Roscoe ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle, Buster Keaton in: The Butcher Boy


It’s a common refrain about silent movies that they’re often fascinating just because they’re accidental documentaries. 1917’s The Butcher Boy, here, is one of them because it showcases a model of store that’s basically extinct in the United States: the general store in which all the merchandise is kept safely tucked away from the customers’ hands, thank you, and for that matter the person who gets what you want off the shelves isn’t necessarily the same person who wraps up your packages, and may well have nothing to do with the person who takes your money and counts your change (if you didn’t just put it on your account).

Since the model of the self-service market took over — it really got going in the 1920s — it’s hard to quite believe this used to be normal. It almost seems designed exclusively to stuff movie scenes full of comic actors, standing at the edge of an abundant supply of missiles, with hapless customers standing in the middle ready to get hit by accident when the grand battle inevitably starts. I’m honestly a touch disappointed when the action moves from the store to a women’s boarding house; as energetically paced and frantic as the action gets at that point, it seems like they’re giving up on a fantastic setting. (Were they worried 25 minutes was too long to spend in one location?)

Anyway, here’s another “Fatty” Arbuckle film, featuring also Buster Keaton’s screen debut, which makes clear pretty quickly why he was going to be a movie star. Archive.org has a copy of it with French intertitles, and played a little faster than the version on YouTube. (Converting film speeds from silent movie days to modern speeds is a bit arbitrary.)


In a coincidental bit of business, Steve McGarry’s TrivQuiz biographical comic strip/quiz panel features Ben Turpin, who you may remember in collages of silent movie stars as “oh yeah, that guy”. Funny fellow. Besides a touch of information about the actor, the panel also includes a couple trivia questions related to silent movie stars which should probably make you feel better for being able to answer.

Author: Joseph Nebus

I was born 198 years to the day after Johnny Appleseed. The differences between us do not end there. He/him.

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