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Author Topic: The Butcher Boy (1917) - Roscoe Arbuckle and Buster Keaton  (Read 590 times)

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Offline Paul Pain

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The Butcher Boy (1917) - Roscoe Arbuckle and Buster Keaton
« on: February 04, 2017, 08:40:03 AM »
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  • http://www.busterkeaton.com/Films/A01_The_Butcher_Boy.html
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O0AD8___Aq4

    Watch THE BUTCHER BOY in the link above.

    Well, here we are, folks.  A new journey has begun.  We start with Joseph Frank "Buster" Keaton's on-screen debut.

    The plot here is simple: Roscoe Arbuckle plays a butcher who is in love with the general store's cashier, who happens to be the general manager/owner's daughter.  Buster Keaton has a double role: he starts as an ordinary idiot, and then he suddenly he becomes one of Alum's (Al St. John, Roscoe's nephew) grunts.

    Roscoe here is smooth as silk.  He nicely milks the meat gags for all they're worth and no more.  Short story is that Roscoe eats too much of the store's profits.  The fight between Roscoe and Al in the store is the comic highlight of this short, with merchandise being annihilated left and right.

    Then we transfer to the girls' school, where we get treated to another battle of men in drag.  Men in drag just doesn't typically work, and it doesn't here.  It's just plain saccharine.

    Luke the dog is a cute addition that makes me smile even if I don't laugh.

    It's an inauspicious start to an incredible career for Buster Keaton.  He'll get used more and more in these shorts until he finally gets his own short series in 1920.

    6/10 [poke] [poke] [poke] [poke] [poke] [poke]
    « Last Edit: February 12, 2017, 11:26:30 AM by Paul Pain »
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    Offline Umbrella Sam

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    Re: The Butcher Boy (1917) - Buster Keaton
    « Reply #1 on: February 04, 2017, 08:55:59 AM »
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  • I thought this one started off well. I'll admit that I'm not a big fan of the knockabout style of humor from Keystone, as I always felt it could be pretty repetitive and unfortunately it does carry over to some of these early Arbuckles. However, I do feel like Arbuckle had a much better sense of timing when it came to his own shorts at Comique and I think the first half represents this quite well. I think the highlight is the molasses scene, although there are some other funny moments as well like Arbuckle casually throwing the knife on the table and the fight between Keaton, Al St. John and the store owner. I think the romantic subplot acts as a good break between all the roughhouse antics, so it doesn't feel as repetitive as the Keystone shorts.

    Unfortunately, I lose interest when it gets to the scenes at the girls' school. Arbuckle in drag is not inherently funny, and outside of a table manners joke and the head of the school spanking him (neither of which I find funny), a lot of it amounts to him and the other girls just jumping around and not much more. In addition, I'm not entirely sure why Keaton is helping Al St. John to abduct the girl anyway, considering they just got into a giant fight earlier (I'm fairly certain Keaton's playing the same character, as he wears the same outfit).

    So, overall, it's not a great first effort, but it's passable. Even from the beginning, Keaton showed potential, but as for the short itself, I say that it's just average.

    5 out of 10

    Offline metaldams

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    Re: The Butcher Boy (1917) - Buster Keaton
    « Reply #2 on: February 04, 2017, 09:44:55 AM »
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  • Thanks for doing this, Paul, and nice to see a response already.  Going to rewatch THE BUTCHER BOY and comment either later this weekend or early next week, but I just want to make a few general comments.

    These first twelve films or so are obviously Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle films with Keaton playing support.  As the series goes on, Keaton becomes more and more prominent.

    Arbuckle himself, in 1917, was in my opinion the second greatest film comedian behind Charlie Chaplin.  As Umbrella Sam mentions, Arbuckle is still in the knockabout Mack Sennett mode here, while Chaplin, at Mutual and First National, was slowing down and making more mature (and better) comedies.  Still, Arbuckle had a standout character most comedians don't have in knockabout comedies.  He does take at least some moments to slow down, engage with the audience, and do comic things with props.  These Arbuckle films feel very transitional and I can't help but wonder what Arbuckle would have done if he were able to get freedom from the feature film Paramount contract he signed after these shorts were through and more importantly, not get caught up in that career ruining scandal.  What a tragedy.  Overall though, the growth film comedy showed from 1917 to 1920, when Keaton started making his own shorts, is unbelievable.  We'll never see how Arbuckle would have done in this 1920's era with Keaton, Chaplin, and Lloyd.

