Saturday, November 28, 2015

Stubs – One Week

One Week (1920) Starring: Buster Keaton, Sybil Seely Directed by Buster Keaton, Eddie Cline. Written by Buster Keaton, Eddie Cline. Produced by Joseph M. Schenck. Run Time: 22 minutes. U.S. Black and White. Comedy, Silent

As you may already know or have surmised, every Friday night my family and I watch a movie. One of my favorite experiences was the several Fridays we spent watching the Art of Buster Keaton, a collection of 11 features and 21 shorts that Keaton produced between 1920 and 1928. This is the period between his work with Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle and his going to work at MGM. During this time, he produced several of the best and funniest films of the silent era, including Sherlock Jr. (1924), The General (1927), and Steamboat Bill Jr. (1928).

Joseph Keaton became known as Buster at the age of only eighteen months. The story is that he was nicknamed by the great illusionist Houdini, who was present when young Keaton took a long tumble down a stairway without injury. Houdini supposedly commented, “That’s a real buster!”, referring to the fall, but Keaton’s father began using it as his nickname. Buster began his career in earnest at the age of three, performing with his parents, as The Three Keatons. Joseph was regularly tossed around on stage by his father as part of the act.

After serving during World War I, Keaton met Arbuckle in 1917 and was soon offered a role in the film Butcher Boy (1917). Keaton worked with Arbuckle in 14 films until 1920, when Arbuckle signed a lucrative contract with Paramount Pictures.

The first film Keaton made as a solo act was The High Sign, but he was disappointed by the results and shelved the film, releasing it a year later in 1921, when injuries prevented him from completing work on The Haunter House (1921), forcing him to release the short.

For inspiration for his next film, Keaton used a Ford Motor Company documentary, Home Made (1919), an educational short about prefabricated housing. After watching the that film, Keaton decided to parody it. Since Home Made is not a well known film today, it is lost on modern audiences that Keaton used many of the same devices employed in that film, including the wedding, a Model T and the calendar as a way to show the progression of time.

The film opens on Monday the 9th (month unknown) with the wedding of the groom (Buster Keaton) and the bride (Sybil Seely) leaving their wedding. They have the traditional send off of good wishes, rice and old shoes, the latter of which Keaton looks through for a good pair.

The groom (Buster Keaton) finds a usable pair of shoes. The bride (Sybil Seely) is not amused.
Driving them away is a not so happy Handy Hank (actor’s name unknown) who hands the groom an envelope. As a wedding present, Uncle Mike has given the couple a house and a lot (99 Apple Street).

Away they go, but the groom is uncomfortable showing his new bride affection with her ex-boyfriend in the driver’s seat. So much so, that when a car pulls up next to them, Keaton escorts his bride into that car’s backseat. Keaton is straddling the two cars when a motorcylcist cuts between the two and knocks Keaton to the street. Keaton watches as Handy Hank abandons the car he’s driving and joins the bride in the other car’s backseat.

Handy Hank (actor unknown), the bride's ex-, drives the newlyweds away.

The motorcyclist gives Keaton a ride to where a traffic cop is directing traffic. Knocking the cop down, Keaton puts on his hat and has the car with his bride stop. Seely gets out, but so does Handy Hank. Keaton whacks the cop over the head with his baton and then gives it to Handy Hank. In the confusion, Keaton and Seely walk away to their honeymoon car, which is still running and get in.

Buster manages to stop the car and get Handy Hank implicated in hitting the traffic cop.

The newlyweds arrive at 99 just as the last of the boxes are being unloaded off the back of the delivery truck. “Here’s your house,” the workman calls out, just as the truck pulls away.

Unfazed at the disappointment, Keaton finds the instructions, the first of which is build the house by the numbers on the boxes.

By Tuesday, the 10th, the building project is underway. The first floor is mocked up and Buster is already working on the second. While Seely makes breakfast, Keaton tries to saw a board, finally deciding to nail it down and then gets on the wrong side of the board to cut it. When Seely calls out that breakfast is ready, Buster says he’ll be right down. Truer words have never been spoken.

Just then Handy Hank shows up on the scene and renumbers some of the boxes, making 1 a 4 and 3 an 8 while Buster is not looking.

