|Moving Picture World, 30-March-1918|
This post is part of the Silent Cinema Blogathon hosted by Crystal at In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood and Lauren. Crystal says "I’m hosting a blogathon in memory of the silent era and the stars that inhabited that period."
In 1918, comedian Roscoe Arbuckle directed wrote and starred in a two-reeler called "The Bell Boy". Roscoe, Buster Keaton and Roscoe's real-life nephew Al St John are bellboys, desk clerks, horse car drivers, waiters, elevator operators and barbers in the Elk's Head Hotel. I thought I would go through the rapidly-paced first ten minutes of the two-reeler in some detail. I'll do the rest in a future post.
Producer Joseph M Schenck was the husband of star Norma Talmadge. He produced Roscoe's pictures through the Comique Film Corporation. Buster Keaton became Schenck's brother-in-law when he married Norma's sister Natalie in 1921. Schenck produced Buster's films, too. I like the inset photo of Roscoe. "Released Exclusively Through Paramount Pictures Corporation." Paramount started out as more of a releasing company than a producing company.
Roscoe Arbuckle had complete control of his Comique films, usually writing and directing them.
Alice Lake was the leading lady in several of the Comiques. Joe Keaton was Buster's father. Charles Dudley appeared in many silent comedies.
The Elk's Head Hotel is not a good place.
The Elk's Head Hotel takes its name from the large elk's head that overlooks the lobby, above the elevator. We fade into a busy scene. Buster Keaton, wearing a bellboy uniform, sits at the left, reading a newspaper. Desk clerk Al St John leans on his hand. Guests sit at a table reading papers. In the background, a man buys something from a woman at a tobacco stand which also has a rack of magazines on display. Another guest sits in a rocking chair. A man and a woman come quickly down the stairs. Note that the print is tinted. This shade indicates an interior scene.
The elevator arrives in the lobby, seen through the grilled gates, and Roscoe Arbuckle steps out, wearing a bellboy uniform.The letters on Roscoe's cap say "O.H." I would have expected "E.H." or "E.H.H." for Elk's Head Hotel.
He leans casually against the wall and a lighted cigarette pops out of his mouth.
Desk clerk Al St John rings the bell and yells angrily for a bellboy. The couple who had come down the stairs are waiting for service.
Buster jumps up from under a pile of newspapers, saluting. Note that the sign lists breakfast from 6 to 8 am, dinner from noon to 2 and supper from 6 to 8. People often used to eat their principal meal at noon, so it was called dinner. A lighter meal in the evening was called supper.
Roscoe looks for a place to ditch his cigarette. He takes the lid off of a water cooler and drops it in.
Al yells, The man checks his watch, and Buster and Roscoe salute.
In a closeup, Al continues to yell and wave his arm.
Buster and Roscoe salute, turn around by jumping in unison, and run up the stairs. At the top, they split and each enters a different door.
Meanwhile, Al has removed his coat. He puts on a hat and a different coat.
Buster and Roscoe run out of the doors at each side of the top of the stairs. Carrying luggage, they run down the stairs and brush past the couple, bumping the lady and causing the man to look around. .
In a different shot, Roscoe and Buster continue through the lobby. Roscoe trips over the man in the rocking chair. The couple and Al follow them.
Now that we are outside of the hotel in the daylight, the tint switches to a very light one. We see a funny-looking vehicle with benches. A dog sits at the front. Roscoe tosses a suitcase onto the curved roof.
The suitcase slides down. It hits Buster, who falls, knocking Roscoe down, too.
The couple climbs up and sits on the back bench. We see that the funny looking vehicle is a horse car, a horse-drawn public transit vehicle that runs on rails. During the Nineteenth Century, many resort hotels operated their own horse car lines to bring their guests to and from the train. This would have looked very old-fashioned in 1918. Al St John prepares to drive them to, I presume, the train station.
In a long shot looking down the main street of a small town, we see the hotel in the background. We see the horse galloping along an irregular track, pulling the car.
An intertitle introduces the next scene.
Buster stands inside a phone booth, carefully wiping the window in the door. We see the indoors tint again.
Then he cleans the outside of the window. Old joke. Roscoe was very good about letting his fellow actors get laughs.
Roscoe mops the floor using an unusual technique. I have never tried it.
Buster decides to wash his skivvies in the bucket of soapy water.
As Roscoe scrubs and Buster washes, a tall, formally dressed gentleman walks past. We don't see his face, but we see that he has a lot of hair on his head and his face.
The gentleman stops, turns and taps Buster on the shoulder. Buster turns, looks up and reacts to the gentleman's devilish appearance.
For Buster, this is a big take. He turns to run away.
Buster trips over Roscoe, turns to run to the back, then dives over the desk.
Roscoe gets up and demands to know what is going on. Buster explains.
Roscoe turns and sees the gentleman...
...who tips his hat...
...and Roscoe looks at him, smiles, laughs, and then looks disturbed. The gentleman yells "Boo" at him. Roscoe freaks and...
...joins Buster behind the desk.
It is interesting to see Buster looking so scared. Roscoe speaks to him.
The famous Russian priest/mystic/faith healer/con man Grigory Yefimovich Rasputin was often called the Mad Monk. Rasputin had been dead for less than a year when this movie was shot.
Then Rasputin makes a series of effeminate gestures, including putting his hands on his hips and holding his wrist limply. Why? I don't know; perhaps it was a joke to switch his look from threatening to unthreatening.
Rasputin sashays to the desk and talks to Roscoe and Buster. Roscoe imitates his effeminate gestures.
And then they play pattycake, often shown in movies as something to indicate effeminacy, watched intently by Buster.
Before they can throw it in a pan and mark it with a "B"...
