Friday 11 May 2007

The Garage (1919) Fatty Arbuckle

Buster Keaton was a vaudeville actor when he was 'discovered' by Fatty Arbuckle. By 1919 when Arbuckle was both the star and the director of The Garage, it's patently obvious who the real star was. The story is so simple, it's not really even a story: Arbuckle, Keaton and a third man are running a garage but are as inept as you'd expect slapstick comedians to be. If it moves they cover it in oil, water, pie or any combination of the above; and if it doesn't move they break it.

Keaton's timing here is impeccable, even before his own heyday as a star. This was so obviously supposed to be a Fatty Arbuckle short with Buster Keaton backing him up, or to be honest, two Fatty Arbuckle shorts sewn loosely together: one set in the garage and the other in the firehouse which the garage doubles as. However Buster steals every scene he's in and that's most of them. When he isn't on screen, we're waiting for him to return, because compared to Keaton, Arbuckle can't even fall over properly.

His direction isn't great either. There are some great pratfalls here with some clever choreography, and much of it is funny, but as a film it's something of a mess. There's no structure, characters appear and disappear and the whole thing is just a string of gags without much consistency or continuity. Buster is hilarious, especially dancing around in a paper kilt and Fatty has his moments but it's the moments we're watching, not the film as a whole.

To be fair I missed the last five minutes first time round so watched it again and it played better on the second viewing. However I also noticed the dubious nature of some of the jokes given later knowledge of the scandal Mr Arbuckle got himself into, such as the maidenhead joke and the gag where the ardent suitor won't give up trying to get to his girlfriend, stooping as far as a blowtorch to take out the lock on the inside of her door.

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