Meanwhile, Buster is both graceful and incompetent as a builder. He is shown easily catching a hammer thrown up to him (actually a reversed shot), but his carpentry leaves something to be desired. Not only does the wall he’s working on swing 180 degrees, leaving Seely, who had been sitting in a window seal on the first floor hanging on for dear life, but it deposits Buster, who had been on the second floor back on the ground. Seconds later, the entire wall falls over, narrowly missing the groom, who is looking for his disappeared bride.

The first time Keaton used this narrow miss.

By Wednesday, the 11th, Handy Hank’s handiwork is starting to show. The house is now lopsided, leaning in one direction and the entire roof is turned 90 degrees. Still, it’s home and Seely paints a couple of cupid hearts on the side. After kissing her, the ever shy groom runs around to the other side of the house, where the kitchen sink is on the outside. There is also an outside door on the second floor with nothing but air on the other side. Buster hammers at the pipes and then swivels the wall around as he goes inside.

The house doesn't look like it did in the instructions.

The piano mover (Joe Roberts) arrives carrying a stand up like a sack of potatoes. Buster, hearing the deliveryman, climbs out a window using a ladder, with each rung coming detatched as he goes until it’s all unattached wood pieces. The piano man hands the piano to Buster, who is crushed by the weight.

The piano man (Joe Roberts) delivers a new piano for the new house.

After the deliveryman rights everything, Seely shows up with ropes and Buster takes down a wall of the house to make room. Buster sets up a pulley in the middle of the livingroom. 

The harder he pulls, the more the ceiling bows.

Meanwhile, Handy Hank shows up to wallpaper an upstairs room and sits down in the middle of the room to calculate the work. The pulley on the ceiling of the floor below pulls the floor down with it and when Buster lets go of the rope, Handy Hank is catapulted through the roof, with his head sticking out.

The only thing long enough to reach up that high is the porch railing, which Buster disassembles and uses as a ladder. Buster tries to pry Handy Hank out, but when he bends the pole, he inadvertently uses it to propel Handy Hank down back into the house.

Buster tries to pry Handy Hank out of the roof.

Seely comes looking for Buster and won’t let him explain what happened, pushing him to finishing with the piano. Using a long board to bolster the ceiling, Buster manages, with some difficulty, to pull the unwieldy piano into the house. Placing it causes the floor to collapse under its weight. While Buster is trying to figure out what happened, Seely returns with sheet music, “The End of a Perfect Day,’ which Buster places on the still half in the floor piano.

On Thursday the 12th, the floor has been repaired and the piano has been moved, since Buster is ready to lay carpeting. He removes his coat and gets down to work.

Meanwhile, Seely in the kitchen has an accident and gets milk all over her.

Back in the living room, this isn’t wall to wall carpeting, but when Buster is done, there is a lump in the middle where he had left his coat. Rather than untack the carpet, he takes out a knife and cuts his coat out. To cover up the hole, he puts down a smaller rug. Stepping out into the foyer, Buster sees a can of paint and, using the carpet remnant, he paints, upside down and backwards, WELCOME, creating a welcome mat.

In order to get the milk out of her hair, Seely takes a bath.

Outside, Buster uses the the railing/ladder to try to place the chimney, which is one solid piece, on the roof.

Back inside, Seely accidentally drops the bar of soap on the floor. Her first inclination is to naturally get up and get it, but she is also aware that the camera is on so she doesn’t rise up. A hand covers the lens from behind to give her a chance to pick it up.

Discretion. A hand covers up Seely reaching for the soap.

Up on the roof, Buster wears the chimney as he places it in a pre-cut hole in the roof. Dropping down through the roof, Buster lands in the full, but empty bathtub. Seely, we see, is in the shower now. There is now water everywhere on the floor and Seely commands Buster to get a mop. Stepping through the door, Buster steps out into space and falls to ground, landing on his back with a big plume of dust.

Buster struggles with the chimney, which is one solid piece.

The next day is Friday the 13th and the house is ready for a house warming party. Handy Hank, along with several other guests, are there, waiting for Buster to serve them food. When a hungry Handy Hank takes food off someone else’s plate, Buster pulls out his chair before he sits back down. Handy Hank doesn’t like this treatment and chases after Buster. Buster runs upstairs and into the bathroom. Holding open the door, Hank runs through it and when he hits the ground, still running, he runs straight into a fence.

The calendar is used to show the passage of days.

Buster joins some guests who are taking a self-guided tour of the house when he realizes it is raining outside and the roof is leaking like a sieve. Nonchalantly, Buster picks up a nearby umbrella, but decides he needs to investigate.

