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By Maginot, Mike | American Cinematographer, February 1988 | Go to article overview
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Maginot, Mike, American Cinematographer


The Original Keystone Comedies

(Voumes 1-8)

Produced by Mack Sennett.

Keystone Comedies don't make us laugh as much as they once did. Time, imitation, and the reduction to the small screen (and a small audience), have turned them into curios and artifacts of bygone days.

Fast paced compilations, layering climax upon climax, have led modern audiences to think that Sennett's stock company ran one gigantic chase throughout the silent era. The Original Keystone Comedies present another story, characters in plots propelled by larceny, infidelity, and disrespect for all. Subjects meant to shock, as well as amuse the filmgoers of 1914 and 15, for whom these one- and two-reel comedies were made.

Volumes One through Four present Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle and Mabel Normand, alone and together, in a variety of roles and situations. Arbuckle shines as the "bad boy" whose most incredible indiscretions are excused for the sake of a laugh. Normand's finest screen moments were yet to come.

Volume Five offers Fatty in drag and some early work by Harold Lloyd and Charles Chase. Volume Six and Seven present Mack Swain in the role of Ambrose. This is the low point of the collection, except for two shorts where Chester Conklin plays Ambroses nemesis, Walrus. In these Conklin surpasses Swains weight and mustache with pure comic nuance.

Volume Eight shows off the often forgotten talents of Charles Chaplin's half-brother, Sydney. In the role of Gussle, Sydney Chaplin demonstrates a style somewhat similar and in many ways equal to his renowned younger sibling.

Image quality varies on the 27 comedies represented in this collection. The endearing aspects of these shorts are to be found in their comedic content and the landscapes that provide a backdrop for the slapstick.

These tapes are to be scrutinized, analyzed, preserved, and most importantly laughed at for generations to come.

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