THE ROUND UP
Leonard Maltin Blu-Ray Review
May 10, 2018
As you probably know, Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle’s career ground to a halt once he became the center of a headline-making scandal in 1921. This left half-a-dozen feature films on the shelf, most of which are considered lost. Fortunately, his first feature, The Round Up (1920) exists in a stunning 35mm print at the Library of Congress. Cinemuseum has just released a beautiful dual-disc set on DVD and Blu-ray with a first-rate piano score by Donald Sosin. The irony is that The Round Up was not only Arbuckle’s first starring feature: it was also his first major dramatic role. If you’re looking for typical roughhouse slapstick, you’ll have to look elsewhere. The star plays Sheriff Slim Hoover, who gets involved in the social misadventures in his community. Arbuckle treats his part with a light touch that suits him well. If your eyes are razor-sharp you may spy Roscoe’s pal Buster Keaton in a bit part as an Apache. It’s much easier to identify two future comedy directors in major roles: A. Edward Sutherland and Lloyd Bacon. (If you want a guide to all of this, you can listen to Richard M. Roberts’ commentary track.) The Round Up was based on a play by Edmund Day and was directed by the prolific George Melford, who one year later made Rudolph Valentino’s The Sheik. Accompanying the feature are restorations of two early Arbuckle shorts from 1913, A Bandit and Peeping Pete, with organ accompaniment by Dennis Scott. There are also generous galleries of posters, photos, original pressbook materials, and a full-color booklet that reproduces some of this appealing artwork. I look forward to more such rarities from CineMuseum.
April 27, 2018
It’s with a resounding “Hurrah!” that I greet CineMuseum’s newest release, a Blu-ray/DVD combo of Roscoe Arbuckle’s first feature film, The Round Up (1920). If you’ve read any of my Comique Month series from last July, you’ll know that I’m a big Arbuckle fan. So having this charming Western available is a nice boon for my collection.
Prior to making The Round Up, Arbuckle had been first a Keystone comedian and then a top-notch comedy director and star at his own studio, Comique. He famously gave Buster Keaton his first film roles. Around 1919 he got an offer to star in features, so he handed over the Comique reins to Keaton and went to work on feature #1.
The Round-Up (1920) Stars: Roscoe 'Fatty' Arbuckle, Mabel Julienne Scott, Irving Cummings, Tom Forman ~ Director: George Melford
Sadly, after working like crazy on several features in a row (early 1920s studios churned out features as fast as a mini donut machine), the infamous Rappe scandal hit and Arbuckle films were pulled out of circulation. And thus, The Round Up was unavailable for nearly a century–until this very spring!
An interesting bit of trivia: This feature was based on a 1907 play that starred well-known stage actor Macklyn Arbuckle. Macklyn was the actor who coined the doleful phrase “Nobody loves a fat man,” but after The Round Up was released in 1920 the phrase was forever associated with the other Arbuckle–Roscoe!
Arbuckle was given the role of Sheriff “Slim” Hoover so he could work while films more tailored to his talents were being prepared. In general, cowboy heroes in silent Westerns tended to be lean, strong-jawed types like Tom Mix, so Arbuckle’s role was a little atypical. But he does an excellent job, still using his familiar comic timing and flourishes but within a more subtle, “light comedy” format.
As a whole, The Round Up is a pretty standard Western drama with familiar situations and characters (Wallace Beery plays a villain, because of course), enlivened by Arbuckle’s presence. This particular DVD set, however, has the advantages of Donald Sosin’s evocative new score (Sosin’s one of my favorite silent accompanists), and the beautiful print quality. CineMuseum performed a stunning 4K digital transfer and restoration from the 35mm archival master print preserved by the Library of Congress and Paramount Archives. As a result, we’re presented with a crisp, perfectly tinted film looking pretty much the way a 1920 audience would’ve seen it. This is the sort of thing we silent film fans live for!
And by the way, you’ll want to keep your eyes peeled for a certain famous “Easter egg” in the form of Buster Keaton making an unbilled appearance as an American Indian. (By a painful-looking fall ye shall know him.)
