Sunday 27 July 2008

Fatty and Mabel's Simple Life (1915)

Fatty Arbuckle and Mabel Normand's simple life is down on the Keystone farm where Fatty wrestles with cows and Mabel kisses them. They're obviously a couple, though not a married one, and having a good time regardless how much chaos their animals cause. Needless to say, this being 1915 slapstick, it doesn't stay that way. He's soon on his ass in the mud and she's chasing her calf down, they're bitching at other and life certainly doesn't stay simple.

The wealthy squire's son, played by slapstick regular Al St John, comes to collect the mortgage but he has a note from his father that says that he can forget about that mortgage if only Mabel will marry his son. So the fathers are happily agreed but Mabel doesn't want any part of it. She wants Fatty so they have to find some way to elope before she becomes the squire's son's wife. Given that this is a Keystone comedy short so the cops (if not the kops) are soon on the trail.

Both Mabel Normand and Fatty Arbuckle were notable talents who worked together frequently, but while Mabel was always a very capable foil for whoever she happened to be married to on screen, Fatty is very much an acquired taste. He certainly looked the part for silent film slapstick, with his oversize bulk, his baby face and a surprising agility, but somehow he just doesn't make me laugh the way that most of the slapstick comedians I enjoy do, possibly because he always seemed to be trying too hard. Often I find myself wishing someone else was playing his role, here Al St John who has fun playing the straight guy.

In fact this time out, I preferred Arbuckle as a director to an actor. He takes a while to get things moving, but once he does, it becomes quite a fun little short, if a completely predictable one. There are some cool stunts too: Al St John has some fun with a runaway car and then half the cast gets to cross swords with a tree and a well, often at the same time.

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