Ring a Ding Ding
Hard Luck is a Buster Keaton gem released by Metro in 1921 before it became one of the Ms in MGM. The short-subject flick was lost for about 60 years before it was refurbished although not in its entirety, depending on the source of your version.
Buster starts out having just been jilted by a lady and seeing no hope for life henceforth. He attempts to be hit by a trolley that stops just short of him before stealing some rope to use as a noose. He cannot seem to get the mechanics on hanging himself right before a couple police officers come after him. When noticing a waiter’s bottle of “poison” on a shelf, Buster then tries to do himself in by oral means but is unaware the bottle is just disguised booze.
Now drunk, Buster wanders into a dinner with the high hats that run the local zoo. They need a man to hunt down an armadillo to complete the facility’s collection, and Buster takes the job. Fishing for his dinner during this expedition, Buster uses the fish he catches to hook increasingly larger versions until he ends up with nothing. The man next wanders into a country club and its fox hunt. Seeing a new lady he likes, he joins the hunt, or tries to. Using his acrobatic skills, Buster has to find creative ways to board his horse, of which he is repeatedly knocked off. His next adventure involves fighting some wanted criminals while in a saloon.
The picture is meant to close on Keaton, his character having been let down by another woman, jumping from a high dive only to land beside the pool, making a deep hole. The version aired on TCM indicated three minutes of the picture went missing and all we were left with is an intertitle saying “A year later” and a still shot of Buster with Chinese wife and children. You can see the missing footage in the version available on YouTube, although it is certainly of lower quality than the rest of the picture.
Bell Boy from 1918 is my first exposure to Roscoe Arbuckle, and this flick that pairs him with Keaton and other acrobatic actors was a lot of fun. The set for this hotel where the action takes place reminded me considerably of Keaton’s The Haunted House, and I kept waiting for the massive stairway to convert into a slide. Both Fatty Arbuckle and Buster work as bell boys at this sort of slapdash lodging where the elevator is operated by a horse outside pulling on a rope.
The two have their mishaps and gags working with a man who looks like Rasputin –who through Arbuckle’s shave-and-haircut work becomes Ulysses S. Grant and Abe Lincoln– and in flirting with the new manicurist. The two are pretty well matched with Al “Fuzzy” St. John as the hotel desk clerk, who is just as athletic as Keaton. There are all sorts of leaping and slipping and prying Buster’s head from the elevator. It is hard to do anything but praise these short films because they are so entertaining without having to keep the audience engaged with an enthralling plot for more than 30 minutes. We are not here to see the resolution of the romantic story but to take in the gags.