Stepping outside, the wind takes the umbrella away from him. The wind blows so hard that the entire house starts to move; a little at first, but soon it is spinning like a top. Try as he might, Keaton can’t do anything to stop it.

The house starts to spin in the windy storm.

The guests inside the house also are spinning around like they are trapped inside a runaway merry-go-round. Keaton makes several attempts to get back into the house, but it’s difficult to hit a moving target. Finally, he manages to throw himself inside, but no sooner does he try to stand than he is thrown around the room. Catching himself on the front door knob, he is thrown out of the house. Meanwhile, Seely is spinning out of control on a piano stool, spun so hard that she, too, is thrown from the house, landing next to Buster on the ground.

Eventually, all the guests are also thrown from the spinning house. One guests comes forward to shake Buster’s hand, thanking him for “a lovely afternoon on your merry-go-round.” Adding, “It’ll be better when you put in your hobby-horses.”

Left alone, Buster and Seely ride out the storm on a box that gets thrown by the winds.

Buster and Seely wait out the storm outside.

Saturday the 14th. After the storm, the house, battered and torn, is still standing, but the Keatons’ problems are not over. The rightful owner of the land walks up with the address sign and informs them that they are not at 99 Apple, but 66 Apple. Their lot is across the railroad tracks.

Undeterred, Buster starts to move the house. Seely gets the jack from the car and they raise the house high enough to put barrels under it.

On Sunday, the 15th, the Keatons are finally ready to move their house. With barrels in place and a tow rope attached to their car, Buster starts to pull, while Seely tends to the barrels. They manage to limp along like this until they get to the railroad tracks. The barrels get caught up and the tow rope breaks.

Buster attempts to tow the house to its proper location.

Buster gets a bright idea. He backs the car into the house and then, using long nails, attaches the back seat to the outer wall. But when he attempts to gun the engine to pull the house, the car chassis and engine move forward, but the body of the car stays attached to the house.

Buster has the bright idea to nail the car to the house.

Buster goes back to the rear of the house, where Seely is still trying to push it forward and tells her what’s happened.

Meanwhile, a train is coming their way. It blows its horn, which gets the Keatons’ attentions.

They realize then, that they are standing on the track and try to run off in opposite directions, while pulling the other one with them. They try in vain to move the house off the tracks and when it is too late, Buster pulls Seely aside and they wait for the impact. But the train is on the next track over and misses the house.

Waiting for the impact that never comes.

They finally open their eyes and are relieved that their house is still standing. But they don’t see a train coming in the other direction on their track. The house gets the worse of the impact, splintering into pieces.

But their relief is short-lived.

The Keatons, who were thrown to the ground by the impact, get up and dust themselves off. Buster pulls out a For Sale sign and places it next to the pile of rubble. He then takes out the envelope marked Directions and leaves it on the sign. Buster and Seely hold hands and walk away and the film ends.

One Week is an example of the genius of Keaton. There is real physical humor as well as pathos. Keaton is stone faced throughout and never seems to give up. But eventually, you can’t make lemonade from lemons forever.

There are many essential elements of Buster’s future films found in this one. There is almost a math and science to his humor. He utilizes machines to full effect and not so much in this case the train, which does supply laughs as it smashes through their home. (Keaton would famously work with trains again in The General.)

In One Week, the machine is the turntable on which the house was built. Keaton did not use minatures and the effects were as real as the stunts. The side of the house, which narrowly misses him, is all based on exacting measurements that show real danger, but try to minimize the actual danger the actor puts himself in. This bit, as well as being thrown about by a windy storm would be used to greater effect in Steamboat Bill Jr., which would be Buster’s last film before signing away his freedom to MGM.

Keaton was not impervious to injury. During the scene in which Keaton falls flat on his back from the second story door, the impact with the ground caused his arms and back to swell.

Sybil Seely, who was only 18 years old at the time, had been in films for about a year and had already appeared in eight films (shorts) before she made One Week. She would appear in several more Keaton films, including Convict 13 (1920), The Scarecrow (1920), The Boat (1921) and The Frozen North (1922), which would also be her last film. After having married screenwriter Jules Furthman in 1920 and giving birth to their son, Jules Jr., in 1921, Seely retired from pictures in 1922 at the ripe old age of 20. Not only does she hold her own with one of comedy’s legends, but she seems to have a pleasant personality on screen and, like Keaton, wasn’t afraid to try her own stunts.

