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In Leap Year (1921) Jeremiah Piper (Lucien Littlefield) plays a grumpy millionaire with a fool nephew, Stanley Piper (Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle) who falls in love with every girl in sight.
As the guardian of a large fortune that will fall to Stanley some day, Jeremiah is determined to keep his bumbling nephew away from the kind of women whose pulse quickens at the sight of a rich man. But it may be too late for Stanley, who has already fallen in love with his uncle's nurse Phyllis Brown (Mary Thurman, one of Mack Sennett's bathing beauties).
Stanley is sent away to an elegant Catalina resort where women are supposed to be scarce. But at the resort Stanley's devotion to Phyllis is profoundly tested by a string of coquettes including the glamorous Loris Keene (Harriet Hammond). Keene is staying at the resort with her married lover Scott Travis (Clarence Geldart), but when Mrs. Travis (Winifred Greenwood) shows up, it falls to Stanley to entertain the beautiful girl, who also takes a shine to Stanley.
Keene isn't the only one with eyes for Stanley. Two more women (including Gertrude Short who went on to appear in the 1937 cult classic Reefer Madness) mistake their conversations with Stanley for a marriage proposal and begin to vie obsessively for his affection. All three follow Stanley back to his estate where Stanley fakes illness and even death to evade their feminine clutches.
Fatty Arbuckle's burgeoning feature film career came to an abrupt end in 1921 when the comedian was charged with rape and manslaughter in the death of actress Virginia Rappe during a wild party in Arbuckle's suite at the Hotel St. Francis in San Francisco. Rappe's fashion sense earned her a reputation as one of the best dressed women in the movies, though it was her checkered past and violent end that have made Rappe a sordid film world legend.
Theaters quickly responded to the murder charge, refusing to screen Arbuckle's films. The Arbuckle scandal followed in the wake of another Hollywood drama, the murder of chief director of the Famous Players-Lasky studios William Desmond Taylor. A surge of industry self-censorship followed. The noticeable slump in movie attendance following the Arbuckle case inspired the Motion Picture Theatre Owners of America to demand films free from "indecency or objectionable matter of any kind." The Universal Film Company even added a "morality clause" in their film contracts.
A sense of outrage and institutional soul searching as well as a congressional investigation followed. The scandal led to the shelving of Arbuckle titles produced at Paramount including The Life of the Party (1921) and Brewster's Millions (1921). Though yanked from release in the United States, Leap Year was one of the few Paramount titles that eventually made its way to video, providing a record of Arbuckle's comic gifts in the feature format.
Though Arbuckle was acquitted by a San Francisco jury in 1922, the call for movie reform was underway, with Will H. Hays, President of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America, leading the charge. And despite being found innocent, Arbuckle was never able to recover his tarnished reputation.
By 1923, after most theaters refused to run his films Arbuckle decided to shift careers from actor to director, making films under the alias of William Goodrich. Arbuckle eventually managed to make his acting comeback in a series of short films for the Vitaphone Company in the early 1930s, but died relatively young in 1933 at age 47 of a heart attack.
Arbuckle was considered an excellent comic actor, though he gave the motion pictures much more, including mentoring Buster Keaton and offering him the fateful advice that he leave vaudeville and enter motion pictures.
Director: James Cruze
Producer: Adolph Zukor
Screenplay: Walter Woods from a story by Sarah Y. Mason
Cinematography: Karl Brown
Cast: Roscoe Arbuckle (Stanley Piper), Mary Thurman (Phyllis Brown), Lucien Littlefield (Jeremiah Piper), Harriet Hammond (Loris Keene), Maude Wayne (Irene Rutherford), Clarence Geldart (Scott Travis).
by Felicia Feaster