    Looking forward to diving in, my review of this short will be within the next few days.
    "Those are the three elements, I think, that go into being happy: Find something you love, be good at it, and have other people pat you on the back and say "good job." - George Carlin

    Offline Big Chief Apumtagribonitz

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    Re: The Butcher Boy (1917) - Buster Keaton
    « Reply #3 on: February 04, 2017, 02:39:03 PM »
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  • The main interest to me here is the athleticism and ability to do stunts and take falls.  Keaton's falls are nonpareil, of course, that's a given, Al St John is no slouch at all, and for a guy his size, Arbuckle is simply amazing, executing without the slightest bit of lumbering that we could expect and even forgive, given his rotundity.  I've seen film clips where his character has herculean strength, seemingly attributed to his weight.  This seems counterintuitive, but from all the evidence in the films, it seems true.  He must have been strong as an ox.

    Offline Seamus

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    Re: The Butcher Boy (1917) - Buster Keaton
    « Reply #4 on: February 04, 2017, 03:41:02 PM »
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  • Agree that this one goes off the rails when the action moves to the girls' school, but we get a lot of fun scenes in the first half.  I was amazed by Arbuckle's nonchalant skill tossing around meat chunks and butcher's knives, a reminder of how multi-faceted movie comedians were in those days.  Wonder if he had a weird juggling act in his stage days that he drew from for those scenes.

    According to the booklet that comes with the new Keaton blu-ray set, Keaton improvised the broom scene in one take as he'd pretty much mastered the art of broom comedy in vaudeville.  I'm sure that's where he learned to take a bag of flour in the face like a workin' pro too.  I'll never understand people who say that pratfalls are the lowest form of comedy.  They could have replaced some of those Fatty-in-drag scenes with more shots of flour bags being hurled full force at Keaton's head and I'd have had a grand time.  Like Big Chief says, his ability to take a fall and make it entertaining is superb.

    As a pittie owner I'm always glad to see how much work pit bulls got in the silent comedy days.  What a good boy Luke was - working that dog-powered pepper grinder, acting his ears off in the scene where he's eavesdropping on Al St. John behind a tree.   

    I haven't seen much of Arbuckle's work, but I can see why he was so popular.  Beside his knife and meat juggling skills, he has a likable nice-but-mischievous quality about him that works really well in the kind of skewed romance plots that drive a lot of silent comedies.

    Offline metaldams

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    Re: The Butcher Boy (1917) - Buster Keaton
    « Reply #5 on: February 04, 2017, 10:18:32 PM »
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  •       Just watched this again, and I agree with the consensus that the first reel of this thing is good and things go downhill once they get to the girl's school.  The first reel of this thing, though?  Absolutely perfect.  Starts out with Arbuckle using a knife rather nicely as a prop, flipping and tossing it around quite gracefully.  He does make some gestures towards the audience the way Chaplin did, and I like the way he takes his finger and puts in in his mouth when with his girlfriend, essentially tasting her kiss.  This is a common routine Arbuckle did, and little things like that, along with his agility with props and his obvious look, made him stand out with audiences.  Buster Keaton's debut is wonderful working the brooms and teaming with Arbuckle for the classic molasses gag.  Keaton would recall this gag fondly later in life and recreate it on television many times.  The flour and pie fight is awesome.  Yes, I agree with you guys, the physical pratfalls Keaton and Al St. John take are unbelievable.  For an impressive move, check out the way St. John propels his body off the bike and landing on top of the steps before he enters the store.  That long shot where there is flour splattered and pandemonium all over the place is a classic, iconic shot in my eyes.  Fantastic stuff up until this point.

          Once we're at the girl's school, lame drag comedy where Arbuckle and St. John act more like annoying children, causing an unbelievable and unfunny situation to be even unfunnier.  You guys know extended drag comedy ain't my thing.  The chase at the end is one of many mid teens fastly edited things where bodies are running in and out of rooms, arms are flailing away, and it's one discombobulated mess.  There is one saving grace to this part, though, and that's a few of the pratfalls Keaton takes.  There is one in particular where I swear, he lands on his head, feet high in the air, body perfectly straight, before falling.  Just an awesome pratfall.

          The fact that this is Keaton's debut and that the first reel is so fantastic means I'll give this one a good grade.  For an older Keaton, with Ed Wynn (who Shemp era Stooges also worked with), doing the molasses scene, see link below.

    8/10

    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=BLIDFk7PMLg
    "Those are the three elements, I think, that go into being happy: Find something you love, be good at it, and have other people pat you on the back and say "good job." - George Carlin

    Offline Seamus

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    Re: The Butcher Boy (1917) - Buster Keaton
    « Reply #6 on: February 05, 2017, 07:32:17 AM »
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  •     The chase at the end is one of many mid teens fastly edited things where bodies are running in and out of rooms, arms are flailing away, and it's one discombobulated mess. 

    Yeah, seems that comedy directors in the teens suffered from the same misguided mindset as so many modern action movie directors - that the climax has to be big, loud, fast, and over the top, so the audience won't feel cheated.  In both cases, the results are a mind-numbing dull mess. 

