Buster Keaton

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The Bell Boy

The Bell Boy was Buster's eighth short with Roscoe Arbuckle, released about five months after Coney Island. The plot is a bit more complex, including a faked bank robbery crossing paths with a real bank robbery. It contains passing topical references to the European war: Fatty as barber remakes a Rasputin-like customer to Grant to Lincoln to the Kaiser (5:30), whom he then splatters with soapsuds; a restaurant sign reads "French and German Cooking" with "and German" crossed out (8:45). Fatty mugs directly into the camera at his first appearance (0:35), but otherwise the fourth wall is not broken as blatently as in the earlier short. Buster and Fatty wear bellboy caps, no porkpie hat here, and Buster's later deadpan is not yet in evidence (he smiles at 3:00, for example). The obvious comedic potential of the hotel lobby stairs (0:45) amazingly remains untapped, but several mechanical gags suggest later Keaton: a basket suspended on a wire transports hot towels from kitchen to barber shop (5:30), a horse-powered elevator is reliable at first (7:15), later balky (10:30). Buster carefully polishes a telephone booth window that proves to be imaginary (1:30).

The Bell Boy features more spectacular acrobatics by Buster and Al St. John, as well as a great fall by Fatty (7:30). Buster twice does a 360 degree turn while falling (3:15, 17:45), and Al somersaults over a table to land seated in a chair (9:30). A static shot in the bank looks into two rooms with partitions between (16:00); Buster enters left with a somersault through the teller's window, then climbs and flips over each of two dividing walls to exit right. Shortly after, Al St. John does the same, but crashing through each partition's window rather than flipping over it.

The funniest gags use the classic repeated gag pattern (if it's funny the first time, it will be funnier the second or third time, especially if unexpected): the suspended basket thrice knocks the hat off of a guest (played by Buster's father Joe Keaton) who punches the innocent Buster (9:00, then again seconds later) and Al (at 9:30), Fatty takes an urn to the face twice during the bank robbery (17:20). Where Coney Island has a brief Keystone Kops chase, The Bell Boy has a less successful chase involving a horse-drawn tram (18:30); it's not very funny.

The TCM print runs much shorter than the length given by Wikipedia (20:30 vs. 33:00). The print is tinted starting from the bank robbery (15:45); blue tinting is common to suggest nighttime, but the sepia tinting for the bank interior serves no useful purpose, it's just irritating. Wikipedia says much The Bell Boy material as reused in the 1939 film Love Nest on Wheels, which I have not seen.


The Bell Boy

The Bell Boy was Buster's eighth short with Roscoe Arbuckle, released about five months after Coney Island. The plot is a bit more complex, including a faked bank robbery crossing paths with a real bank robbery. It contains passing topical references to the European war: Fatty as barber remakes a Rasputin-like customer to Grant to Lincoln to the Kaiser (5:30), whom he then splatters with soapsuds; a restaurant sign reads "French and German Cooking" with "and German" crossed out (8:45). Fatty mugs directly into the camera at his first appearance (0:35), but otherwise the fourth wall is not broken as blatently as in the earlier short. Buster and Fatty wear bellboy caps, no porkpie hat here, and Buster's later deadpan is not yet in evidence (he smiles at 3:00, for example). The obvious comedic potential of the hotel lobby stairs (0:45) amazingly remains untapped, but several mechanical gags suggest later Keaton: a basket suspended on a wire transports hot towels from kitchen to barber shop (5:30), a horse-powered elevator is reliable at first (7:15), later balky (10:30). Buster carefully polishes a telephone booth window that proves to be imaginary (1:30).

The Bell Boy features more spectacular acrobatics by Buster and Al St. John, as well as a great fall by Fatty (7:30). Buster twice does a 360 degree turn while falling (3:15, 17:45), and Al somersaults over a table to land seated in a chair (9:30). A static shot in the bank looks into two rooms with partitions between (16:00); Buster enters left with a somersault through the teller's window, then climbs and flips over each of two dividing walls to exit right. Shortly after, Al St. John does the same, but crashing through each partition's window rather than flipping over it.

The funniest gags use the classic repeated gag pattern (if it's funny the first time, it will be funnier the second or third time, especially if unexpected): the suspended basket thrice knocks the hat off of a guest (played by Buster's father Joe Keaton) who punches the innocent Buster (9:00, then again seconds later) and Al (at 9:30), Fatty takes an urn to the face twice during the bank robbery (17:20). Where Coney Island has a brief Keystone Kops chase, The Bell Boy has a less successful chase involving a horse-drawn tram (18:30); it's not very funny.

The TCM print runs much shorter than the length given by Wikipedia (20:30 vs. 33:00). The print is tinted starting from the bank robbery (15:45); blue tinting is common to suggest nighttime, but the sepia tinting for the bank interior serves no useful purpose, it's just irritating. Wikipedia says much The Bell Boy material as reused in the 1939 film Love Nest on Wheels, which I have not seen.


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