"These shorts, made between 1917 and 1919, reveal optimism on the faces of Buster and Fatty before the future troubles of scandal, alcoholism, and domestic problems altered their brilliant careers.Lucky for us, Kino has released these 80+ year-old films on DVD, which enhances the clarity over what has previously been released on VHS. In addition, we get to hear an excellent soundtrack that accompanies the 2-reelers. Previously released versions of these films were accompanied by borrowed circus music that sounded like it was recorded in the 1950s. The Alloy Orchestra does a great job with music and sound effects that are in sync with the frolicking activity in the scenes.THE BELL BOY (1918): Fatty and Buster are the bellhops and Al St. John is the bullying desk clerk at a hotel the three are operating. This 2-reeler contains anti-German WW1 references, such as refusing to serve German food and smushing a barber chair customer with shaving cream after Fatty has dressed him up as Kaiser Wilhelm. "The Bell Boy" also contains an appearance by Buster's father Joe, and the 2 do a variation of the act they staged in vaudeville. Buster later borrowed a lot from this film to enhance his 1937 short "Love Nest on Wheels".THE BUTCHER BOY (1917): The plot to this 2-reeler involves Fatty and Al St. John as general store employees who rival for the hand of the store owner's daughter. This being Buster's very first film appearance, Fatty cast him as an accessory in the role of an anonymous customer in the store. In the 2nd reel, Buster has (unexplainably) become a pal to Al St. John, by helping Al sabotage Fatty's efforts to woo the gal at the boarding school she is attending.OUT WEST (1918): Fatty plays a hobo who stumbles into a saloon and is hired by Buster to fill the vacancy of bartender, after Al, as the villain, has murdered the previous one. Some eye-popping politically incorrect humor is milked in this 2-reeler, but I won't get into that.MOONSHINE (1918): Al St. John plays a scary-looking hillbilly who attacks much-hated revenue agents Buster and Fatty after they invade his 'still'-infested territory. Some really nice gags pop out of this 2-reeler, my favorite being Buster and Al behaving like monkeys in a tree. Buster must have had a photographic memory of the chimp acts he observed in the wings of the vaudeville stage because his expertise in mimicking them shows itself again perfectly in his future 2-reeler "The Playhouse" (1921). Unlike the other 4 films on this DVD, the quality of this print of "Moonshine" is unclear and murky. I suppose it is the only available copy Kino could find.THE HAYSEED (1919): Buster and Fatty are employees at a general store, unintentionally revealed as being on a street in Culver City, a provincial village outside of L.A. at that time (a sign on the exterior of the store reads "Don't Go To The City To Be Cheated - Buy Here"). Also cast as the villain is John Coogan, who performs some specialized dancing that our guys poke fun at. It's this specialized dancing that John taught to his little son Jackie that eventually caught the eye of Charlie Chaplin, who put the talented boy under contract and sent him on to mega-stardom in the 1920s. "The Hayseed" is not considered one of their classics, but it contains my all-time favorite Buster and Fatty gag. In this dry, ahead-of-its-time scene, Buster feeds Fatty a batch of salted onions to regain the strength of his singing voice. After giving a tear-jerking performance, Fatty is wrongfully accused of stealing $300. No one will believe his pleas of innocence because they cannot stand the reeking stench emitting from his mouth, and so then turn their backs to him in revulsion. The accompanying sound effects made by the Alloy Orchestra make it even more of a howl."
Arbuckle and Keaton Live Again!
Oregon Charlie | Woodland, WA, United States | 04/18/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Kino Video has done us a great favor by releasing Volumes One and Two of the Arbuckle-Keaton two-reel comedies made from 1917 to 1920 for Paramount. These are digital transfers made from 35-mm stock, and the best exhibit an amazing high fidelity image for such early film. Titles are so clear and sharp they appear to be faithful recreations of the orginals. The sound track is an excellent stereo orchestral score recorded in 2001 by the Alloy Orchestra. Unobtrusive sound effects add to the pleasure of an excellent overall presentation.Roscoe (Fatty) Arbuckle was at the height of his fame when he left Mack Sennett in late 1916 to join Joseph Schenck at Paramount and gain artistic control of his comedies. He was second only to Chaplin in world wide appeal. His talent and humanity are apparent in every scene. But I suspect most folks will want these films as the earliest motion images of Buster Keaton, starting at age 21. The ten films in Volumes One and Two represent the best of the surviving two-reelers of the approximate fifteen that Arbuckle and Keaton made together.The very first film, Butcher Boy, 1917, begins Volume One and the last film, Keaton's favorite of the series, The Garage, 1920, ends Volume Two. Each of the films is a gem, such as Back Stage, 1919, in which Keaton, returned from a year in Europe in WW I, shows many of his vaudeville routines.Arbuckle and Keaton had high regard for each other, and while Arbuckle's fame faded while Keaton's rose, they stayed in close touch with each other until Arbuckle's death in 1933.I suppose watching silent film is an acquired taste. Silent drama, for example, is usually pretty theatrical and agonizing. But as James Agee so eloquently argued in 1949 in "Comedy's Greatest Era," silent comedies are unsurpassed for genuine belly laughs. These are MOVIES, after all. The comedy comes from pantomime and MOTION. In my view, it's what movies are supposed to do!These early films have a fairly static camera. The actors cavort in front of it with stage scenery in the backdrop. Nonetheless, the gags are wonderful to behold. For film history buffs, this is about the most watchable early stuff there is. And you can see the genesis of many of the routines that graced the best of silent comedy only a few years later. (I was unaware, for example, that Keaton's most famous stunt, the falling house facade stunt in Steamboat Bill, Jr, 1928, was preceded by a similar scene with Fatty Arbuckle in Back Stage, 1919!)Hats off to Kino for, as usual, bringing such excellent transfers to market. Both Volumes are highly recommended."