Also included in the set are the Keystone shorts A Bandit and Peeping Pete (both 1913, and both in very nice quality), a commentary track by historian Richard M. Roberts (I always enjoy CineMuseum’s commentaries!), a gallery of posters and other promo items, and a booklet. This release is fascinating for both silent comedy fans and lovers of old Westerns–and it’s certainly important for Keaton completists!
...one of the most important home video releases this year...
James L. Neibaur
April 15, 2018
“The Round Up”
Directed by George Melford. Starring Roscoe Arbuckle, Wallace Beery, Mabel Julienne Scott, Irving Cummings Tom Forman, Jean Acker, Edward Sutherland, Guy Oliver, Jane Wolf, Fred Huntley, George Kuwa, Lucien Littlefield, Buster Keaton. Released October 10, 1920. A Paramount-Artclass special. Running time: 70 minutes
In one of the most important home video releases this year, CineMuseum offers “The Round Up,” which was the first feature film starring Roscoe (Fatty) Arbuckle under his new contract.
Arbuckle had been a star of short comedies since the early teens, soon writing and directing his own subjects. While he basically believed that bombastic slapstick was more effective than rigid subtlety, Arbuckle also had a keen understanding of comic nuance; his character was well drawn and resonated with moviegoers. When Arbuckle left short subjects to make more prestigious feature films, he left behind the knockabout comedy that established him. He was first cast in the western film “The Round Up.”
Based on the 1907 Broadway play that had starred the unrelated Macklyn Arbuckle, this is a straight western drama with George Melford’s direction using location scenery to frame the action. On this purely visual level, the film is already comfortably effective. However, if we approach this feature regarding its significance to Roscoe Arbuckle’s filmography, our perspective is somewhat more enhanced.
Being that this was Arbuckle’s first film away from slapstick shorts, audiences curiously attended in large numbers. Rather than be disappointed at seeing a subtler performance within the context of a serious western, moviegoers instead appreciated seeing Arbuckle in a much different role. While other write-ups have alluded to Roscoe playing a dramatic role with comic touches, his character of “Slim” is really a comic role, just not a bombastic one. The nuanced elements that enhanced Arbuckle’s performance in his brilliant series of short comedies are discernible here. There are several mannerisms and reactions that are vintage “Fatty.” That he is able to utilizes these traits in a more subdued character is a testament to his skill and versatility as an actor.
There is a great deal of historical interest in “The Round Up,” Along with being Arbuckle’s first feature after leaving his short comedy unit, it is also the first of many westerns to be shot at the Lone Pine studios. It offers one of the final performances of actress Jane Wolf, who would leave films that same year to join up with occultist Aleister Crowley. It also includes Wallace Beery in a villainous role. Beery, already a screen veteran by this time, would achieve even greater fame in sound films like “The Champ” (1931), “Grand Hotel” (1932) and “Treasure Island” (1934). George Kuwa, the screen’s first Charlie Chan, has a small role. Buster Keaton, who inherited Arbuckle’s short comedy unit as Roscoe moved to features, has an unbilled cameo.
“The Round Up” would likely be a rather average silent western if not for Arbuckle’s performance. He stands out among the cast, but perhaps this is at least partly because, at this point, we are specifically watching it for him. His comic subtlety is fascinating to see, as he comfortably blends into the proceedings while maintaining elements of the screen character he’d developed years earlier. Much as been made of his final line “nobody loves a fat man,” which his character says before the movie fades out at the end. This was in the original play, so it was not written for Roscoe. But since he plays a character who is smitten by women but never seems to connect (while others do easily), he adds a greater poignancy to the line. The more serious aspects of his performance are most effective in scenes where he conveys the realization that the woman he is with will be yet another that leaves him for another man; their relationship never progressing past the friendship level.
From this point in his career, Roscoe Arbuckle continued to explore the possibilities that feature films afforded him. It is unfortunate that we do not have access to many of his subsequent features. But this adds further significance to the fact that we do have “The Round Up,” and it belongs in any collection that intends to be at all comprehensive.
