Poor Roscoe Arbuckle! Not only did he have to live with the screen name “Fatty,” which he hated, he was also falsely accused of causing a woman’s death by raping her. And even though he was completely cleared of all charges, his acting career was in ruins. In the end, of course, he did not live at all. He died about 80 years ago from a heart attack, only 46 years old.
Before that fateful rape trial, Arbuckle had been the leading comedian in Hollywood. He had acted against both Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton before either of them was famous. In fact, he was the one who discovered Keaton and made his career.
It is easy to understand how he came to be known as “Fatty”. His bulk was considerable, but in spite of it he was extremely agile and athletic. These were the days when stuntmen were very rare indeed (in comedies, they almost did not exist). In fact, some of the stunts that were made back then could probably not be duplicated today. They were simply too dangerous.
Arbuckle mostly made short films. Today’s offering was his second longest at only 28 minutes. The Bell Boy is typical of the kind of comedies that Arbuckle produced. Fast slapstick without too much story or character development to get in the way of anything important. The slapstick is often extremely well timed, and partly because of that most of the humour has survived the test of time and still feels fresh and alive today. There is also a fair amount of crazy humour that you would perhaps not expect in a film from this period. A few jokes do fall flat before a modern audience. But almost 100 years later, that is easy to forgive.
Apart from the comedy, the main reason why I enjoy watching these old films is that they allow you a quick trip back in a time machine, letting you see things like horse-drawn trams filmed at a time when they were actually in use. Wonderful stuff!
This film is one of about ten that Arbuckle made together with Buster Keaton and Al St. John. This was a very well-matched trio, not least because all three were excellent at making acrobatic and difficult stunts. See in particular the magnificent “dinner table vault” at 13:10. Keaton, of course, became one of the best comedians of the 20s (some say the best). St. John never went on to stardom, but had a decent career as a B western sidekick in the 30s and 40s. Many of his westerns can be found at the Internet Archive. Billy the Kid in Santa Fe (1941) is a typical example.
The Bell Boy lets you enjoy this magnificent trio doing what they do best. If you want an introduction to silent slapstick comedy, then this is it! The Internet Archive version, unfortunately, contains no soundtrack. This may deter some, but I actually prefer no soundtrack to a poor one.
This film is best enjoyed whenever you feel depressed. Or happy. In fact, anytime.
The Bell Boy
Running time: 28 min
Director: Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle
Stars: Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, Al St. John, Buster Keaton
Image quality: Acceptable
Resolution: Medium (720×480)
Best file format: DivX (185 M)