Great films - worthless 'music'
K. Lundy | Mason, MI United States | 11/08/2001
(4 out of 5 stars)
"The Alloy Orchestra has no idea what they're doing - the idea is to support the film, not compete with it. The film is the star after all - in the future I would never buy a silent film on video that has the Alloy Orchestra behind it, it's the quickest way I know to obtain a massive headache."
Arbuckle-Keaton DVD more historical than hysterical
Steven Bailey | Jacksonville Beach, FL USA | 12/28/2001
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Kino Video probably issued the DVD Arbuckle and Keaton, Vol. 1 based on the strength of Kino's earlier, mostly flawless Buster Keaton compilations. And in spite of this DVD touting some short subjects of Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle at the height of his fame, Keaton will probably remain the main draw of this DVD.The story goes that in the late 1910's, Arbuckle was America's second-most-popular comedian, bowing only to Charlie Chaplin. When Arbuckle met up with Buster Keaton, he recognized Keaton's comedy strengths and debuted Keaton in his movies as an ever-reliable sidekick. Yet based on the evidence shown here, Keaton in even secondary roles was someone to keep an eye on, while Arbuckle's appeal has assuredly diminished over the years. Unlike Chaplin or the solo Keaton, Arbuckle has little of a persona to fall back on. One can imagine how Chaplin's Little Tramp or Keaton's Stone Face would react in a given situation. But Arbuckle seems to change his stripes whenever any gag, in or out of character, presents itself. About the only persona that emerges for Fatty is that he's...well, fat.And the plotlines, concocted mostly by Arbuckle, are just as arbitrary as his character. The short The Bellboy (1918) begins in a hotel and segues strangely to a bank that's being robbed. The Butcher Boy (1917, and Keaton's film debut) begins in a grocery store and switches to a girls' boarding school.But unlike Arbuckle, who all but winks at the audience in an attempt to win their love, Keaton plays straight no matter the situation and scores points all around. Out West (1918) presents Keaton as a barroom gunslinger, and just by force of personality, he makes you believe it. And heaven knows, nobody could take a fall or elaborate a simple gag better than Buster.Arbuckle's hoary stories are not helped by racist humor (in Out West, barroom bullies shoot at the feet of a frightened black man, and Arbuckle goes right along with the bullies) and by musical accompaniment (by "The Alloy Orchestra," according to liner notes) that rates as Kino's worst. Anyone with an interest in Buster Keaton's humble film origins might want to give this a look. Silent-film buffs might be drawn in initially but will most likely lose interest about halfway through."
Buster in a Supporting Role for Fatty
Robert Morris | San Francisco | 06/27/2005
(3 out of 5 stars)
"This collection of 5 Arbuckle-Keaton 2 reelers spans virtually their entire period of partnership, from The Butcher Boy in early 1917, to The Hayseed, their next-to-last film, late in 1919. Most of the films are closer in style to the Keystone comedies from which Arbuckle emerged as a star. This style is comprised primarily of outrageous situations, sometimes (as in Out West) a parody of another movie style, and chaotic chase and/or fight scenes involving Arbuckle and his supporting cast, Keaton, Al St. John and female co-stars such as Alice Lake. To the modern viewer these movies may be too outlandish, even offensive, to be funny, as racial, ethnic, gay, and gender humor are often sprinkled into the mix.
The best of the collection are The Butcher Boy and The Hayseed. The first is important for historical reasons as Keaton's entry into movies, but also it showcases some of the best of Arbuckle's style of humor. Fatty plays a butcher in a general store, which allows him to display his dexterity with knives. He also shows that despite his girth, he can hold his own at running, kicking, throwing and falling. Fatty also derives humor from the well-worn trick of dressing in drag, as he infiltrates a boarding school to rescue his true love. Buster here, and in the other films, is mostly on the sidelines helping Fatty get out of a jam or win a girl. Despite the over-the-top chaos, there is a lightness and spontaneity among the actors that resembles a vaudeville tumbling act, and there are unforgettable moments, as when Buster's real-life father Joe steals a scene with his talented son in The Bell Boy.
The Hayseed is the funniest of the volume; unlike the others, it more closely resembles Keaton's brand of humor (the writer was Jean Havez, who was to work on many of Buster's best films). Virtually all of the humor is purely visual, as when Buster oils the horse's legs, plays traffic cop with a broom in the general store, and Fatty, playing a mail carrier, tears up a package to make it fit into a mail box. Some of the humor is almost surreal, as when Fatty pauses to perform a burial ceremony for an empty whiskey bottle. Fatty's battle with his rival for the heart of the girl (Molly Maguire) also has funny and almost tender moments, as when Fatty includes a pickle the size of Molly's finger in a mail order for an engagement ring. (Another funny surprise here is John Cougan, aptly playing the corrupt but nerdish rival for Molly's affections.) The dance scene at the climax has very funny moments, beginning with some acrobatics as Buster and Fatty trade off tossing a willing dance partner across the room at each other, and ending with a controlled chase scene, as Luke the dog chases the exposed rival off into the sunset.
This collection suffers from a uninspiring musical background score, as well as a lot of dated slapstick humor that might be unappealing to modern tastes. But Buster and Fatty team for enough classical comedy moments to make this volume worth owning."