Friday 20 March 2009

He Did and He Didn't (1916)

Director: Roscoe Arbuckle
Stars: Roscoe 'Fatty' Arbuckle and Mabel Normand

Another Fatty Arbuckle/Mabel Normand Keystone short, this one sees them as a married couple yet again, one a bit richer than usual with a butler and maid to push around. They start the evening, 'their usual evening' we're told, with them having difficulty getting dressed, such are the perils of being I rich, I suppose. Here a collar, there a bow tie, here a lost collar stud, there a difficult fastening. They manage it just in time for Jack to arrive. Jack is an old schoolfriend of Mabel's, it would seem, and he arrives complete with an old photo of her, from 'his sweetheart'. They're all touchy feely and Fatty is more than a little suspicious of both their motives.

He's a doctor (the sign outside their door reads 'EJ Watson, MD'), and one well enough to be seen as a target by crooks. He throws one out of his house early on, as he discovers him in his fraud: he had pretended to be lame just to get into the house but was really interested in Fatty's safe. So after an evening of suspicion and lobsters (the working title was Love and Lobsters, because they're the two lynchpins of the story), we're all set for whatever night time shenanigans the Keystone folks can cook up for us.

I'm not as fond of the Fatty Arbuckle shorts as some. Most of the time he got by being the big guy who acted like a little kid and while the novelty is amusing, for me it didn't last very long. This two reeler is thankfully a lot more accomplished. Here he's a professional man in lavish surroundings and he actually gets a chance to act. There are a number of scenes here where he impresses just with facial movements. While there's plenty of slapstick here with getting thrown out of windows and the traditional silent gun that never runs out of bullets, it's really a pretty subtle piece with a lot of clever acting and a surprisingly mature plot setup. There' no simple chronological plot progression here.

Beyond Fatty and Mabel, Jack is played by William Jefferson and Al St John is credited as 'acrobatic burglar', something that very much describes what his part called for and which anyone who's ever seen him knows he's perfect for. I've seen a lot of Fatty Arbuckle movies and this is probably my new favourite, one which he didn't just act in, he also wrote and directed.

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