- The Forgotten Films of Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle
This is a golden age for fans of silent film comedy legend Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle. Both Kino [End Page 162] on Video and Image Entertainment offer DVD collections of Arbuckle's best short comedy work from the late 1910s with Buster Keaton, and a third DVD contribution from Milestone, The Cook and Other Treasures, serves up a previously lost Arbuckle-Keaton collaboration, The Cook (1918), and the Arbuckle solo effort A Reckless Romeo (1917).
Now comes The Forgotten Films of Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle from Laughsmith Entertainment and Mackinac Media, a breathtaking four-disk set containing thirty-two films that covers Arbuckle's career from the beginning (or as close as possible, given the dismal survival rate of early cinema) to the end (or as close as possible, given the difficulties of negotiating with a media titan for the use of copyrighted material). Wisely, Laughsmith has mostly avoided duplicating films available on the other DVD sets (with the exception of a couple that are mandatory for any Arbuckle set). Hence, this collection beautifully complements, rather than competes against, the earlier Arbuckle collections. The films have been transferred into the digital domain and given new musi-cal scores by people with a real passion for Arbuckle and his work. The love and care put into this volume are evident in the finished product.
Roscoe Arbuckle was born in 1887. An extremely difficult childhood forced him to fend for himself at an early age. A good singing voice and a talent for physical comedy, despite his great heft, led him into vaudeville and then the movies. His earliest film work for Selig Polyscope in 1909 and 1910 is believed lost. After this initial foray into the movies, Arbuckle returned to the stage. He re-entered films in early 1913, working briefly at Selig and Nestor, before landing at Mack Sennett's Keystone studio. Of his 1913 films, only a handful of the Keystones are known to survive. Arbuckle's imposing figure combined with amazing physical grace and agility to make an immediate impression, and he quickly became an audience favorite. By March 1914, Arbuckle was directing his own films, albeit under Sennett's watchful eye.
Disk 1 contains a single Keystone from 1913, Fatty Joins the Force, four films from 1914, and four films from 1915. Of the films from 1914, two feature Charlie Chaplin, who arrived at Keystone some nine months after Arbuckle. One of these Arbuckle-Chaplin pairings, The Rounders, has been widely available in other collections, most notably Kino's Slapstick Encyclopedia, but the remarkable chemistry between the two comics makes its inclusion here mandatory. The Knockout is a less well-known Arbuckle film in which Chaplin does an extended supporting bit as the referee of a boxing match.
A far more significant teaming for Arbuckle at Keystone was his partnership with Mabel Normand. In total, this collection presents eight of the Normand-Arbuckle films scattered through disks 1, 2, and 3. Some of these films present them as a courting couple and others have them married to domineering or shiftless spouses and having a relatively innocent fling, but perhaps the most interesting of the group are those dark and cynical efforts in which Fatty and Mabel are married. Perhaps the most striking of these are That Little Band of Gold (1915), found on disk 2, and He Did and He Didn't (1916) on disk 3. That Little Band of Gold begins where many comedies of the period ended: Roscoe proposes to Mabel and she accepts. A marriage ceremony is followed by an iris out and the title card "And now she waits for him." A drunken Roscoe arrives home to a less-than-hospitable reception from Mabel and her mother. The situation deteriorates, and by the end of the film Roscoe and Mabel are in divorce court. An obligatory last-minute happy ending in which the couple is reconciled does little to undermine the film's surprisingly pessimistic view of married life.
More striking is He Did and He Didn't...