Tuesday, August 31, 2021

When Love Took Wings (USA,1915)

In real life actress Mabel Normand was really ahead of her time. She was not only a beauty, but also a pioneer in many fields. She drove cars, airplanes, had her own financial independence and even directed her own films in her own studio for a while in the 1910s in the Keystone Studios (which was subsequently renamed as “Mack Sennett comedies” as of 1917). As of circa 1915 she was paired with another star of the studio, Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle and they made romantically-oriented comedies, some of them praised by cinema critics to this day.

As usual, Mabel’s character was admired by the guys and had more than one suitor, to the displeasure of her father. One of suitors was Fatty, who was not approved by Mabel’s father either. One day it showed up another suitor, a neighbor (played by actor Al St. John) who was finally accepted by Mabel’s father. Unfortunately, Mabel did not like him and, to make things worse, Fatty was visiting Mabel at the time and felt insulted when he realized there would be another competitor for Mabel’s affections and then it started an argument between Fatty and Mabel’s father and things soon got physically violent. Meanwhile, Mabel herself literally kicked the neighbor suitor out of the living room.

As if things were not messy enough, it resurfaced another Mabel’s suitor (the one who was firstly seen visiting her in the beginning of the film). Mabel’s father tried to force her to accept the affections of her neighbor, but she refused vehemently. Fatty watched it and decided to take matters into own hands by removing Mabel from home and her other suitor tried to do the same thing while Fatty left a note to her father, but fortunately Mabel got to run away. Fatty realized what was going on upon his return outdoors but it was just the beginning of the chaos because Mabel’s father had just called the police.

Who rescued them? The reckless, incompetent Keystone cops, of course. While the cops were on their way, Fatty and the other suitor were fighting, to Mabel’s horror – even though it would not take long until she started laughing at the situation. Fatty and Mabel soon reunited and it was when they saw an empty airplane, which was a relatively new invention at the time. As Mabel’s father and one of her suitors were approaching, their only option was leaving in the airplane. Although everybody else tried to reach them both by car and bicycle, they could not keep up with the plane for obvious reasons. Even the Keystone cops arrived late.

Fatty and Mabel were having fun while Fatty made some maneuvers with their airplane, which gave to the audiences a very interesting chase with multiple vehicles. When Fatty and Mabel finally landed they went to a house where there was a clergyman and Mabel had inadvertently lost her wig, which deeply shocked Fatty and made him have second thoughts about the upcoming marriage. After lots of confusion, Fatty and all other suitors run away and gave up Mabel for good.

All in all, this is a typical 1910s slapstick comedy short, with broad gestures, exaggerated physical gags and simple plots. Those comedies were very popular in their own era and their charm remain due to their easy understanding, ingenuous physical scenes and good acting. Behind the apparently simplicity there is lots of talent and bravery. In case you are interested to watch other Fatty and Mabel films of this type, it is recommended -among others - He Did and He Didn't (USA, 1916), Fatty and Mabel Adrift (USA, 1916), Fatty and Mabel at the San Diego Exposition (USA,1915), Mabel and Fatty's Wash Day (USA, 1915).

Thursday, August 26, 2021

Love (USA, 1919)

Oh, love! That beautiful feeling even though sometimes it is not possible to make things come true. We can see once more the real-life uncle and nephew actors Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle and Al St. John with more mature humor compared with the films they made some years before in the Keystone Studios. They still engaged in physical comedies but with more elaborate plots and more realistic building up of characters.

Arbuckle is a good-natured, naive farm boy, deeply in love with Winifred, the daughter of a man he rescued when he fell into a well. Unfortunately, a rich neighbor offered the farmer large piece of land if he agreed to marry Winifred to his son (played by Al St. John) and her father promptly agree with the proposal and the girl ended up trapped in an arranged marriage with a man she did not like. To make matters worse, it was Arbuckle who Winifred really loved.

Realizing that no one else but themselves cared about their feelings, Arbuckle and Winifred decided to elope. It was all fun and games until Winifred had her neck stuck in a window while she was trying to leave her house and this situation gave room to some hilarious gags. Nevertheless, all this mess had only made Winifred’s father realizing she was running away and the girl was brought back home, to her despair.

After a while (and with a little help of Arbuckle, who added soap to the food that Winifred’s family was about to eat), her father decided to hire a new cook and it was Arbuckle himself – dressed in drag -who showed up in an attempt to get the job. It was not unusual Arbuckle to dress up as a woman in his films, usually as a disguise and a prompt for causing even more confusion in the plot. Anyway, although Arbuckle had problems to provide reliable references, he was hired as the new cook (the family thinking he was a woman).

On the day of the wedding there was a rehearsal, as it was the first time the clergyman was marrying anyone. The cook – who was actually Arbuckle -volunteered herself to play the groom’s role. The clergyman spoke the official words, Arbuckle put the ring on Winifred’s finger. When the real wedding was about to occur, Arbuckle announced in front of all guests that  Winifred was already married to him during the rehearsal and at the same time he disclosed his real identity. This gave lots of happiness to  Winifred and a great shock to her family.

