The Bell Boy (1918)
Director: Roscoe ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle
Cast: Roscoe ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle, Buster Keaton, Al St. John
Synopsis: At the Elk’s Head Hotel bellhops torment the lobby, each other and guests.
Roscoe Arbuckle and his vastly more talented sidekick Buster Keaton play a couple of blundering bell boys in The Bell Boy, another so-so comedy which looks as if it was made up as they went along. Improvisation is a difficult trick to pull off, even if there is a time lapse between creating an idea and presenting it to an audience, and Arbuckle really wasn’t equipped with the comical skills to succeed in such a risky tactic. Keaton, however, excelled in defying audience expectations, and could transform a simple task like cleaning a phone booth window into a masterpiece of surreal comedy.
The Elk’s Head Hotel is the kind of place you pay not to stay at. The elevator is operated by a reluctant horse tied to a rope, and the members of staff behave like escapees from a lunatic asylum. Arbuckle shaves the hair from a camp Rasputin in stages, transforming him first into Ulysses S. Grant and then Abraham Lincoln, but struggles to raise a smile, let alone a laugh. Al St. John once again provides comic support to the main act and puts in an energetic and athletic performance.
There’s no plot to speak of. The boys attend a dance for hotel guests and staff where they vie for the attentions of Cutie Cuticle (Alice Lake — Coney Island), the new manicurist. Arbuckle instructs the other two to pose as robbers on the stroke of nine so that he can impress Cutie by foiling their plan, but — guess what?! — the two fake robbers are usurped by genuine ones.
Even Keaton struggles to make much out of this mish-mash of half-baked ideas.
(Reviewed 1st September 2014)