"Miraculous" isn't too strong a word for the 1998 discovery of two seminal silent shorts, long given up for lost, starring early comic greats Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle and Buster Keaton. Decomposed and incomplete prints of director-star Arbuckle's A RECKLESS ROMEO and THE COOK were discovered by Jan Olsson of Stockholm University among unidentified nitrate prints at Norway's Norsk Filminstitutt. In 2002, an additional eight minutes of THE COOK was found by Amsterdam's Nederlands Filmmuseum. The National Library of Norway's Media Lab restored the footage itself, in collaboration with America's George Eastman House. New Jersey's Milestone Film & Video used the Library of Congress' original press kit of THE COOK to combine the Norwegian and Dutch footage into this "video reconstruction," released in 2003. THE COOK, a two-reeler copyrighted Aug. 20, 1918 and released Sept. 15, can still set jaws dropping in the 21st century. At the beachfront Bull Pup cafe, cook Fatty unerringly tosses knives, plates and food to waiter Buster and elsewhere around the kitchen in some of the most daring acrobatic displays put on film. (He repeated this routine in his 1932 sound film HEY, POP!) Buster has his hands otherwise full with customers and a tough drunk (Arbuckle regular Al St. John) who intimidates the cashier (Alice Lake) until Fatty's (real-life) dog Luke gives riotous chase ever seen an English pit bull climb a ladder? Set pieces include men around a table demonstrating methods of eating spaghetti including knitting it and a Salome dance by Fatty, bedecked in saucepans, dustpans and a sausage-link snake. One running gag involves a coffee urn that dispenses everything from coffee to baked ham to ice cream to Fatty's coat. Keaton, still less than six months into his movie career, demonstrates few of his patented pratfalls, except for some involving a rope. Although the two-reeler A RECKLESS ROMEO (released May 21, 1917) is often listed in Keaton's filmography, he's not in it. This Arbuckle vehicle finds a married Fatty flirting with young lovelies at a park. One boyfriend (Al St.
John) responds by beating him up (leading to an early time-lapse effects shot in which Fatty's eye blackens). Later, as he takes his wife (Corinne Parquet) and mother-in-law (Agnes Neilson) to a movie, he
explains that he got the shiner rescuing a blind beggar from thieves. But unbeknownst to Fatty, a newsreel photographer was shooting a piece on mashers in the park, and, well…. Both films' English-language intertitles remain missing; the video uses translations from the Norwegian intertitles incorporating American colloquialisms and diner lingo. Rounding out the collection is the last of Harold Lloyd's two-reelers, 1920's NUMBER, PLEASE?, previously available on video. Filmed at Venice Beach amusement park, the knockabout comedy finds Lloyd stymied by pay phones and other obstacles as he tries to better his romantic rival (Roy Brooks) for a girl (Lloyd's future wife, Mildred Davis). The men compete to take her on blimp ride and find her missing dog; Lloyd winds up haplessly trying to get rid of a purloined purse. In an innovative sequence for the time, a mounted camera shoots from a moving merry-go-round.
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- Rating: NR
- Review: "Miraculous" isn't too strong a word for the 1998 discovery of two seminal silent shorts, long given up for lost, starring early comic greats Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle and Buster Keaton. Decomposed and incomplete prints of director-star Arbuckle's A RECKLESS… (more)