While One Week might show the potential to come, it is still a very funny movie. Clever and quick-paced, there are multiple laugh out loud moments throughout the 22-minute short. If you don’t find yourself laughing, then I suggest you check your pulse, because you’re probably dead.

One of the forgotten gems of the silent era, One Week showcases Buster Keaton’s talents to full effect. The film is clever, sophisticated and slapstick all mixed together by a master of comedy. And while there would be more to come, none would necessarily be funnier than this one. Spend 22 minutes with One Week and you should be a Keaton fan for life.

For reviews of other silent films, please see our silent film review hub here.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Stubs – The Immigrant (1917)

The Immigrant (1917) Starring: Charlie Chaplin, Edna Purviance, Eric Campbell. Directed by Charlie Chaplin. Written by Charlie Chaplin, Vincent Bryan, Maverick Terrell. Produced by John Jasper. Run Time: 20 minutes. U.S. Black and White. Comedy, Silent

By the time Charlie Chaplin was 26, he was one of the most famous people in the world and arguably the biggest film star. Having started in film only three years earlier with Making a Living (1914) and Kid Auto Races at Venice (1914), he had gone from making $150 a week to an offer by the Mutual Film Corporation to make $670,000 a year in 1916. The films he made that first year include The Floorwalker, The Fireman, The Vagabond, One A.M., The Count, The Pawnshop, Behind the Screen and The Rink. But in 1917, Chaplin demanded more time and produced only four shorts in the next 10 months, including Easy Street, The Cure, The Immigrant and The Adventurer. Chaplin would later consider this to be the happiest period of his career.

Like many of Chaplin’s films at this time, he would start filming with only an idea and see what would develop from there. In this case, he started to make a movie set in an artist’s café. He quickly abandoned that idea and started to work on a film still set in a café, but about a man who had never been in a restaurant before, displaying poor table manners until he meets a girl played by Edna Purviance and shapes up almost immediately.

Realizing he needed more plot, he developed the idea of them both being immigrants and shot a sequence about arriving in America. He then reshot the café scenes to make it more consistent with the new plot line. Once filming was completed, Chaplin stayed awake for four straight days to edit the film for release on June 17, 1917.

The short has three acts. The film opens on board a steamer on its way to America. The opening sequence features several misadventures of an unnamed immigrant, the Tramp (Chaplin). We’re introduced to the backside of the Tramp as he is leaning far over the rail.

Our first view of the Tramp (Charlie Chaplin) in The Immigrants.

From the convulsions his body is going through, we assume he is having a bout of seasickness, but he’s not. He’s been trying to catch a fish, which he pulls on board, only to have it land next to a sleeping man on the deck.

The Tramp catches a fish off the side of the ship.

The Tramp tries eating in the mess, but the pitching of the ocean has the bowl of food sliding across the table to the Tramp and then to another unnamed immigrant. Each takes a bite of food when the bowl is in front of him. It is in this sequence that we’re first introduced to the unnamed immigrant portrayed by Edna Purviance. The Tramp notices her as soon as she enters the hall and offers up his seat at the table for her.

When Edna enters the room, the Tramp notices her right away.

Out on deck, the Tramp seems to win easily (and a little showy) at dice, ending up taking another immigrant’s money. The gambler (Tom Wilson) looks more like a reject from a western than a European, but he wants to try and win his money back. And when he sees an ailing woman (Kitty Bradbury) with an envelope of money around her neck, he is not above robbing her, so he does.

But he doesn’t want to play dice anymore, rather poker. The Tramp is nervous, especially since the man has a gun. The Tramp shuffles the cards after a fashion and two other shipmates join in. When the man with the gun can’t match the Tramp’s ante, the man sells his gun to the Tramp. And when the Tramp wins he uses the gun to ward off the angry gambler.

The Tramp is forced into a game of cars with gambler with a gun (Tom Wilson).

We find out that the money belonged to Edna’s mother and it is their life’s savings. The Tramp realizes perhaps that the money he’s won was taken from them and he slips some money into Edna’s coat pocket. Then he thinks about how much he’s giving and takes a few back; then reconsiders that amount.

Realizing the money he's won has been stolen, the Tramp returns some
of it to its rightful owner, Edna's mother. (Kitty Bradbury).

