Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Hide and Seek (USA, 1913)

Some people have already said that Mack Sennett, the head of Keystone studios, was an uneducated man. I will not argue with this statement, although I am a big fan of his work. However, there is something that even his detractors have to admit: He knew what the audiences liked and it is no wonder why his films set some standards of slapstick comedy.

This film has a very simple plot and is less physical than typical films of the studio, which usually involved relatively dangerous stunts. On the other hand, it is a typical Keystone film in some regards. The female star of the company, Mabel Normand, is one of the protagonists, together with some cute little girls wearing big ribbons. One of the girls is playing hide and seek with Mabel. While Mabel closes her eyes, so the little girl could hide, the little girl ends up entering the vault near them. Mabel finds the girl at once, but she is called out of the room as soon as she spots the girl in the vault and this makes Mabel lose track of the girl. Meanwhile, the clerk locks the vault. Mabel comes back to the room, realizes the vault is locked and thinks the little girl was locked inside. As a matter of fact, the girl had gone to the street to play while Mabel was away.  Mabel raises the alarm and everyone in the house get very nervous. 

While everyone is trying to rescue the girl who they thought was locked in the vault, the little girl was having a great time playing on the street with her peers.  And the group even finds a four-legged friend, a dog.
The family looks for help and called guys who looked like firemen or similar officers. Then the comedy becomes a typical Keystone film: Chaos ensues, the firemen start fighting and we can see a man who clearly looks like a policeman, with a fake moustache and everything which would really qualify him as a Keystone Cop.
Then, the policeman opens the vault and, for any unexplained reason, much smoke shows up, the door of the vault falls right over the poor incompetent mustached policeman. While this chaos happened, the girl was found playing on the street and brought back home.

The film ends with everyone celebrating the girl returning home and with the policeman being released of the door over him.
Some highlights of this film: Here Mabel is more fragile than she would be in other films by the studio, as she does not perform the dangerous stunts she would do in other films. However, the faces she pulls and how she express her anxiety with the whereabouts of the girl are very funny.

Further reading and materials:

1. A website devoted to actress Mabel Normand:

2. Mabel Normand’s films available in the website

3. Facebook Group Wished on Mabel Normand

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

A Flirt's Mistake (USA, 1914)

If you expect realism , don’t ever watch this film. But if you just want to relax and laugh without further questions, this is the film for you.
However, we have to admit that never has the sentence “He flirts with anything that wears skirts” made so much sense.
A typical film by Keystone studios with a basic plot filled with unrealistic situations, to say the least, and many physical gags, but this is exactly what makes this film so charming.
Here Fatty Arbuckle is a married man who can’t help flirting with beautiful girls all the time. He can’t even conceal it from his wife, who clearly doesn’t like his behavior at all. According to imdb website the actress who plays his wife is Minta Durfee, who also happened to be Fatty’s wife in real life.

A Flirt's Mistake (1914) - FATTY ARBUCKLE - George Nichols _ Mack Sennett 09

In one occasion, after his wife sees Fatty flirting with a woman she argues with him. Then, he decides to go outside and relax a little and ends up in a park, which was a typical setting for many silent slapstick comedies, including Keystone ones, and he sees what he considers a beautiful woman. He immediately follows her and starts his usual flirting, but the “girl” happens to be a Indian rajah who was inadvertently walking down the park in weird clothes. And the rajah has an umbrella, guns and a sword and unfortunately no patience at all with flirts.

A Flirt's Mistake (1914) - FATTY ARBUCKLE - George Nichols _ Mack Sennett 22

You may think: “My Goodness! Couldn’t Fatty know the difference between  a girl and a rajah?” No, he couldn’t. And the film is rather over the top for many other reasons. Isn’t it just a little strange that a rajah in typical clothes was carrying guns and an umbrella? This isn’t the only crazy component of the plot, as rajah’s chacracterization was over the top even within standards of silent slapstic comedies, as his fake beard looked so fake that it seems the actor (Edgar Kennedy) had cut a rug and attached it directly to his face. Fatty also has a very boyish temper, behaving like a kid who can’t control any of his impulses rather than acting like a grown up man.
Two other men had already flirted with the rajah when Fatty approached him and the rajah is already running out of patience then. As a result, he assaults Fatty and then runs after him with two revolvers. For some unknown reason, the rajah’s guns never need reloading and all bullets hit Fatty only on the butt. Perhaps, the rajah had eyesight as bad as Fatty’s.  Anyway, considered the amount of smoke coming from those guns, it wouldn’t really come as a surprise if Fatty died of smoke intoxication.  Something that also must be highlighted is that even though Fatty was shot many times on his butt throughout the film he doesn’t seem to feel much pain out of his injuries. Furthermore, some situations are rather hair-raising and this is perhaps the reason why Fatty’s hair was untidy throughout the film even though his clothes were always in perfect state and weren’t even dirty after he falling on the floor so many times.

A Flirt's Mistake (1914) - FATTY ARBUCKLE - George Nichols _ Mack Sennett 26

Fatty is getting desperate and runs away back to his home, but is followed by the rajah, who “miraculously” end up having a sword in addition to his revolvers. And his house, as most houses in Northern hemisphere, doesn’t have a fence or wall around the property, so the rajah ends up easily entering the house. Fatty locks himself and his wife in a room.  It must also be highlighted that Durfee doesn’t have the most naturalist acting in the world in this film. Some of her gestures are histrionic and we can see that she spoke a lot throughout her scenes. But all situations are so over the top that her acting ends up being not even noticed among so many unrealistic things happening at the same time.
In the middle of all that mess at home, Fatty’s wife gets to approach the window and cry for help. Who will help her? The Keystone cops, of course. The cop who listens to her cries also have a fake moustache that is crazy even within the crazy standards of fake moustaches of slapstick comedies. It really seems as if the actor (William Hauber) had cut off a cat’s tail and attached it directly to his face. It´s even surprising that such big moustache didn’t affect his balance while walking. Fatty gets to run away from the bedroom and try to hide in the backyard, but with no success. Meanwhile, the cop gets other cops to help him to solve this problem in Fatty’s house. After a while, the cops arrive to Fatty’s house, but since those cops aren’t the most competent policemen on Earth, they have difficulty handling the angry rajah. The rajah uses his revolver against the cops and much smoke is produced out of that. Then Fatty and the rajah start fighting and Fatty’s wife, instead of helping her husband beat the rajah, just yells and jumps like a typical Victorian damsel in distress, unable to defend herself and her peeers. After Fatty got to beat the rajah a little the cops got to leave the house with the rajah, although it was a hard task for THREE cops to arrest ONE man.

A Flirt's Mistake (1914) - FATTY ARBUCKLE - George Nichols _ Mack Sennett 34

After all that trouble , when we think Fatty will finally get to have a happy time, despite having many bullets on his butt and being severely beaten by the rajah, he ends up being beaten by his own wife. All of a sudden, the same woman, who behaved like a Victorian maiden some minutes ago, gets a violence outburst and beats him without mercy. And the same man who could beat a rajah who had two revolvers and a sword can’t resist being beaten by a woman.

Futher reading and materials:

1. Some brief information on this film in the site Silent Era

2. Mack Sennett's Fun Factory: A History and Filmography of His Studio and His Keystone and Mack Sennett Comedies, with Biographies of Players and Personnel