...Roscoe inadvertently knocks Buster off of the desk...
and onto the floor, next to the spittoon. This was probably an old fashioned touch, like the horse-car, but up to the early 20th Century, all American public places had spittoons. Concern about the spread of tuberculosis and other diseases finally cut down on public spitting.
Buster picks up the spittoon and starts to put it on his head. Then he realizes that it is not his cap.
Rasputin finishes the game by shoving Roscoe in the face. Roscoe looks angry, but is interrupted when Rasputin holds up his beard to show that he needs a trim. Roscoe points off screen to the barbershop.
Crossing the lobby, Rasputin stops to say something to Buster with more effeminate gestures, then exits through the door. I don't get the joke.
Rasputin enters the barbershop. Signs on the wall say "Hair Cut While You Wait," "Whiskers Died Here Friday," and "Painless Shaving Our Specialty." The one about whiskers should probably say "Dyed," but this is funnier. "Painless dentistry our specialty" was a popular advertisement. Shaving was supposed to be painless. Rasputin hangs up his hat and cane
Roscoe does a mocking jig in the lobby while Buster watches. Roscoe pats Buster's cheeks before he dances into the barbershop. Roscoe pauses in the door to blow a kiss to Buster. Buster swings his mop at Roscoe, misses and does a nice fall.
"Part-time barber" and "unique talents" both sound ominous.
Roscoe ties Rasputin to the barber chair. My barber has never done this. Note the rack of shaving mugs on the right. Regular customers would have their own mugs that the barber would use to whip up shaving cream. Rasputin complains, but Roscoe puts his foot on the arm of the chair and pulls the bindings tighter.
Roscoe spins the chair around and leans it back.
Roscoe uses scissors to trim Rasputin's beard and hair.
Roscoe sits Rasputin up, spins him around and admires his work. Roscoe adds shoulder boards, a cigar and a blue cavalry hat.
An intertitle explains Rasputin's new appearance.
Roscoe removes the accessories, spins the chair around and leans it back. He begins to trim with the scissors, then starts to work with the straight razor.
Roscoe sits him up, spins him around, adds a top hat and presents his work.
I don't think the intertitle was necessary.
Roscoe goes back to work with the razor. He adds two pieces of hair for a mustache. After Roscoe spins Rasputin around, he adds a spittoon and a shaving brush. Rasputin looks like Kaiser Wilhelm II, Emperor of the Germans.
We were at at war with Germany, so Roscoe smashes him in the face with shaving cream.
Roscoe says he will get a hot towel. Hot towels in barbershops were a popular source of gags.
Roscoe puts a towel in a basket above his head. He pulls a lever and the basket runs along a wire towards the lobby. Stores used trolleys like this to move around goods and change.
The basket sails across the lobby, past Buster, who is still mopping. It enters another doorway near the desk. It continues through the dining room...
...and into the kitchen, where a man in an apron takes the towel, puts in into a steaming sink, then puts it back in the basket. He pulls a lever. The basket sails through the dining room and the lobby, trailing a tail of steam.
Roscoe drops the towel on Rasputin's face. We see Rasputin kicking his legs before the steam obscures the scene.
Back in the street, we see the horse car rushing back to the hotel with some passengers. Note the "Last National Bank" sign in the background.
The horse car pulls in. Al cranks the large gooseneck handle to set the brakes. The passengers disembark. Al rings a hand bell to summon the bell boys.
The bellboys display alacrity.
They grab the luggage, but then...
they notice a cute passenger, played by Alice Lake, who stands at the back.
They drop the luggage. The other passengers are indignant.
They take her arms and her luggage and escort her to the hotel. Roscoe kicks someone else's bags aside.
They take her to the desk, slipping on the wet floor, followed by the other guests.
Meanwhile, Al oils the horse. Steam locomotive engineers would walk around their engines at every stop and oil various spots with a long-necked can like the one Al uses.
Roscoe helps the cute passenger register. He winks at the audience.
She rolls her eyes. Great shot. Then she smiles at him.
And Roscoe rolls his eyes in a different way.
She opens her purse and hands him a card. "Cutie Cuticle" is a manicurist. Many barbershops had female manicurists. It improved business. Note the spelling "MANUCURE."
Roscoe is puzzled.
Buster tries to placate the other new guests.
Al has unhitched the horse from the horse car and is attaching the harness to something labelled "Elevator Rope/Hands Off." Al sneezes and wipes his nose with the horse's tail. I'm not posting a screen capture of that.
Roscoe and Buster escort Cutie to the elevator. Roscoe pauses to sniff Cutie's handbag. When Buster leans in to take a sniff, Roscoe snaps it shut. Buster recoils. He grabs Roscoe by the collar and pulls him into the elevator, slamming the gate shut.
Roscoe reaches through the grille (OSHA would not approve) and pulls the bell rope.
The bell wakes Al, who had been dozing.
Al prods the horse into motion, pulling the rope tight,...
the elevator rises...
...and Al stops the horse. And I will stop there with this post. I'll continue it in January. You'll get to meet Buster's dad and see Buster laugh and smile.
If you want to watch the movie, I highly recommend the version in Kino's Arbuckle and Keaton Volume One. It has a nice score by the Alloy Orchestra. Get both volumes if you can.
|Cine-Mundial, May, 1918|
Roscoe's movies were popular all over the world.
This post is part of the Silent Cinema Blogathon hosted by Crystal at In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood and by Lauren. Thank you to Crystal and Lauren for all the hard work. Thank you to everyone who visited and I encourage you to read and comment on as many posts as you can. Bloggers love comments.
This post is my eighth blogathon post of 2015 and my 39th since 2007. This is my 21st blogathon. This page has a list of all my blogathon posts.