All the time he’s got his hand in and out of her pocket, he’s being observed by one of the ship’s officers (Frank J. Coleman), who accuses the Tramp of being a pickpocket. The official calls Edna over and tells him what he’s seen, but she knows there was no money in her pocket to steal. All is forgiven and a hint of blossoming romance is shown.

But the ship is about to land in America and after a panning shot across Lady Liberty, immigration officials board the boat and process everyone. Edna and her mother are the first off and even though the Tramp is processed right after them, we get the feeling they’ve been, perhaps forever, separated.

The Tramp, Edna Purviance and her mother all glimpse the Statue of Liberty as the ship arrives in New York City.

The second act picks up the Tramp’s story later when he is now broke and hungry. Outside a restaurant, he finds a coin on the street and goes inside to eat. He orders a plate of beans, which comes with a yard long piece of bread. While he’s eating he sees Edna who is now all alone. He has her join him and orders beans for her as well.

His burly waiter (Eric Campbell) patrols the restaurant floor like a vigilante. When a patron (John Rand) is short 10 cents on his bill, Campbell and the other waiters wail on him before forcibly ejecting him from the restaurant. It is about now that the Tramp realizes he has a hole in his pocket and the coin he was going to use to pay for dinner is gone. The Tramp is terrified of getting the same fate as the other patron.

When another patron pays for his dinner, the same coin the Tramp had found. He tries to be nonchalant about picking it up, but Campbell returns and stands on it. The Tramp makes many failed attempts at picking up the coin before retrieving it. However, when he pays the waiter, the coin turns out to be a fake.

The Waiter (Eric Campbell) demands payment from the Tramp.

The Tramp is saved when a visiting Artist (Henry Bergman) notices the couple and comes over to talk to them about posing for a painting he’s doing. The artist seems more interested in Edna and talks to her while the Tramp tries to figure out his next move. The artist offers to pay for their meal, but the Tramp makes a show of refusing the help. The artist offers again, but the Tramp again waves off the offer. This goes back and forth until the Artist withdraws the offer and the Tramp is once again on the hook.

A visiting Artist (Henry Bergman) provides the Tramp with a way to pay his restaurant tab.

The waiter returns and the Artist pays his bill. The change which the Artist meant as a tip, the Tramp notices, is enough to cover his meal. While the waiter is busying attending to another customer and the Artist is chatting to Edna, the Tramp slips the tip off the table and offers it to the waiter to settle his bill, tipping the waiter the much smaller change as a tip.

Outside the restaurant, the Artist thinks everything is settled, but the Tramp asks for a few dollars up front. It is raining heavily now and the Tramp escorts Edna over to the Marriage License office, where the Marriage Registrar (Tom Harrington) is waiting. The Tramp steals a kiss from Edna and apparently proposes marriage. The film ends with the two going into the office to start their new life together in their new country.

The Tramp steals a kiss from Edna as the two start out on their new life in America.

The film shows how far Chaplin had come as a filmmaker from his earliest slapstick Mack Sennett films. The Immigrant has a mixture of comedy and pathos that would characterize his best films including The Kid (1921) and City Lights (1931). We laugh at the antics of the filly and willy Tramp, but we see when he is down on his luck, too. There is nor a promise of a rosy future for the Tramp and Edna, but we're pretty sure they will get by somehow.

Edna Purviance had an entire career just appearing in Chaplin films. In 1915, She was working as a secretary in San Francisco when Chaplin was looking for a lead actress for his second film under his Essanay contract, A Night Out. Discovered at Tate’s Café by an associate of Chaplin’s, he gave her the part. Romantically involved with the director from 1915 to 1917, she would appear in 33 of his short films made under his Essanay, Mutual and First National contracts, including The Tramp (1915) and A Dog’s Life (1918).

She would also appear in The Kid and The Pilgrim (1923). In A Woman in Paris (1923), Edna was the lead and while Chaplin wrote, directed and produced the film, he did not appear in it. The film was not a commercial success and her career was virtually over. She would make another film with Chaplin, A Woman of the Sea, in 1926, but the film was not released and is now considered lost. Purviance is credited with appearing in a French film, Éducation de Prince (1927). Even though she stopped appearing in Chaplin films, she remained on his payroll until her death in 1958.

