I’d heard a lot about Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle over the years and none of it good. He was a megastar at the time and had received the biggest movie contract(one million dollars) of the time. I was surprised to learn when I did a little research that the Hollywood scandal you always hear so much about he was eventually cleared of the charges. It seemed to be a witch hunt to get him. He was accused of raping and murdering a young actress named Virginia Rappe. Well manslaughter anyway. A Hollywood madam accused him of the crimes, but never testified. He was tried three times. the first ended in a hung jury, 10-2 for innocent. The second jury was 9-3, innocent. The not guilty in the third trial took the jury all of six minutes, five spent writing an apology to Arbuckle, to decide.
One juror in the first trial, a woman, swore she would vote guilty til the day she died. She didn’t care what the evidence said. Later it was learned her husband was an attorney that did work for the prosecutor. That prosecutor was accused of badgering witnesses to give false testimony. One expert that claimed Arbuckle’s bloody fingerprints were found on the door to the room later recanted after a maid said she cleaned the room before the police ever arrived and there was no blood.
But Arbuckle’s career was ruined. His films had been banned and months of lurid newspaper articles of Hollywood orgies made it impossible for him to continue. He worked as a director, under an assumed name, on a lot of films, many of them starring Al St. John, his nephew. St. John went on to play cowboy sidekicks to a number of heroes in films later in his career.
THE WAITERS’ BALL was directed by Arbuckle and St. John was his foil/enemy in this one. The bulk of this short silent takes place in a restaurant and is mostly slapstick. Arbuckle is the cook, St. John the waiter, shouting out such orders as “Adam and Eve on a raft,” “a grunt and a thousand on a plate,” “singe the fish.” That last sets off a hilarious sequence of a fish, apparently still alive leaping all over the place, getting attacked by plates, knives, rolling pins, even a shotgun from a customer.
Eventually the two get into a fight and St. John thinks he stabbed Arbuckle in the head. He takes Arbuckle’s suit, just arrived from the cleaners alone with his wife’s dress, cleaned for the Waiters’ ball later that night. Since full dress was required and St. John wanted to take his girl, it seemed the perfect opportunity. Arbuckle pops up from the barrel where he’d been hiding, a knife stuck in a mop head. He ends up wearing the dress to find St. John and resume their mock battle.
I had a great time laughing at this one. I did catch a continuity goof though. When Arbuckle steps from the kitchen to accept his laundry from the cleaner delivering, he has a flour smear on his black pants. When he gets through the door, the smear is gone.
For more overlooked films, as always on Tuesdays, look in on Todd Mason over at his blog, SWEET FREEDOM,