This film was presumed lost for a long time until two prints of it were found and then it was made a compilation that enabled its recovery and restoration. Due to this initiative, modern-day audiences can watch this story in its entirety. Back to 1919, Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle had already accomplished his professional maturity and the peak of his popularity, having even started his successful partnership with Buster Keaton (who did not participate in this film, though). The Arbuckle-Keaton duo was briefly paused when Keaton was in the army during World War 1 and he was replaced by Italian-born Monty Banks (who played the role of Farmhand in this film).

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

The Waiters' Ball (USA, 1916)

Something that brings lots of chaos in silent films is two gentlemen competing for the affection of the same sweetheart. This is what happened between the characters of Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle (The Cook) and Al St. John (The Waiter). Al St. John was Roscoe’s nephew in real life and both of them made many silent films together and were skilled in physical gags. Needless to say that such gags were plentiful in this film, Arbuckle remade with St. John and Buster Keaton by the name The Cook (USA,1918).

The Cook is seen carrying out his tasks in the kitchen by cleaning the floor and cooking -both at the same time. At the same time, the waiter is trying to carry some plates without breaking them and he was not exactly successful. When it came to both workmen, clumsiness ruled. Something they also had in common was that they liked the same woman – the cashier of the restaurant where they worked.

In the next scene the cashier shows an ad to the waiter about the upcoming waiter’s ball. However, there was a problem because the attendees were supposed to wear formal party clothes. The waiter and the cashier started arguing while the cook was trying to sweep the floor without causing any confusion, which did not work. The cook feel on the dining room over the leg on cast of a client and it ended up leaving the poor gentleman in pain.

The waiter showed up in the dining room to sweep the floor into the kitchen much to the annoyance of the cook. They fought and after a while they started working again. The waiter told the clients’ requests to the cook, who brought to the waiter the dishes he was supposed to serve to the clients. This situation brought other physical gags which involved even animals and uncooperative foods and lots of chaos in the restaurant.

After a while it finally came the time of the ball. The cook had a tuxedo, but the waiter did not have proper clothes to attend it. But the waiter did not accept his defeat so easily and he stole the cook’s tuxedo. On the other hand, the cook did not let it preventing him from going to the party and he attended in women’s clothes.

The party was lively and everybody was having fun, at least until the cook caught the waiter wearing his tuxedo. Then, they both fought in the ballroom, which disrupted the fun of the guests. The female dishwasher of the restaurant, after realized that her clothes were stolen, ended up going to the party and when she caught the cook wearing her clothes there was another fight and the party was in deep chaos.

A policeman happened to be nearby and he arrested both the cook and the waiter who by this time had already lost half of the clothes they were wearing and had to cover themselves with a barrel whole the party’s guests laughed at their fate.

If slapstick comedies with frantic pace, “fast and furious” rhythm, overtly physical humor are your piece of cake, you will surely love this silent film. The gags are simple and it makes them extremely easy to be understood by audiences of all eras. Therefore, this film stood quite well the test of time. It is also a golden opportunity to see some high-profile silent actors in action displaying their skills and it is not difficult to understand why they were so popular with the audiences back to the silent era.

Sunday, August 22, 2021

His Wife's Mistakes (USA,1916)

An important part of silent comedies was misunderstandings and all the confusion it caused among the characters, which included mistaken conclusions against the good morals of a couple. This is exactly what happened in this film.

The film started in what looked like a department store, both the place and people look sophisticated. Al St. John was smoking besides a well-dressed elderly man who is smoking a pipe, they both worked together in the same office. At that moment, a woman arrived.

Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle crossed the street, entered a place, had difficulties with a revolving door. Roscoe got to solve his problems with the door, a crook arrived at the store and stole the handbag of a lady. The thief bumped into the revolving door and fell and as Fatty was still nearby, the crowd thought he had caught the thief. The lady gave some money to Fatty out of gratitude.

Right afterwards Fatty applied for a job as a janitor. As one of intertitles said, a broker, Mr. I. Steele, has a client who “will arrive about noon with certified check for $ 10.000 to close a deal” and the option expires at three o’clock. The broker left the office and requested a note to be delivered for his wife, letting her know about the upcoming business deal.

Meanwhile, Fatty was carrying out his duties in the most clumsy way possible, even causing accidents involving other passerby people and flirting with beautiful women around him. This scene was an opportunity for a plenty of people falling on their butts in full splendor.

While Fatty was causing all that mess downstairs, a woman caught the elevator and entered the broker’s office. It was his wife. She was greeted by her husbands’ co-workers, received the note and read that he wanted her to entertain his client until he arrived. The husband also wrote in the note that his client was a rather eccentric man.

Fatty was asked by a couple to watch their beauty parlor until they arrived back. However, some seconds later a woman came and asked Fatty to keep his eyes on the candy shop. A short time after the woman left, it arrived a client to the barber and, for any weird reason, Fatty did the job on the poor man’s beard. To add insult to injury, Fatty left the gentleman alone in the barber while he was servicing a female client in the candy shop. Eventually, the barber’s client was “sore, but satisfied” despite the complete inability of Fatty to work as a barber.