CineMuseum’s DVD and blu ray is a new 4K digital transfer and restoration of the 35mm archival master preserved by Paramount Pictures and the Library of Congress – Packard Campus of Audiovisual Conservation. It includes a score composed and performed by Donald Sosin, audio commentary by film historian Richard Roberts, and a gallery of stills, posters, lobby cards, glass slides, programs and memorabilia. There is also an accompanying booklet designed by David Pearson. Each package contains both a DVD and a blu ray. All of these welcome features enhance, and/or inform our experience.
Along with the feature film, the DVD and blu ray for “The Round Up” also contains two new restorations of the 1913 Arbuckle Keystone films “A Bandit” and “Peeping Pete,” which allows us to see the portent of some of what the more refined actor does in the feature film.
The importance of “The Round Up” to movie history, the aesthetic quality of the film as cinema, the entertainment value of the subject, and the many special features are all important qualities that make this release a must for libraries, research centers, schools and universities, fans of comedy, of silent movies, of film history.
THE MACK SENNETT COLLECTION Volume One
Mack Sennett (1880-1960) is famous for discovering Charlie Chaplin, creating the Keystone Kops, coining the term bathing beauty and being, as his front-page obituary in The New York Times called him, the film pioneer whose name was synonymous with slapstick comedy. All true, but as demonstrated by the 50 mainly short films digitally restored and gathered in a three-disc Blu-ray set, The Mack Sennett Collection Volume One, he was something more.
Sennett defined (or redefined) American humor. There is scarcely a physical clown or verbal wiseguy whose antics or attitude Sennett did not anticipate. Writing in Movie-Made America: A Cultural History of American Movies, the cultural historian Robert Sklar cited Sennett's 'inventive, resourceful vulgarity,' crediting his primitive two-reel comedies with 'cutting a wider swath through society and its values than any previous expression of the comic tradition in America, with the single exception of that 19th-century masterpiece of comic prose, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.' --J. Hoberman, The New York Times
The Sennett box is a frankly amazing cavalcade of low comedy that's both culturally revelatory and often hilarious (not to mention jaw-droppingly tasteless). --RogerEbert.com
The subtitle of this three-disc set of silent-era classics is '50 Digitally Restored Classic Films;' but that doesn't even begin to describe what The Mack Sennett Collection; has to offer. The real value is in the commentary tracks by scholars and archivists who talk about how one of Hollywood's all-time greats gathered and nurtured a phenomenal collection of comic talent. --'Noel Murray's Best DVDs of 2014,' The Los Angeles Times
"... perhaps the most important release of the millenium."
The Mack Sennett Collection Volume One (Blu-ray)
July 2, 2016
by James L. Neibaur
It would seem that one would be toppling into hyperbole when claiming that anything is the very best, but the new Mack Sennett Collection on blu ray is perhaps the most important DVD release of the millennium. It has been produced by CineMuseum.
The Mack Sennett Collection Volume One is a three-disc set that gives a comprehensive overview of Sennett’s career, starting with his early appearances at Biograph and extending to his sound films. Throughout the three discs, we are offered restored films by the likes of Charlie Chaplin, Roscoe (Fatty) Arbuckle, D.W. Griffith, Harry Langdon, Ben Turpin, and W.C. Fields. In all, 50 films are featured on the three discs.
The first film on disc one, “The Curtain Pole” (1909), was directed by Griffith and features Sennett as an actor and features comic elements that would soon inform Mack’s work in comedy. Sennett himself directs the next two Biograph subjects on disc one, “The Manicure Lady” (1911) and “A Dash Through The Clouds” (1912), the latter featuring Sennett comic ingénue Mabel Normand, whose importance would quickly be established once Mack formed his own studio.
There is a great scene in “A Dash Through The Clouds,” the third film on the Mack Sennett Collection. It is a long shot of an airplane coming in for a landing, flying toward the screen. The pilot, Phil Parmalee, and actress Mabel Normand leave the plane and walk into the foreground toward the camera. It is all done in a single shot, with no edits. The positioning of the camera, and the movement of the actors, not only make this a really impressive visual for a 1912 movie, but it shows that Mabel was indeed on that plane for the scene. Let’s remember that aviation was less than ten years old by this time, and the plane in the movie looks more like a kite. The Wright Brothers themselves had trained Parmalee, an actual pilot.