Eric Campbell, the hulking headwaiter with the severe devilish eyebrows had a similar film career. A fellow member of the Fred Karno act, Campbell moved to the U.S. in 1914. Chaplin saw him in a play in 1916 and asked him to move to Hollywood to join his cast of actors. Campbell appeared in 12 of the Mutual films for Chaplin. His first appearance was in The Floorwalker (1916) and he was prominently featured in Easy Street (1917). Like Chaplin, Campbell had impersonators, including Oliver Hardy. Campbell’s last film was Chaplin’s final Mutual film, The Adventurer. He would die in a car crash in 1917.

Chaplin, who had emigrated from England only four years earlier, never did become a U.S. citizen, even though he lived and worked here until 1952. Despite his support of the Liberty War Bond drives during World War I, Chaplin was accused of being a communist for publicly supporting opening a Second Front to aid the Soviets and various Soviet-American friendship groups during World War II.

Chaplin denied accusations that he was a communist, insisting he was instead a “peacemonger.” Subpoenaed to appear in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee, he was never called to testify. But anti-Chaplin feelings got so bad that when he left to premiere his film Limelight (1952) in London, Attorney General James P. McGranery revoked Chaplin’s permit to re-enter the U.S. Chaplin moved to Switzerland and severed all business connections with the U.S. when he sold his last shares in United Artists in 1955.

There is a lot to like in this short and I would definitely recommend it. One of the problems with films from this time period, at least for the modern viewer, can be the over-the-top makeup the actors wear, especially villains. The harsh eyebrows of Campbell’s waiter character seem to be in stride with the sometimes very absurd facial hair that one sees in comedies from the silent era. Men have beards that had to exist only in the movies. I’m not sure if that’s a hangover from vaudeville or a shorthand the audiences at the time understood. But it is worth getting past that and it shouldn’t affect your enjoyment of The Immigrant.

For reviews of other silent films, please see our silent film review hub here.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Stubs – Fatty and Mabel Adrift

Fatty and Mabel Adrift (1916) Starring: Roscoe Arbuckle, Mabel Normand, Al St. John. Directed by Roscoe Arbuckle. Screenplay by Roscoe Arbuckle. Produced by Mack Sennett. Run Time: 34 minutes U.S. Black and White, Silent, Comedy.

Before there was United Artists, the studio owned by the stars, there was the Triangle Film Corporation. Founded by two brothers, Harry and Roy Aitken, in 1915, Triangle relied on three of cinema’s major producers: D.W. Griffith, Thomas Ince and Mack Sennett. The studio once stood where Sony Pictures Entertainment now stands, which is also the historic home of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

The studio was short-lived, ceasing operations in 1919 after Adolph Zucker had taken control and after both Ince and Sennett had left. However, in those four years, films starring the likes of Fatty Arbuckle, Mabel Normand, Gloria Swanson, William Desmond and Douglas Fairbanks were distributed by the studio, not to mention D.W.Griffith’s silent epic Intolerance: Love’s Struggle Through the Ages (1916).

One of the approximately 240 films produced by Triangle was Fatty and Mabel Adrift (1916), a comedy short produced by Sennett, starring two of silent comedy's heavyweights, Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle and Mabel Normand. Like many of Sennett’s stars, Charlie Chaplin and Normand, Arbuckle not only starred in front of the camera, but also wrote and directed his own material. Arbuckle had been directing since Barnyard Flirtations (1914), a comedy short.

Mabel Normand and Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle.

The films opens with heavy-handed allegory for love, as we see Fatty (Roscoe Arbuckle) and Mabel (Mabel Normand) outlined in cut out heart shapes being united by Cupid.

The Cupid who brings them together.

Fatty is a farm hand working for Mabel’s parents (Frank Hayes and May Wells). While Fatty and Mabel are in love, there is a rival for her affections, Hiram Perkins’ son (Al St. John); and yes, that is the character’s only given name in the film.

Fatty is a farm hand working for Mabel's parents.
One day, I. Landem’s (Glen Cavender) car has a flat tire in front of the farm. While Fatty goes to help Landem’s chauffer (Joe Bordeaux) change the tire, Mabel’s parents decide to purchase a house from Landem, a seaside realtor, for Fatty and Mabel as a wedding present.

I. Landem (Glen Cavender) sells a seaside house to Mabel's father (Frank Hayes).
After their marriage, Mabel and Fatty move into their new home along with their dog, Luke. But Hiram Perkins’ son isn’t going to give up without a fight.

