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With: Roscoe 'Fatty' Arbuckle, Buster Keaton, Charles Chaplin, Al St. John, Edgar Kennedy, Minta Durfee, Mack Swain, Alice Davenport, Mabel Normand
Written by: Roscoe 'Fatty' Arbuckle
Directed by: Roscoe 'Fatty' Arbuckle
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 630
Date: 03/18/2013

The Forgotten Films of Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle (2005)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

A Fat Chance

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

This amazing four-disc box set from Laughsmith Entertainment Inc. and Mackinac Media shows what true cinema lovers can accomplish without the help of mainstream media. An armload of historians, musicians and technicians have rescued 32 films from Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle (1887-1933) and not only released them on DVD, but have taken several steps toward restoring Arbuckle's reputation as a pioneering cinema clown. Indeed, both Chaplin and Keaton appear in supporting roles in some of these films, watching and learning from the big guy. (See also my review of Dave Douglas's Keystone for more details on Arbuckle's career.)

The drawback is that even Arbuckle had to learn from somewhere, and the first two discs contain his misshapen pancakes. Mostly made in 1914 and 1915, these awkward shorts have little sense of flow or timing or even storytelling. Characters chatter to one another as if we can hear them, and most of the jokes involve falling down (though Arbuckle could take a pratfall with the best of them).

Fortunately, when we get to Disc Three, the magic begins. We get the great Fatty's Tintype Tangle (1915) -- in which we begin to see some of Arbuckle's grace and balance -- and the very bizarre He Did and He Didn't (1916) (presented both with and without tinting) including its strange ending. The Waiter's Ball (1916) shows Arbuckle learning to use simple locations and just a few characters for better story flow.

Disc Four brings the very good Leap Year (1922), a 55-minute "high-concept" comedy feature. Arbuckle stars in a terrific centerpiece performance as a spoiled layabout who stutters when confronted with women. He somehow gets himself engaged to three different women at once, except for the one he truly likes. Leap Year never received a U.S. theatrical release, coming, as it did, after the scandal. Character Studies is another oddity in which Carter DeHaven does visual "impressions" of famous stars (Buster Keaton, Arbuckle, Harold Lloyd, Rudolph Valentino, Douglas Fairbanks and Jackie Coogan), but the famous stars actually play themselves. Finally, there is a selection of films Arbuckle directed under a pseudonym, featuring other players. The final film is a very funny talkie from 1932, Bridge Wives and then a "music video" compiled from the funniest bits on the disc.

DVD Details: The collection comes with a glossy 36-page booklet filled with essays and information, and several shorts come with optional audio commentary tracks.

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