Tag Archives: Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle


The first in a two-part series on “Chaplin at Keystone” (read the first part here).

Charlie Chaplin‘s first solo directorial effort, Caught in the Rain, is an inauspicious one. It starts off as another comedy in the “day at the park” subgenre.  Alice Davenport flirts with Charlie after her husband, Mack Swain, walks off on an errand.  Compromising positions follow, of course, taken straight from Keystone founder Mack Sennett ‘s gag assembly line.  Sennett himself directed the next six Chaplin shorts.

A Busy Day features Charlie in drag, trying to disrupt a parade in a shameless rip-off of his previous Kid Auto Races At Venice.  A Fatal Mallet also stars Sennett (a rare appearance, and for good reason—his acting is more uneven than his directing) fighting with Charlie over girly girl Mabel.  They are both dull Sennett products exhibiting little craftsmanship or art.

The Knockout is a half hour long, an epic for Keystone.  It is basically a Fatty Arbuckle boxing vehicle with Charlie coming between prize fighter Fatty and Edgar Kennedy.  Chaplin’s ballet-like brand of slapstick (barely) salvages the film, and The Knockout again makes it abundantly clear why Chaplin quickly outshone his peers.

Mabel’s Busy Day is an eccentric step up.  Mabel is the much put upon, unkempt hot dog vendor at a race track.  Charlie, as a dandy, arrives amidst much shenanigans, including dance-like slapstick with some Keystone Kops.  Charlie spies the patrons abusing poor Mabel.  He comforts her and, when her back is turned, he steals her hardware to go into business for himself, with predictably disastrous results.  Chaplin here is without sympathy, even if he ends up as abused as the girl he himself abused and, realizing what she has been put through, finds enough pity for her to accompany her through the iris out.  Again, the odd chemistry between Charlie and Mabel inexplicably works, although Chaplin would find more apt female counterparts later in his career.

“Laughing Gas” (1914, unrestored)

Chaplin co-wrote Mabel’s Married Life with Norman and, although Sennett officially directed, it is moving towards the style film historians will later term “Chaplinesque”; it is easily the best of the Sennett-directed Chaplin Keystones.  Charlie and Mabel are a married couple out on a Sunday promenade in the park.  Charlie grudgingly shares his banana with the Mrs.  He momentarily steps into an inn, which gives Mack Swain ample opportunity to stop and flirt with Mabel.  The Continue reading CHAPLIN AT KEYSTONE, PART TWO


The first in a two-part series.

Watching Charlie Chaplin‘s work for Keystone Studios is a bit like watching the earliest Mickey Mouse cartoons, and it may take a bit of adjustment for modern viewers.  Like Walt Disney’s rodent, Chaplin’s Tramp persona was slowly polished into a screen character that audiences loved and rooted for.  Populist tastes had much to do with this, but, in the process of refining the character for the masses, some of the Tramps’ rough edges were burned away.  Revisiting the earliest incarnations of either character leads to a disconcerting discovery: the earliest versions were roughly etched and somewhat underdeveloped, but less predictable; they possessed not altogether sympathetic personality traits that contemporary audiences may find uncomfortable, especially when compared to their later refinements.

Earlier this year, Flicker Alley released the restored Keystone Chaplin shorts.  That restoration was long overdue.  For years, public domain labels had churned out DVD prints that were so execrable as to be virtually unwatchable.

In 1914, his first year at Keystone, the Tramp is in his infancy, and his later self is only occasionally glimpsed.  Making A Living (1914) is notable mainly as Chaplin’s screen debut.  The Tramp is not yet born; rather, Chaplin appears as a swindling, Don Juan-like English dandy who foreshadows few characteristics of the famous persona.  This mess of a film was directed by the Austrian native Henry “Suicide” Lehrman (so nicknamed by stuntmen because Lehrman, unconcerned about the danger of stunts, was risky to work for).  Lehrman later dated actress Virginia Rappe.  At the time of her death in the infamous Fatty Arbuckle scandal, Lehrman testified against Arbuckle at the trial and capitalized on the publicity.  In the Chaplin at Keystone collection Lehrman appears as a reporter in Making a Living and as a film director in Chaplin’s second released film Kid Auto Races at Venice, Cal. (which he also directed).

Kid Auto Races at Venice, Cal. is the film in which audiences first saw Chaplin as the Tramp.  This vast improvement over Chaplin’s debut was entirely improvised, shot in less than an hour.  The Tramp shows up at an auto race and, spying a film crew, becomes obsessed with being the center of the camera’s attention.  The race crowd is at first curious and then entertained by the Continue reading CHAPLIN AT KEYSTONE, PART ONE


Hidden deep in the recesses of early cinema lies a rarely seen, obscure gem that might be described as something resembling a Max Beckman Moving Picture.

he_did_and_he_didntRoscoe Arbuckle’s 1916 He Did and He Didn’t is a humorous, expressionistic nightmare which not only calls to mind the texture and atmosphere of Max Beckman expressionist paintings, but also, in heroine Mabel Normand, evokes Edvard Munch as well.

Arbuckle had been shifting away from the frantic style of the Mack Sennett factory towards more character driven comedy, and had taken over writing and directing his own films and making features long before Chaplin, Keaton and Lloyd followed suit.

He Did and He Didn’t uniquely stands out even among the later Arbuckle films, which is saying quite a bit as Arbuckle was innovative both as a performer and director.  His perfectionism was well known and he might very well have earned the crown for king of multiple takes, although the gracefulness he displayed on both sides of the camera never even remotely hints at such perfectionist standards.

Arbuckle has been widely credited for influencing such artists as Charlie Chaplin,  Buster Keaton, Oliver Hardy and Curly Howard.  His distinct on-screen persona was normally that of a country bumpkin and ladies man.

Naturally, every great screen personality needs an equally distinct nemesis.  Chaplin had Eric Campbell, Langdon had Vernon Dent, Arbuckle had his Al St. John.  The two appeared together in numerous films and, later, Arbuckle directed St. John in Curses (1925) and Bridge Wives (1932).  Lanky, bad teeth, bad hair and bad clothes, St. John was Arbuckle’s perfect country bumpkin foil in The Waiter’s Ball (1916), Coney Island (1917) and the recently restored Love (1919), in which Arbuckle donned drag, as he frequently did (Good Night Nurse, an imaginative nightmare fantasy with Keaton, St. John and Arbuckle Continue reading ROSCOE ARBUCKLE’S “HE DID AND HE DIDN’T” (1916)