Mabel makes dinner for Fatty while he’s out fishing. Her biscuits are so hard that they break plates if they fall on them. At dinner, Luke takes his place at the table, even getting a napkin from Fatty. Fatty tries to cut the biscuits with a knife, but they are too hard. Mabel pretends not to notice until Fatty makes fun of how hard they are. When she cries, he does his best to pretend he likes them.

Mabel bakes Fatty some rock hard biscuits.
Meanwhile, Hiram Perkins’ son lurks outside their home. When Fatty catches him, they fight, with Fatty, who is much stronger, prevailing.

Fatty finds Hiram Perkins' son (Al St. John) lurking outside the house.
That night, the two newlyweds go to sleep in different beds in different rooms. While Mabel kisses Fatty good night, only Luke the dog is invited to share her bed. Fatty doesn’t seem to mind, even going so far as to shadow kiss her while she’s in bed.

Outside, it is starting to rain and Hiram Perkins’ son is taken by two henchmen (Bordeaux and Jimmy Bryant) to meet their boss, Brutus Bombastic (Wayland Trask). Bombastic is so tough that he is shown eating dynamite and drinking gasoline. He uses a gun to light his cigar. Hiram Perkin’s son Is happy to make Bombastic’s acquaintance and hires him to help get revenge on Fatty and Mabel. Bombastic dispatches his two henchmen to help him.

Hiram Perkins' son is taken by Bombastic's henchmen to meet their boss.
The storm rages outside the cabin, which keeps Fatty up. He wakes up Mabel to show her the storm, which is so severe that rain is coming down horizontal. When Fatty opens the window it is like a firehose hits him and Mabel. Both soaked, they go back to their separate beds.

The water fills the house and sets Mabel and Fatty's beds adrift.
The henchmen help to dislodge the house from its foundation and the agitated waves pull it out to sea.

Bombastic's henchmen dislodge the house off its foundation.
When Hiram Perkins’ son goes to pay the henchmen off, they notice he has a wad of cash. They naturally think they can win it from him in cards and challenge him to a game of poker.

By the next morning, the house is out to sea and even though the water is at least a foot deep inside, it is still afloat. Mabel’s bed floats into Fatty’s and it’s not too long before they’re both in the water. Finding a pencil, Fatty writes a note, attaches it to Luke’s collar and sends him out to get her parents’ help.

Fatty and Mabel set adrift.
Meanwhile, Hiram Perkins’ son is luckier at cards than at love and has the winning hand.

Mabel's parents come to the rescue, riding bikes in the storm, still wearing their night clothes.
When Mabel’s parents get the note, they call for help and also follow Luke back to the seaside on a bicycle built for two, though they are still dressed in their night clothes. The police, with little to go on, rush in boats to the house to rescue the couple. Mabel’s parents are in such a hurry that they ride their bike off the deck into the water, where they run into Landem, who takes them in his boat out to where the cottage is adrift.

Fatty and Mabel are rescued by Landem in his boat.
Back at Bombastic’s cave headquarters, while his henchmen may have lost their money, they try to take all of his for themselves. Even Bombastic gets in on the action and takes the wad of cash for himself. But he is careless when discarding his cigar and sets off an explosion, knocking everyone out. But Hiram Perkins’ son is the first to regain consciousness and takes the money back, only to have a loose rock fall and knock him out again.

Brutus Bombastic (Wayland Trask) eats dynamite and drinks gasoline.
Meanwhile, Fatty and Mabel are rescued and love wins out. The film ends with Fatty and Mabel in a single cut out heart shape; a bookend to the allegory that opened the film.

Mabel and Fatty united in love.
Released on January 9, 1916, the short received good reviews and Fatty and Mabel Adrift is considered to be one of Arbuckle’s better films as a director.

We’ve already discussed Mabel Normand’s career in our review of Tillie’s Punctured Romance (1914), one of her earlier successes co-starring with Marie Dressler and a new up and comer named Charlie Chaplin.

Her co-star in this film, Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, like Mabel, would have a shorter career than he should have had as a movie star. For a silent movie comedian, Arbuckle got his start as a singer. After returning from an overseas tour with the Morosco Burbank Stock vaudeville company, Arbuckle began his film career at the Selig Polyscope Company in July 1909. His first film appearance was in Ben’s Kid (1909) and he continued to appear in one-reelers for Selig until 1913. After briefly working at Universal Pictures, Arbuckle found success at Mack Sennett’s Keystone studios.