This one-reel Biograph comedy opens with Mabel (called Martha in this movie) and her boyfriend Arthur (Fred Mace) approaching aviator Slim (Parmalee) who offers them a ride on his airplane. Arthur flatly refuses, but Martha is excited to go. She is thrilled with the flight, while Arthur quite visibly worries about her on the ground. After the plane lands, Arthur, a gum salesman, goes off to a nearby Mexican quarter to sell his wares. He flirts with a local girl, upsetting the villagers to the point where they band together and chase him. Slim and Martha board the plane and rescue Arthur. He is relieved and thanks Slim, but is upset when Martha walks away from him and gets back on the plane. Arthur has been replaced.
Fred Mace does a beautiful comic turn as the chubby schnook with the rumpled suit and crooked tie. His misgivings about air travel are understandable in that aviation was so much in its infancy, and quite dangerous (pilot Phil Parmalee was actually killed in a plane crash shortly after appearing in this movie). But Mace's reaction has all the comic gusto of a Mack Sennett comedian. He holds up his hands, shakes his head, puts his hand on his heart, and offers other, similar responses to the trepidation he has over going up in the air. He comes off as old fashioned, critical of advancing technology. When he later goes to the village to sell his wares, he travels by horse, further demonstrating his backward thinking.
Where Mace exudes intimidation, Mabel exhibits validation. She is very much a modern girl, excited about new things. The 20th century was only a dozen years old, and the ways and mores were often more staid, especially with women. Mabel Normand represents the free-spirited thinking of courageous youth. She is excited to engage with this edgy new invention. Parmalee, who is not an actor, anchors the proceedings by displaying a solid confidence, which is said to simply have been his real life manner.
The structure of this Biograph film shows Sennett venturing further into the comic territory he would explore upon setting up his own Keystone studio. Fred Mace is quite obviously dressed to appear as the outsider who bulges his eyes, flails his arms, and shakes his fist in a comic manner. Mabel comes off as attractive, energetic, and fearless. The villagers are comic villains with blatant gestures. There is a conflict, a chase, and a rescue. The film closes on a gag.
However, along with being a portent to Sennett’s Keystone work, “A Dash Through The Clouds” has its own merit. Its presentation of early aviation makes it something of a cultural artifact. It has a breezy quality that maintains interest in the situations and the characters. Mace’s physical comedy is nearly always in reaction to something within the situation, and he plays it effectively. All the laughs are due to him. As early cinema’s history goes, “A Dash Through The Clouds” contains several significant elements to help us understand and appreciate that history.
After these introductory shorts, the collection gets into the Keystone period, and its choosing to offer the films in chronological order helps us understand the evolutionary process of Sennett’s comic vision regarding their conflict and resolution, but within that format there are variations based on which director or actors were involved. In each film, the basic approach was to frame the action (medium shots and some long shots were the norm) and create a great deal of movement within the frame. Bulging eyes, flailing arms, and wild pratfalls would be responsible for each movie’s brisk pace. In the very early days of cinema, when narrative film was only a few years old, the establishment of this basic structure for physical comedy was a primer for all subsequent methods.
Because the films are restored, we now see, with greater clarity, that the early Keystone comedies were more than frenetic action. For instance, Ford Sterling, one of the very first leading players in the Keystone comedies, is much more than the expected blatant gestures. The sharpness of the images in the restored prints of “On His Wedding Day” (1913) and “A Fishy Affair” (1913) shows the subtle nuance of expression that Sterling added to his more pronounced comic gestures. It displays another layer to his performance, even for those of us who have some familiarity with his work.
The Sennett films featured even greater nuance once Charlie Chaplin began making films at Keystone. Chaplin’s offbeat Keystone film “Recreation” (1914) and his recently discovered cameo as a cop in “A Thief Catcher” (1914) are both represented here.
There had been accounts that while at Keystone, Chaplin took his turn playing one of the Keystone Cops. However, there was no filmed evidence of his doing so. In 2010, CineMuseum's Paul Gierucki ran across a 16mm film at an antique show that was marked “Keystone” so he bought it. When he finally screened what he’d bought, it turned out to be this presumably lost Ford Sterling comedy, and it was discovered that the film featured Chaplin indeed playing one of the Keystone Cops. It is incredible to see such a film, and the print on The Mack Sennett Collection, considering the circumstances, is in remarkably good condition.
