June 4, 2010

Buster & Fatty: His Wedding Night (1917)

His Wedding Night (1917)

Despite the salacious title, this short doesn't have anything to do with a wedding night, although I'm sure that implication helped sell tickets back in the day. Fatty, the soda jerker, is engaged, however, to Alice (Alice Mann), the pharmacist's daughter. Despite his affections for Alice, Fatty plays a bit of a creep in this film. At one point he kisses a woman who's passed out. Al St. John again plays the rival for Alice's hand. Buster again plays a delivery boy, this time delivering Alice's wedding dress to the store. The conflict begins immediately as Buster looses control of his bicycle, crashes and is launched through the swinging doors of the store and onto Fatty's counter. The fall leaves Buster with a nasty twitch and perpetually dazed and goofy demeanor, which he'll retain for the entire picture.

In fact, Buster's role in His Wedding Night is untypical for his Arbuckle collaborations and certainly nothing we'll see in his own shorts and features. Due to Buster's athleticism and acrobatics, he was almost always framed in a long or medium-long shot, but he gets tons of close-ups here. The film relies on Buster acting punch drunk (and a little regular drunk) to get the gag across. Keaton emotes here probably more than he does in any other film, grinning, laughing and mugging completely out of keeping with his later moniker The Great Stone Face (a misnomer if there ever was one). Buster gamely delivers Alice's dress where he encounters another problem: she's can't possibly wear it before the wedding! Solution: Buster models the dress. Drag performance is nothing new to Arbuckle shorts. He frequently dresses in drag, and sometimes even Al St. John gets in on the action. Buster, however, almost never does. This film is the only instance and certainly wouldn't have happened if he hadn't been...altered by his bike accident.

Arbuckle misinterprets Buster's twitchy eye as a wink and slips him a beer on the sly. Buster doesn't object.

Al St. John, the rejected romantic rival, comes back with a vengeance, hatching a plot to kidnap Alice and marry her. Unluckily for him, he mistakes Buster in the wedding gown for Alice, tosses a bag over his/her head and races towards the justice of the peace. They're almost married when Fatty bursts in, steals "Alice" away from Al, and with the bag still over Buster's head, gets the justice to marry them instead! Thankfully, the real Alice arrives just in time to call off the gender-bending nuptials. Still a little punch drunk, Buster's eye twitches (which Fatty has taken as a wink). Fatty doesn't appreciate this and tosses Buster clear across the room.

Buster as the blushing, twitching bride.

While not a classic, His Wedding Night does show Keaton's expanding importance in the Comique crew. He's still not Arbuckle's partner as he'll grow to be, but this short demonstrates Roscoe's increasing faith in Buster's non-gymnastic skills. The film is also notably well-produced. The storylines are well interwoven and cut together with alacrity. Everything bounces along at a substantial clip and many moments (a lot provided by St. John, rubber-faced goofball of comic villainy) provide hearty laughter.

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