Thursday, December 12, 2013

#1,214. Coney Island (1917)

Directed By: Roscoe 'Fatty' Arbuckle

Starring: Roscoe 'Fatty' Arbuckle, Buster Keaton, Joe Bordeaux

Trivia: The film was shot on location at Coney Island, and prominently features many contemporary rides and attractions as venues for the slapstick action

Already an established star thanks to the films he made for Mack Sennett, silent comedian Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle teamed up with Buster Keaton, a veteran of the Vaudeville stage but a newcomer to the movies, in 1917 for a series of short films, kicking off a partnership (and friendship) that would last for years. One of their first outings together was Coney Island, a two-reel comedy shot on-location at the famous New York amusement park.

After ditching his wife (Agnes Neilson), Fatty (Arbuckle) heads to Coney Island for a fun-filled afternoon, only to find himself vying for the attentions of a pretty young girl (Alice Mann), whose already got two guys (Keaton and Al St. John) fawning over her. To further complicate matters, Fatty’s wife has come looking for him, causing the nervous husband to try everything he can to escape her wrath, including dressing up as a girl!

Directed by Arbuckle, Coney Island is a funny film; when we first see Fatty, he’s sitting on the beach, in a suit and tie, playing in the sand. More than this, though, the movie shows us something most audiences of the day rarely saw: an emotional Buster Keaton! At various times throughout the movie, the actor smiles (while watching a parade), cries (when he loses the girl), and even gets angry. Having not yet settled into the “Stone Face” persona he’d perfect over the years, Keaton shows a wide range of emotions in Coney Island, and seeing him do so was more than a little strange.

After working together for a few years, Arbuckle and Keaton went their separate ways in 1920. Keaton, of course, established himself as one of silent cinema’s biggest stars, turning out such classics as Steamboat Bill, Jr. and The General. As for Arbuckle, his career all but ended in 1921 when he was accused of raping and killing a young starlet named Virginia Rapp. He was eventually cleared of the charges, but the damage to his reputation was irreparable. Under the pseudonym William Goodrich, he directed several films over the next decade before dying of a heart attack in 1933 at the age of 46. It was a sad end to a once-great career, and the fine work he did in movies like Coney Island gives you a sense of just how talented Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle truly was.

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