Called Fatty, because of his weight of over 300 pounds, Arbuckle didn’t want to use his heft for laughs, refusing, as an example, to get cheap laughs by getting stuck in a chair or a doorway.

Arbuckle was so popular that in 1916, Joseph Schenck offered Roscoe $1,000 a day, 25% of the profits and complete creative control of his films. Together, they founded Comique. It was Arbuckle who brought the then 21-year old Buster Keaton into films.

In 1920, Arbuckle signed with Paramount Pictures at $1 million a year, giving control of Comique to Keaton. At Paramount, Arbuckle lost creative control and Adolph Zukor, the studio’s head, worked his new star hard, producing 9 features in the space of 18 months. Exhausted after 18 months of work, Arbuckle took a three-day vacation in San Francisco in September 1921 and the rest is sadly history.

At a party Arbuckle was throwing, Virginia Rappe fell ill with stomach pain and died four days later from what doctors called peritonitis. Arbuckle was arrested on September 11th on the charge of manslaughter. While the evidence was flimsy at best, newspapers, led by William Randolph Hearts’ papers, smeared the comedian, claiming that he had raped Rappe and used a foreign object on her as well.

Arbuckle had to stand trial three times, twice the juries were hung and the third one acquitted him. Still, the damage was done and Arbuckle’s career took a nosedive afterward. Arbuckle would be blacklisted for 11 years by Hollywood and as a scapegoat who thought Hollywood needed to be brought under moral control.

While he could no longer star in front of a camera, Arbuckle did go back to directing at Paramount under the pseudonym of William Goodrich. With the passage of time, Arbuckle was seemingly forgiven by the public and signed by Warner Bros. in 1932 to make six two-reelers for the studio. They were such a success that on June 28, 1933, Warners signed him to a long term contract. But after a night of celebration, Arbuckle died of a heart attack on June 29, 1933.

Al St. John, Arbuckle’s nephew, would appear in over 350 films beginning in 1913. In addition to appearing in films at Keystone and Comique, he would also work with Keaton and direct his own comedies as well for Sunshine Comedies. With the coming of sound, St. John would develop a Western character, Fuzzy Q. Jones, and appear in 80 films as Jones until the end of his career in 1952.

One of the reasons I wanted to see this film was the iconic photo of Arbuckle and Normand on the water-soaked stage. And there is indeed water in the film. However, slapstick, which Arbuckle and Sennett were best known for, is kept to a minimum here. I’ll let you judge if that is a positive or a detriment to the film.

The film uses tints to differentiate shots, so the film is far from strictly black and white. As an example, a blue tint is used for exterior night shots and a yellow gold tint is used for interiors supposedly lit by candlelight. There are both photographic and physical special effects utilized. The photographic, used for the light from a lighthouse, is a little clunky. The other special effects, such as the rain and water, are fairly well done.

The iconic image of Fatty and Mabel up to their waists in flood water.
The story is both pretty straightforward but at the same time a little hard to follow. I’m not sure if it’s the print I saw or how it was originally released, but there is a definite lack of title cards. You can get the gist of what is going on, but there are no subtleties. This is true of “dialogue” as well as the acting. Arbuckle is always bigger than life and aside from the gesture of having his shadow kiss his newlywed bride good night, there is nothing small in Arbuckle’s acting. He is always presented as muscular, whether it is lifting the car at the beginning to change the tire to throwing Hiram Perkins’ son around like a ragdoll. And despite Mabel Normand’s presence, it is up to Arbuckle to carry the movie.

I came to the film wanting to like it, but I’m afraid that even though I think the film is well-made, I didn’t find it all that funny. There may be other factors that attribute to this. Perhaps I’ve already seen some of the sight gags used in other later films. Perhaps there is much missing from the print I saw. But maybe this film hasn’t aged as well as it could have. The theme of the jilted lover getting revenge on the newlywed couple, by ruining their honeymoon cottage, is handled better and to funnier end by Buster Keaton in his short One Week (1920), four years later.

I’m open to watching other Arbuckle films and would definitely say that he is someone who cannot and should not be ignored in film and comedic history. I just didn’t find Fatty and Mabel Adrift to be all that it was cracked up to be or at least all I hoped it would be.

For other silent films, check out our Review Hub for Silent Cinema: Here.