BUTCHER BOY, THE (Roscoe 'Fatty' Arbuckle, 1917, USA, 30m, BW)
Directed by Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle
Produced by Joseph M. Schenck
Written by Roscoe 'Fatty' Arbuckle
Joseph Anthony Roach
Starring Roscoe 'Fatty' Arbuckle
Al St. John
Luke the Dog
Cinematography Frank D. Williams
Edited by Herbert Warren
Famous Players-Lasky Corporation
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
April 23, 1917
Country United States
Language Silent (English intertitles)
The Butcher Boy is a 1917 American short comedy film starring Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle and Buster Keaton. This was the first in Arbuckle's series of films with the Comique Film Corporation, and Keaton's film debut.
Roscoe 'Fatty' Arbuckle - Fatty / Saccharine (as 'Fatty' Arbuckle)
Buster Keaton - Buster
Al St. John - Alum
Josephine Stevens - Almondine
Arthur Earle - The Manager
Joe Bordeaux - Accomplice (as Joe Bordeau)
Luke the Dog
Charles Dudley - (uncredited)
Alice Lake - (uncredited)
Agnes Neilson - Miss Teachem (uncredited)
The story involves Arbuckle working as the butcher boy in a general store. He's in love with Almondine (Lake), the daughter of the store manager Mr. Grouch. His attempts to get close to her are thwarted when the store's sales manager named Alum (St. John), a rival for the girl's affections, starts a fight in the store with Fatty, which subsequently involves a customer who had earlier bought molasses (Keaton) and Mr. Grouch. Determined to marry Almondine, Fatty follows her—disguised as a female cousin—to an all-girl boarding school.
Unfortunately, Alum has the same idea and masquerades as a female student as well. After another fight breaks out between Fatty and Alum, Fatty is taken by the school's principal Miss Teachem to a separate room to be punished. Meanwhile, Alum and his accomplices (Keaton and Bordeaux) attempt to kidnap Almondine. Luckily Fatty's dog Luke distracts the gang while Fatty and Almondine escape. They spot a church across the road and decide to get married. Note that in a later release, the film's subtitles reflect new names for the characters Alum (now "Slim Snavely") and Almondine (now "Amanda").
The Butcher Boy is first and foremost an important film because it is the screen debut of the great Buster Keaton. Arbuckle took notice of Keaton when Keaton was working in his family's vaudeville act. Arbuckle had recently left Mack Sennett's Keyston films and invited Keaton to work with him. Arbuckle was like many of the great film comedians in that he often wrote and directed his movies. In The Butcher Boy we see typical Arbuckle visuals. He often liked to just have the camera on him as he went about doing little antics. Here the movie opens with Fatty cutting meat at a general store. He flips the knife and absent mindedly leans on the scales when he weighs the meat. Also working at the store is Slim who, along with Fatty, has an eye for another co-worker, Amanda.
Keaton plays a customer and a co-hort of Slims. Keaton walks into the store and the movie really starts to take of. From sticky molasses to bags of flours exploding in people's faces, the store breaks out into an all out war zone. Amanda is blamed for inciting it and is sent to a girl's boarding school. Fatty and Slim each go drag and sneak into the school. Buster gets involved as well and the school soon becomes a manic chase and fight involving a dog an old woman spanking Arbuckle. The final scene of this short is great as Arbuckle and Amanda head off to a parson to get married. After remembering that he is still drag, Arbuckle just smiles at the camera and they skip off to get married.
Other than the fact that he was making movies before the likes of Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd became famous and thus had less competition than he would have experienced had his career survived the Virginia Rappe scandal in 1921, the massive popularity of Fatty Arbuckle in the late teens of the 20th Century is something of a mystery. Chaplin was already making movies when The Butcher Boy was released, and by 1917 the little tramp’s routines were a lot funnier and polished than Arbuckle’s. Watching Arbuckle’s movies now is like watching the class buffoon pull a tired old trick for the umpteenth time simply because it got a laugh the first time he did it. Cinema audiences of 1917 just couldn’t get enough of a fat man in a dress.
Although writing credits for The Butcher Boy go to Arbuckle and Joseph Anthony Roach, the plot and gags were pretty much made up as they went along. The trouble with improvising in this way is that, while some guy on the right of the screen might experience a sudden moment of inspiration, the two on the left are left treading water while he acts upon his light-bulb moment. Perhaps Arbuckle and his crew ran out of ideas on the set of the department store, because when the action is transplanted to the girl’s school for the second half of the movie it’s almost like watching an entirely different movie. Either way, both halves are fairly ordinary, with the jokes missing more often than they hit. Arbuckle makes a likable comic lead, but on the evidence of a movie like The Butcher Boy, it’s questionable how long his screen career would have lasted.
This short film was written and directed by Arbuckle. I am sure that many filming techniques had yet to be perfected but some of Arbuckle's direction is just plain amateurish. In several scenes you see plenty of floor but not the top of Arbuckle's head. Even if the camera didn't have adjustable leg heights they could have at least stood the camera on something.
Buster Keaton (1895-1966)
Of all the great silent comedians, Buster Keaton is the one who suffered the worst eclipse
with the coming of sound but whose reputation has recovered the best. He was born
Joseph Francis Keaton, in Piqua, Kansas, where his parents were appearing in a medicine
show. Nicknamed Buster by fellow artist Harry Houdini, he joined his parents' act while
still a baby. By the age of 5 he was already an accompUshed acrobat and was soon billed
as star of the show, hi 1917 the family act broke up. Buster went to work with Roscoe
(Fatty) Arbuckle at his Comique film studios in New York and then followed Arbuckle
and producer Joe Shenck to California at the end of the year. He worked with Arbuckle
for a couple of years, learning filmcraft with the same dedication as he had given to
stagecraft, but struck out on his own, with Schenck's backing, in 1921. Between then and
1928, with Schenck as his constant mentor and producer (and also brother-in-law, since
each had married one of the Talmadge sisters), he starred in some twenty shorts and a
dozen features, almost all of which he directed himself and on which he enjoyed total
To this period belong such classics as The Navigator (1924), The
General ( 1926), and Steamboat Bill, Jr. (1928). The coming of sound brought an even
more abrupt end to his career than to those of many other artists of the silent period.
Losing Schenck's patronage, he joined MGM as a salaried contract artist with no creative
control. His marriage to Natalie Talmadge broke up definitively in 1932. In the last
twenty-five years of his life, which was plagued with personal problems, he struggled to
keeep his career alive. Throughout the early sound years and into the 1940s he appeared
in numerous second-rate films which gave little scope for his unique silent persona. But
he was largely forgotten by the public until invited to play opposite Chaplin in a brilliant
cameo in the latter's Limelight (1951). His career began to pick up and his financial and
personal difficulties lessened. His last film appearance was in Richard Lester's A Funny
Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum in 1965.
Keaton was above all a consummate professional. A brilliant and extremely courageous
acrobat, he devised the most elaborate gags and performed them with extraordinary
flair. Only rarely did he have recourse to tricks and special effects, and when he did
the effects often constitute gags of their own, almost as ingenious as his own
performances. Sometimes the effects are transparent, as in the transitions between reality
and fantasy in Sherlock Jr. (1924); sometimes they are concealed, as with the mechanism
that controls the mysterious behaviour of the doors in The Navigator In Our Hospitality
(1923), where the rescue of the heroine intercuts shots which really are on the raging
rapids with studio mock-ups, the basic effect remains one of realism. The sense of being
in a real world, fake of real, objects, provides an essential context for those
moments in Keaton films in which objects — as in the much imitated gag of the sinking
lifebelt - do not behave in realistic ways.
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