Charles Chaplin was a game changer. Not content with settling into the Keystone style, Chaplin was interested in exploring beyond the parameters, adding depth to his character, and investigating the filmmaking process. He would eventually earn such opportunities. But in “A Thief Catcher,” he just has a small role and fits into the proceedings nicely.
“A Thief Catcher” goes beyond being a recently discovered example of Chaplin at Keystone. Ford Sterling’s direction concentrates on a series of slapstick gags stemming from the film’s premise, with no subtle nuance or melodramatic satire. The film is a strong example of some of the better Keystone players being as outrageously funny as their abilities allow. Sterling is all flailing arms and blatant grimacing as he hides from the crooks behind a fence, and ends up getting doused with a bucket of water. Big Mack Swain is all comic menace as one of the thugs. Chaplin is poised with comic confidence as he helps to apprehend the criminals. The slapstick is strong, but never seems forced. The performances are exaggerated, but for potent comic effect.
Because of it having been lost for decades, and its historical significance as being an early Chaplin appearance, the other benefits “A Thief Catcher” offers might be unfairly overlooked. It is also one of the silliest, most gag-filled Keystones of its period, and is a good example of Ford Sterling’s style of direction, as well as yet another example of his performance skills. It is one of the funnier selections on the first disc of the Mack Sennett three-disc blu-ray collection.
The ensuing discs offer examples from many Keystone subjects that have emerged as noted classics, like “Fatty and Mabel Adrift” (1916) and “Teddy at the Throttle” (1917), as well as examples of the Ambrose (Mack Swain) and Walrus (Chester Conklin) comedies. Ben Turpin’s brilliant “The Daredevil” (1923), Mabel Normand’s feature length “The Extra Girl” (1923), and Harry Langdon’s “His Marriage Wow” (1925), all look better than on previous DVDs.
Producers Paul E. Gierucki and Brittany Valente spent years securing the best possible footage for this collection and then restoring it to its greatest level of quality. Films as diverse as “The Noise of Bombs” (1914), and the familiar W.C. Fields sound short “The Dentist” (1932) have a visual sharpness that is nothing short of amazing.
There are also extras on the three discs. Clips from newsreels and TV, rare outtakes, and other such footage is included on each disc. Many of the films have informative, interesting commentaries available from experts. The best of these commentaries are those that concentrate on the film we are watching and discuss the process (Doug Sulpy on “Recreation” is perhaps the best example). And a special respect must be offered the great musical accompanists on the silents, including Philip Carli, Ben Model, Dennis Scott, Andrew Simpson, and Donald Sosin.
Along with the significance of these films to help understand cinema’s rich history, this films on this collection are some truly hilarious comedies. Too often the Keystone films are dismissed as being more frantic than funny, the kinetic energy being diverting at best, but no more than jittery characters flickering across the screen. This is a particularly wrongheaded perception. The Mack Sennett Collection proves that the humor of these comedies, when showcased properly with the best visuals and most effective music scores, holds up effectively despite some of the movies being 100 years old or more.
This is too important a collection of films to be represented only by an overview like this. Thus, this writer plans to individually review each of the 50 movies on this set, and linking them to this review. For anyone interested in the development of cinema as an art form, as technology, or just want to see a lot of really funny movies that helped shaped screen comedy’s evolution, The Mack Sennett Collection is perhaps the most important blu-ray set you can obtain.
A few years ago, film historian Brent Walker published the amazingly thorough history of Sennett’s career, “Mack Sennett’s Fun Factory” which is now in affordable softcover. This collection, and that book, should be paired together in any public or University library, especially colleges who have classes on film history.
The producers of THE MACK SENNETT COLLECTION have indicated that this is volume one of a continuing series of blu-ray sets. We can only imagine what might be contained in the next volume. In any case, this collection is highly recommended.
Individual Film Reviews:
The Mack Sennett Collection Volume One - Trailer