Tuesday 8 January 2008

Curses! (1925) William Goodrich

In 1925, Roscoe 'Fatty' Arbuckle was William Goodrich, as he'd been arrested in a rape case, tried and found innocent (in a 10-2 mistrial), tried and found guilty (in another 10-2 mistrial) and condemned by the press and public and so couldn't appear as himself any more. He wrote and directed this one as Goodrich and obviously had a penchant for alliteration at the time. Buckwheat Ben has the purloined papers, but cunningly concealed bold, bad, bloodthirsty bandit Buttonshoe Bill wants them. As the film progresses, he becomes a freak-footed flapjack felon with a gang of fiendish footpads at the Frazer Mill. I wonder how long it took Fatty to come up with this stuff.

Anyway, Buttonshoe Bill is Al St John, Arbuckle's nephew and future perennial B movie western sidekick, and he's up against Rodney Hemingway, inept but persevering hero, along with Buckwheat Ben and his his innocent childlike Little Nell, who naturally gets kidnapped very early on indeed. It's up to the handsome Hemingway to save her. The story is structured as a spoof of early silent pitfall serials, like The Perils of Pauline, merely compressed into only 18 minutes. It comes complete with individual chapters, each with its own hook and catchy title.

It's actually quite a fun little film that manages to cram into that tiny running time no end of gimmicks. My favourite has to be the one where the bad guys tie Hemingway to a tree and blow snuff into his face so that he sneezes and sets into motion a huge rock to crush him, thus causing his own demise ('Will the relentless rolling rock ruin Rodney?'). There's quite a bit of interesting inventiveness here along with the generic early silent slapstick. The scene that has inept villains with rocks attempting to besiege Buckwheat Bill's shack is certainly nicely done. Naturally every time they're foiled, the generic 'Curses!' is heard, giving us our title.

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