Keaton shorts continued

Buster Keaton’s next three short films made with Roscoe Arbuckle were Oh Doctor!, Coney Island and A Country Hero, all made in 1917. The last is lost so I watched the next available movie, Out West, made in 1918.  (My first post covered The Butcher Boy, The Rough House and The Wedding Night, Buster’s first three films.)

buster keaton oh doctor 1 editI love Coney Island and Out West so I’ll make quick work of Oh Doctor! first. Arbuckle plays the unscrupulous Dr. Fatty Holepoke at 31 Cemetery Way who careens his car into a crowd to get new clients and loses all his money at the racetrack. Keaton plays his son, Junior Holepoke, dressed like an overgrown Little Lord Fauntleroy. The plot, what there is of one, involves Alice Mann and Al St. John conning Arbuckle in order to steal his wife’s necklace. (I can’t find a credit for the wife so don’t know the actress’ name.) The action revolves around the wife, Buster and Arbuckle all doing their part to retrieve the necklace and catch the villains. What little screen time Buster has is spent cackling, getting smacked around by his father, and wailing uncontrollably. It’s not typical Keaton fare and wastes his talents, except his incredible talent for prat falls, and the only upside is there’s little of it. One reason I like Arbuckle, though, is he plays such unremitting schmucks in most of these shorts and Dr. Fatty Holepoke has to be one of his most unprincipled characters.

Another reason I like Arbuckle is the lack of pretension he brings to his comedies. He and his cast are like giant kids having fun. A good example is Coney Island, which is a blast from start to finish and has one of my most favorite Buster moments. Arbuckle plays a character simply named Fatty, an unhappy husband at the beach with his wife (Agnes Neilson). Arbuckle is looking to lose her and spend time with Alice Mann, Buster’s girlfriend, who takes off with St. John and leaves Buster behind when he can’t afford the amusement park ticket. Soon, Mann hooks up with Fatty after he feigns sympathy when she’s feeling sick from the go-cart ride (not sure what else to call it) she took with St. John.

tumblr_md9tq9XoTD1qcgwn4o2_250Fatty spends half the movie in drag, in a turn-of-the-century woman’s bathing suit and Mary Pickford-curl wig, which leads to some good gags like St. John and Arbuckle flirting until they both stroke the other’s beard stubble. Buster becomes a life guard and in my favorite moment does a standing back flip for no reason except apparent pride over his new position. There’s some Keystone Cop-like police and a chase that ends in the ocean. Neilsen lands in jail, St. John and Arbuckle chase other women and Buster gets the girl. There’s even a kiss between them as they sit on the pier.  If you’re curious to see Buster laugh or smile or show something more than his legendary deadpan, definitely check out some of these early shorts with Arbuckle.

Out West is a send up of silent westerns. Buster’s father, Joe Keaton, is in it and according to, plays Man on Train. That’s how it starts, with Arbuckle chased on top of the boxcars, jumping off, rolling a cigarette, lighting a match on the moving train and grabbing the caboose’s ladder to hop back on. It’s a great, seamless stunt from Arbuckle.

Eventually, Arbuckle runs into a saloon just as St. John and his bandits are robbing it. Arbuckle grabs two six-shooters and with guns blazing, chases everyone out in a flurry of gunfire. Arbuckle returns to find Buster and takes over as bartender. (St. John’s character killed the former barkeep and Buster quickly placed a “Bartender wanted” sign on the bar.) 280px-OutWest1918In a racist bit of comedy par for the time, a bunch of cowboys shoot at the feet of a black man to make him dance. A woman from the Salvation Army (Alice Lake) enters the bar and tells everyone they should be ashamed of themselves. St. John latches on to her, harassing her until Buster and Arbuckle intervene. Arbuckle first tries to knock him out, hitting St. John over the head with about 20 breakaway bottles in a lengthy gag. When none of that works Arbuckle grabs a feather – the intertitle announces “Achilles heel” – and caresses St. John’s face. Buster joins in, tickling St. John until the robber falls down in uncontrollable laughter. The gag is revived at the end when St. John kidnaps the woman and Fatty saves her, again tickling St. John long enough for her to escape. In between, there’s more gunfire and another stunt involving a drunken horse. All in all, a wonderful poke in the eye of melodramatic westerns of the day.

Next, I hope to watch The Bell Boy, Moonshine and Good Night, Nurse!, assuming all are available.

And, FYI, TCM is showing three Keaton films next month – The Navigator and Sherlock Jr., back-to-back on Nov. 9 and Seven Chances on Nov. 24, followed by a documentary, Buster Keaton: So Funny It Hurt!.


A few thoughts on TCM’s September lineup

Received my new Now Playing yesterday and, as usual, there’s a lot worth watching on TCM next month. Just a few thoughts on the September schedule:

Fridays feature classic pre-code film, which I am a novice about so don’t trust my judgment. Two that look intriguing to me are both showing on Sept. 26: Downstairs (1932), starring John Gilbert, Virginia Bruce and Paul Lukas at 8a/5a and Call Her Savage (1932), starring Clara Bow, Gilbert Roland and Thelma Todd at 2:15a/11:15p. TCM is also showing a documentary on pre-code, Thou Shalt Not: Sex, Sin and Censorship in Pre-code Hollywood on Sept. 5, 6:45p/3:45p and again at 2:15a/11:15p on Sept. 19.

220px-Cover_UpAlso, in the category of never-seen-look-interesting are two noirish titles, Crossfire (1947), starring Robert Young, Robert Mitchum and Robert Ryan and directed by Edward Dmytryk. That’s being shown as part of TCM’s The Projected Image: The Jewish Experience on Film, a series of 20 movies airing on Tuesdays in September. The likely more noirish movie is Cover-up (1949), starring William Bendix, Dennis O’Keefe and Barbara Britton, at 1:45p/10:45a on Sept. 25.

Speaking of Dmytryk (Murder, My Sweet and The Caine Mutiny), TCM is showing six of his films in a row on Sept. 4, starting with The Devil Commands (1941) at 10:30a/7:30a. Another unofficially featured director is Gordon Parks. Four of his films are scheduled on Sept. 18, starting with The Learning Tree (1969) at 8p/5p.

hud_ver2_xlgMelvyn Douglas is the star of the month. I want to see new-to-me Two-faced Woman (1941), starring Greta Garbo, Constance Bennett and Douglas and directed by George Cukor, playing Sept. 10 at 4:30a/1:30a (that’s really the 11th in all time zones but listed on the 10th). And Douglas in my most favorite, already-seen film showing in September: Hud (1963), starring Douglas, Paul Newman, Patricia Neal and Brandon deWilde. (The Sea of Grass (1947), playing after at 11:45p/8:45p and starring Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn and Douglas and directed by Elia Kazan, sounds worth a look, too.)

Another already-seen film is Dear Heart (1964), a lovely, bittersweet movie starring Glenn Ford and Geraldine Page, airing Sept. 3 at 2p/11a. Dear Heart is an example of 60s-era films — the first movies I remember seeing when I was growing up – that mean something more to me than pure cinema-going appreciation. 

The_Merry_Widow_(1925_film)Silent films return to Sunday evenings. I don’t think I’ve seen any of them but am going to catch as many as I can. TCM’s October and November schedules are already online. I’ve only glanced at a few days but already am excited to see a childhood favorite I haven’t seen in years: The Canterville Ghost (1944), starring  Charles Laughton, Robert Young and Margaret O’Brien on Oct. 2 at 11:30p/8:30p.

Next time: thoughts on Buster Keaton’s first few films.