Subsequently, Fatty caught the elevator and entered the broker’s office. Fatty noticed there was another guy in the elevator, but kept going. The broker’s wife had mistaken Fatty as her husband’s client and invited him to have lunch with her at the oriental café. Fatty gladly accepted the proposal, unaware of the chaos that would happen soon. The café was lavishly decorated and unfortunately Fatty lacked enough social skills to attend this type of sophisticated place.

The broker finally returned to his office and was told by Al St. John that his wife “went out with the janitor”. The broker was furious and immediately took a revolver that he kept in his drawer. He was determined to take revenge and while his wife and the janitor were having fun in the café watching a rather over the top show, the husband arrived to wash his honor with blood. He tried to shoot Fatty, but the janitor got to run away in fear.

In the middle of all this chaos, the real client arrived at the office and was received by the broker’s co-workers. The real client claimed that the papers must be signed by three o’clock otherwise the deal would expire. And he could not wait much longer because it was actually almost three’ o’clock.

It looked like the employees got to tell the broker about the misunderstanding and the documents were signed on time. Yes “it looked like” because it seems there are some scenes missing in the end and the last scene the audiences see is Al St. John and his colleagues running on the street and then the film abruptly ended. It is not clear if the end of this film is lost or if it is just some printings that don’t show the entire film, though.

In addition to being a funny comedy to this day, this film also has interesting historical value because it enables modern-day audiences to catch a glimpse of 1910s buildings, offices, elevators, typewriters, etc. and compare with how those items look like nowadays. It is like traveling in a time machine and a genuine one-of-a-kind experience.

Thursday, August 19, 2021

A Strong Revenge (USA,1913)

This is one of one reelers (short films that lasted around 11 minutes) made in the beginning of Keystone studios (which had been opened on the previous year in California) with simple plots and straightforward gags, including overtly fake facial hair, exaggerated gestures, actors falling on their butts and even weird dancing (the latter being pretty much the case in this film). Mabel, so sweet and cute, had two suitors, who fought each other in order to have her affection. Mabel invited one of them (Schnitz, the grocer, a character played by Mack Sennett himself, who was the founder and director of Keystone Studios in real life) to her party. The problem is that Mabel also invited her other suitor (Meyer, the cobbler, a character played by Ford Sterling, one of the most popular comedians of the studio in its first years). Of course it would trigger the rivalry between both men even more.
A short time later we could see that Meyer bought some fresh cheese. The reason of it was not disclosed at first, but the audience would know it really soon. Unfortunately it turned out that the cheese did not really smell well (actually, it stink). Some time passed, both men got ready for the party and “dressed for the occasion” as one of the intertitles says. Meyer arrived at the party and gave some flowers to Mabel. People were dancing happily and Mabel and Meyer joined them in the ballroom. Then Schnitz arrived and he brought flowers to Mabel too. He gave them to her and started dancing with Mabel, pushing Meyer away from them. Meyer did not take this insult easily and would take a revenge in the first opportunity. Actually, “Schnitz scents trouble” as both men confronted each other, Mabel got upset and the environment of the party, which was happy until then, became tense.
The reason of the sudden change of vibe is that Schnitz started to stink all of a sudden, scaring off even the other guests. He tried to puff perfume on himself to disguise the problem but it seems the situation worsened because virtually everyone left the party altogether. Schnitz was insulted, tried to dance with Mabel again (to her despair) even though they were both literally alone in the ballroom now. An argument was started and Schnitz left the party in anger, carrying with him the flowers he gave to Mabel. Then Meyer was delighted because he could have Mabel all to himself and his rival was defeated. However, when Schnitz returned home he found out that the cheese on his shoe and he would not accept to be deceived his way and decided to fight back. He returned to the party, talked to a boy, who asked Meyer to go outside. While both of them talked, Schnitz discreetly put the cheese on Meyer’s pocket.
The party continued, the guests were dancing in the same ballroom, having fun while Schnitz was watching from a window the result of his plan to embarrass Meyer in front of everyone and the guests run away from the ballroom as soon as Meyer returned to the house. Mabel got angry, gave back to Meyer the ring he had previously given her while Schnitz laughed in joy. After a while, Meyer found out the cheese in his pocket. Meanwhile, Schnitz entered the party while the disgusted guests were packing the living room as no one wanted to return to that stinking ballroom. When Meyer saw Schnitz he threw the cheese on him and another argument took place, but it did not last long because both Mayer and Mabel fainted due to the strong smell while Schnitz watched it in shock. 

Although the plot might seem too simplistic for nowadays’ audiences, those short films stood well the test of time as they have gags that can be easily understood to this day, which might explain the success of those slapstick comedies in their own era. The charm of a film that simply entertains and relaxes is something hard to resist, regardless of era.