having been blacklisted due to the aforementioned scandal, made a brief comeback at early talkie era, but he unfortunately passed away right afterwards before his career could take off again. 

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