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Coney Island

Coney Island(1917)

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Home Video Reviews

Anyone interested in the history of silent film and the comedies of the pre-sound era will be happy to know that Image has recently released a two set DVD collection from the Blackhawk Films Library entitled The Best Arbuckle/Keaton Collection. In these ten delightful comedy shorts, made between 1917 and 1920 at Paramount under the Comique label, you can see a very young Buster Keaton (he was only 21 years old when he started working with Roscoe Arbuckle) beginning to experiment with gags and comedy routines which he would later perfect in his own films. But more importantly, you'll see why Roscoe Arbuckle, known to his fans as "Fatty" (a name he hated), was considered second only to Charlie Chaplin in terms of popularity between the years of 1916 and 1921. Not only did he possess an astonishing physical grace which was in direct contrast to his oversized body but he was also a genius at concocting wild comedy routines with outlandish sight gags and acrobatics. If nothing else, the Comique two-reelers gives true movie fans a chance to reassess this long-neglected comedian whose reputation, unfortunately, has long been tarnished by the scandal that ruined his career in 1921.

Among the goodies in the double DVD package are: The Butcher Boy (1917) which contains Arbuckle's famous "Knife Juggling" bit, Keaton's first film appearance in his classic "Can of Molasses" routine, and the 265 pound Arbuckle romping around in drag - with "Mary Pickford" curls no less - at an all girl private school.

Moonshine (1918) - a parody of Arbuckle's own freewheeling comedy style, filled with inside jokes, and Arbuckle breaking character to explain plot flaws! After easily defeating the hillbilly mountaineers, Arbuckle and Keaton conclude the film with a stinging parody of rival Charlie Chaplin's "losing the girl' pathos-type endings.

Back Stage (1919) - This was a present from Arbuckle to Keaton after Buster's year-long stint in World War I. Much in the same style as Buster's later The Playhouse (1921), this film contains many of the routines Buster had used in the "Three Keatons' stage act, and can rightly be called the first Keaton directed film.

Coney Island (1918) - This was a high point for Roscoe's nephew, Al St. John. Traditionally playing the mock villain, against Arbuckle's mock heroes, in Coney Island Al St. John - later famous as "Fuzzy' St. John, in numerous Republic Westerns - does a series of "tit-for-tats" with Arbuckle to win a girl, only to have her end up with Buster Keaton!

According to the DVD liner notes, "Following the 1921 scandal that was inflamed by a publicity seeking prosecutor and the tabloid press, Arbuckle's films were withdrawn from circulation in America and the negatives were not preserved. The films in this collection were gathered from international archives and private collections. The English intertitles are new, and except for CONEY ISLAND and BACK STAGE, derived from non-English sources. All the films are digitally mastered from 35mm, sometimes directly from the nitrate originals.

2-disc set includes a brochure by Jeffrey Vance, co-author with Eleanor Keaton of BUSTER KEATON REMEMBERED Produced for DVD by Serge Bromberg, Eric Lange and David Shepard.

Following the 1921 scandal that was inflamed by a publicity seeking prosecutor and the tabloid press, Arbuckle's films were withdrawn from circulation in America and the negatives were not preserved. The films in this collection were gathered from international archives and private collections. The English intertitles are new, and except for CONEY ISLAND and BACK STAGE, derived from non-English sources. All the films are digitally mastered from 35mm, sometimes directly from the nitrate originals. The Best Arbuckle/Keaton Collection includes a brochure by Jeffrey Vance, co-author with Eleanor Keaton of BUSTER KEATON REMEMBERED, and was produced for DVD by Serge Bromberg, Eric Lange and David Shepard.

For more information on the The Best Arbuckle/Keaton Collection, visit Image Entertainment, Inc.. To purchase a copy of The Best Arbuckle/Keaton Collection, visit Movies Unlimited.

by Jeff Stafford