June 6, 2010

Buster & Fatty: Coney Island (1917)

Coney Island (1917)

Just as quickly, we go from the disappointing to the sublime. Arbuckle and Keaton's sixth collaboration, Coney Island (also known as Fatty at Coney Island) was shot on location and features beautiful period photography of the world famous amusement park. It's also just downright delightful. The short provides plum roles for Fatty, Buster and St. John and Agnes Nielsen as Fatty's wife. Buster opens the picture with his girl (Buster's one-time on again, off again girlfriend Alice Lake) enjoying a day at the park. But poor Buster can't afford to buy a ticket for the ride which leaves the door open for his wealthier rival, played by St. John, to whisk the girl away. Fatty, playing in the sand like a child, is bored to death with his wife (their dynamic is more mother/son), so he decides to ditch her.

When Buster accidentally knocks St. John out with a mallet during a Test Your Strength game, Fatty takes the opportunity to pursue Alice Lake. The new couple heads to the bathhouse to change into their swimsuits. They don't have a men's suit in Fatty's size so he steals a woman's outfit and prances around the ladies' room in a wig, hat and parasol.

Buster, ever vigilant, applies to become a lifeguard. Looking very spiffy in his new duds and brimming with confidence, Buster does a backflip from a standing position, looks around, stretches, and very sure of himself, walks out of frame.

At the end of the picture, everyone is where they should be. Buster, having saved Alice Lake from the philandering Fatty and the vindictive St. John, shares a sweet kiss on top of the pier. Arbuckle and Al are released from jail (having been hauled there by a cop who thinks they assaulted him--well, technically I guess they did), vow to give up women, the root cause of all their problems, all together. Twenty seconds later, an attractive brunette walks by St. John, who looks back to Arbuckle and cries, "Each man for himself!" Another girl walks past Fatty, who looks at her, sighs, and follows his rival's advice. THE END.

Although the film sounds pretty standard from the description, Coney Island is one of the best and one of my favorite Arbuckle-Keaton film, owing mainly from the superb setting. You really get a feeling of a bygone era from the wooden boardwalks and the vintage rides which includeThe Witching Waves, an undulating race track, and The Chute, a wicked-looking water slide.Luna Park is beautifully rendered and instantly invokes a strong sense of nostalgia in the viewer in spite of the fact that probably no one watching the picture in 2010 ever had the chance to see Coney Island the way it was in 1917.

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