    Offline Umbrella Sam

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    Re: The Butcher Boy (1917) - Buster Keaton
    « Reply #7 on: February 05, 2017, 11:25:50 AM »
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  • Thanks for sharing that clip, metaldams. I loved how they also played around with title cards; I thought that was a great addition. It's also interesting to see how Keaton could still take falls so well even as he got older, especially considering that that fall off the table he takes wasn't even in the original.

    Offline metaldams

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    Re: The Butcher Boy (1917) - Buster Keaton
    « Reply #8 on: February 05, 2017, 04:58:51 PM »
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  • Thanks for sharing that clip, metaldams. I loved how they also played around with title cards; I thought that was a great addition. It's also interesting to see how Keaton could still take falls so well even as he got older, especially considering that that fall off the table he takes wasn't even in the original.

    Agreed about the fall he took with both legs perched on the counter...and he was in his mid 50's.  I'm 38 and that looks painful.  LOL
    "Those are the three elements, I think, that go into being happy: Find something you love, be good at it, and have other people pat you on the back and say "good job." - George Carlin

    Offline Paul Pain

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    Re: The Butcher Boy (1917) - Buster Keaton
    « Reply #9 on: February 07, 2017, 07:02:59 AM »
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  • I am impressed to see such agreement on this.  It is telling of how awe-inspiring these actors' abilities were and still are.

    I guess Shemp_Diesel isn't participating in these :(
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    Offline Shemp_Diesel

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    Re: The Butcher Boy (1917) - Buster Keaton
    « Reply #10 on: February 07, 2017, 11:46:46 AM »
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  • I guess Shemp_Diesel isn't participating in these :(

    I would like to participate, but I'm not much of a silent film buff--outside of Lon Chaney Sr.--but, if I ever get the time, I would like to check out some silent comedy...

    Now you ask me if I believe a man can become a wolf. Well, if you mean can he take on the physical characteristics of an animal, no, it's fantastic. However, I do believe that most anything can happen to a man in his own mind.

    Offline CurlyFan1934

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    Re: The Butcher Boy (1917) - Buster Keaton
    « Reply #11 on: February 10, 2017, 07:45:34 PM »
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  • I'll be posting my review to this tomorrow. I've been a bit busy this week, but I've been really wanting to do this review as I'm happy to begin with the Keaton discussion.

    Offline CurlyFan1934

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    Re: The Butcher Boy (1917) - Buster Keaton
    « Reply #12 on: February 11, 2017, 07:37:08 PM »
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  • Okay, THE BUTCHER BOY is by no means a classic, but it is pretty darn impressive considering it's Buster Keaton's first time on the big screen. Keaton had been trained in the vaudeville circuits ever since he was a baby, and it shows! Keaton acts like a seasoned professional as he executes his gags with such grace you could've sworn he'd been making films for years.

    Arbuckle is so talented and it really shows up. You can just tell how much dedication he puts into his craft and you can tell that the gags he does have taken him lots of tries and he hasn't given up just to see the end result. I always find it sad how people accused Arbuckle so wrongly during the decline of his career but Buster Keaton would always stay with him and would often be his top defender in situations like that. I'm getting beyond myself.

    The first half of this is pure comedic gold. Let me talk about the first half. Now it starts out with Roscoe as a butcher who falls in love with a girl. However, the villain in this short, Al St. John (Roscoe's real-life cousin) has the same affection for the same girl. Now, we get treated to some pure slapstick at its finest in this first half.

    There are two scenes in the first half that really stood out to me. The first was when Buster, a imbecile in this film, shows up and requests molasses. Now, naturally, he gets his too-big shoes stuck into molasses. Roscoe tries to help him and comedic results ensue. If any other generic two comedians did this gag, I'm sure it wouldn't have been as funny. The heart that went into this one simple minute or two really developed a life-long friendship between Roscoe and Buster.

    The second scene is just a pure slapstick brawl. Pies, flour and other assorted items are thrown onto Buster, Al St. John and some other guy. Typically, I'm not a fan of Al St. John because I feel like he hams up too much into the camera, but I feel like this gag really did the guy some justice. All three performers really get the point across and go over-the-top, but it works in this scene because if this happened to you, you would be too.

    Now that I've talked so much praise of the first half, what did I think of the second half? Not much, actually. We get treated to a traditional silent-film ending where Roscoe and the stock cinematic baddie get into a fight over the girl but the good guy wins. I felt like this was always a cheat ending in silent films as this happened way too often. We get lots of Al St. John mugging, not enough Buster Keaton, and too much of men in drag.

    As for the supporting characters in this piece, I feel like they did a fine job. Nothing too much, nothing too little. But I feel like Roscoe's dog stands out because he's an animal co-star treated like a human. I know this was popular back in the day, but with Luke you can tell that he was trained wonderfully and that Roscoe really feels some sort of affection for the dog.

    So, the first Buster Keaton film has a great first half but a jumbled second half with a messy ending. What would I give this film on a 1 to 10 scale?

    7/10