Sunday, February 5, 2017

Season of Silents: The Butcher Boy (1917)

I have never seen any Buster Keaton films, probably because I'm not a huge fan of slapstick comedy. It's possible Keaton may change that for me. I've read too many raves of his talent to ignore his work any longer, so when Amazon had the Buster Keaton Shorts Collection available on a Lightning Deal, I decided the time was right.

The Butcher Boy is the first Buster Keaton short I'm watching and the first he made with Roscoe Arbuckle 100 years ago. The screenshots I've taken are not from this Blu-Ray release, which is not tinted. The title cards in this short may not be the original ones, and some title cards on other releases I've seen provide more information than those included in this collection. Some of the character's names have also been changed in this short. Slim was originally called Alum and Amanda was Almondine. I do not approve of changing the titles and names from the original and hope that won't be common practice with all the shorts in this collection. I do prefer the Robert Israel score that accompanies this film and the picture is also superior in this Blu-Ray collection.

The action begins in a store where a woman is kicking a man in the seat of his pants when he bends over to pick up a dropped can she was trying to load in his arms. She then drags him out of the store by his collar.

We are introduced to the cigar chomping General Manager, Mr. Grouch, and his charming daughter, Amanda, who is on the phone. Sales manager, Slim Snavely, is having a hard time with a basket on a pulley system that drops on his head and then he is nearly strangled by the ropes.

Sweet puppydog, Luke, is barking next to the display of Sunshine Graham Crackers, Cheese Wafers and Oatmeals, while a black kitty arches her hair raised back and hisses in reply.

Fatty Arbuckle comes in from cold storage, wearing a long fur coat, and begins sharpening his knife to carve a cut of beef, while being annoyed by a carcass hanging behind him that bumps him as he works. He tosses his knife impressively behind his back, which lands on his cutting board, point down.

A lady asks for tens cents of pepper and Snavely calls Luke to run on a conveyor belt while he measures peppercorns into a grinder.

She asks Fatty if he has any pepperoni and he responds that it's cooling in cold storage. He gets on his fur coat and hat to go get her pepperoni. He wraps some of the links for her and snacks on some he nabs from her package as she walks away. He rolls and smokes a cigarette while Snavely rides off on his bike with a delivery.

Miss Teachem arrives to make a request, and Mr. Grouch calls Fatty, who tosses his knife and lobs a slab of beef onto the hooks behind him. Fatty rides the ladder around the store to acquire what she wants and places it in a basket. He gives the store manager a whack on the behind and makes a face at him.

Buster arrives to do some shopping and examines some brooms. He steps in a puddle of molasses that has spilled from the molasses barrel onto the floor and tastes it from his shoe. He then tastes a little more from the spigot. He takes his pail to Fatty and requests some molasses. While Fatty gets the molasses, he moves some pieces in a game some men are playing.

Fatty calls him to get his molasses, and when he begins to walk off with the pail, Fatty asks where the money is, and is told it's in the bucket. Fatty digs in the molasses bucket for the coins and decides to pour the molasses out into Buster's hat to find the coins at the bottom. He pours the molasses from the hat back into the bucket.

When Buster goes to put on his hat, it becomes firmly glued to his head. He asks Fatty to help remove it, and then becomes stuck in the molasses that has spilled from his pail onto the floor.

Fatty tries, but is unable to get him unstuck from the floor.

He gets a hot kettle of water, spilling it onto a game player's head before pouring it onto Buster's stuck shoe.

Fatty gives him a push with his foot, which dislodges him from the sticky molasses and sends him sailing out the door, knocking over Mr. Grouch, who is standing outside with Miss Teachem.

Fatty is making time with Amanda on the counter while she tells him they need to make wedding plans since Slim hasn't given up. Slim arrives on bike to see Fatty giving her a smooch.

He gets angry and makes his belly jiggle with a couple of hard pokes, and a fight ensues, with Fatty launching packages of flour at him.

Buster has returned for his hat and gets hit with a pack of flour. Slim laughs and Buster grabs a broom to hit him, while Slim goes behind the counter to throw another package of flour at Buster. Buster finds some pies behind the counter and hurls one into Slim's face.

Slim throws a pack of flour and hits Mr. Grouch as he enters. Mr. Grouch takes the pie from Buster and hits him with it, while general mayhem ensues as Buster and Slim climb the ladders and Fatty reenters to throw flour at everybody as Amanda jumps up and down and encourages him.

It appears as though Mr. Grouch is sending Amanda off to boarding school with Miss Teachem, as he loads her into the car with a suitcase. Slim and Buster wave farewell as Fatty wipes his nose and eyes, looking bereft.

At the boarding school Miss Teachem is passing out mail to the excited girls, who run to their rooms to read their letters. Amanda is told she's not allowed to have any mail except from her parents. She weeps and goes outside. A large girl with a familiar dog appears at the gates and the title card informs that no men are allowed beyond the gates.

Fatty finds Amanda and reveals himself to her. They kiss and embrace as Miss Teachem comes upon them and Amanda explains that it's her cousin.

Miss Teachem invites them in while Luke digs in the yard.

While cousin Fatty is signing some papers, she kicks up her heels, which does not sit well with the prim Miss Teachem, who orders them outside the room, where they cavort in the hall with the other girls.

Meanwhile, Buster and another guy are helping Slim, who's clad in dress and pumps, to don a wig. Luke observes from behind a tree.

Fatty is doing a dance for the girls when lady Slim stumbles in to the hall.

The girls go check out the new arrival, who hands a note of introduction to Miss Teachem that reads: "Dear Miss Teachem, Please pertect mi darter and learn her to eet with a fork -a lovin father"

The girls go in to eat and quickly notice the new girl's poor table manners.

Luke keeps an eye on Buster and friend outside the gates while Miss Teachem shows the new girls to their room. Girl Fatty, Lady Slim and Amanda glance nervously at each other as they yawn and pretend to go to sleep. Amanda sneaks out to change into her nightie in one of the other girls' rooms, and the other two immediately bolt up and begin making faces at one another. Slim punches Fatty and Fatty flips Slim onto the bed and begins throttling him.

Miss Teachem hears the ruckus and comes in and drags Fatty out by the ear and proceeds to administer some corporal punishment. When he slaps her behind in retaliation, she becomes livid and paddles him with the handle of a brush.

Meanwhile, Slim calls to his accomplices outside to assist him in kidnapping Amanda. They go to the room and dive under the beds while Luke jumps in the window in the hall to stand guard. Amanda gets into bed while Fatty continues to get spanked as he kicks Miss Teachem. The three pop out from under the bed and begin to drag Amanda out of the room. Fatty hears the commotion and goes after Slim, but he escapes into the hall. Luke spots him and begins to chase him as Slim runs through the girls' rooms.

Miss Teachem hears the screams and goes to call the police as Fatty fights off the two men who are still struggling with Amanda. He gives Buster a solid kick and he goes flying into the next room, doing a stunning pirouette on his head.

Miss Teachem grabs a gun for protection. Buster is prevented from escaping into the hall by Luke and is forced to go to Miss Teachem's room, who fires the gun at him. His accomplice also ends up in the room and Miss Teachem takes a shot at him as well before he joins Buster with arms up. Slim escapes the girls, who are attacking him with pillows, and is chased by Luke into the room where he joins his buddies held at gunpoint.

Fatty tells Luke to stand guard in the hallway while he sneaks Amanda out the window. Once outside, he sees that the reverend's house is next door and he suggests they get married right away. They run off together as the film ends.


This was just a small sample of Buster Keaton as it really was Roscoe 'Fatty' Arbuckle's show. Apparently, he ran into Buster Keaton while making the film and invited him to be in it. His handling of the butcher knife was masterful, as was his ability to flip, lift, and spin other actors around.

Another important actor in this show is Roscoe's dog, Luke, who was one of the first canine film stars. You can read an interesting article about Luke's acting career and how Arbuckle came to own him at this website.

One thing I enjoy about watching movies from the silent era is getting a glimpse of life in the past. It's interesting to see how the grocery store in this film operates as well as the items they offer, though I suspect dogs on conveyor belts weren't typically used to grind spices. I am always fascinated with seeing the furniture, wall coverings and artwork in the background scenery, as well as the technology and fashions of the time.

This was a funny and entertaining short involving the typical pie throwing, kick in the pants, cross dressing, madcap chase sort of humor that fits the stereotypical image of silent film for many. I don't suspect it will ever be my favorite genre, but there are some things about it I believe I may enjoy, and can see even from this first venture why these actors were so well loved. I look forward to discovering more. 


don said...

Hi Christine,

I see I've been getting some traffic from you so thought I'd say hello.

Like you, I've been watching some Buster Keaton. I only had a chance to see a couple of shorts before they disappeared from Hulu. The big box set has been in my Amazon queueue forever waiting for a reasonable price. It just hit $219, so I guess it will be a while.

Anyway, thanks for the link. Keep writing!


Christine said...

Thanks for the nice comment, Don. I recently picked up The General but have yet to see it. I look forward to getting to know Keaton better.

I've been working up the courage to leave a comment over at Genre Snaps to let you know how much I enjoy your writing. The link is mostly for my convenience but hope others are having the pleasure of discovering your cool site. You're one helluva funny guy!