Reviews of old movies: “Coney Island” (1917)

I saw this for the first time this week at the Internet Archive’s trove of Buster Keaton films and loved it, not so much for the predictable Arbuckle/St. John/Keystone Cops slapstick (although that is entertaining) but because  it contains a Buster Keaton who had just turned 22 and was just starting to make it in the big city on his own after the Keaton family’s vaudeville act ended – and in Arbuckle he had found an influential person who appreciated and could work with the new kid’s unique style of physical comedy.

Buster is in top physical shape here, more so than we are used to seeing today.  It’s amazing how he seems to float through his falls and tumbles, as if he has a special arrangement with the laws of gravity and physics.

There are hints in “Coney Island” of what will become his Great Stoneface character, but it’s not quite established yet.  That’s okay – it’s wonderful to just watch him perform as the happy and talented young man he was at that stage of his life.

Also, Arbuckle does a creditable imitation of a whale surfacing, diving and resurfacing again.  It’s hilarious, even today.  Al St. John seems a little stiff in this film, compared to his work in “The Butcher Boy,” relying more on funny facial grimaces, etc., than rough-and-tumble physical comedy, leaving that to Fatty and Buster.

I haven’t figured out how to embed Internet Archive movies here (their code doesn’t work here) and so have included a 2-part version from YouTube.  The IA “Coney Island” has a really nice old-timey feel to it, though.  Enjoy!

“Coney Island” (part 1 of 2):

“Coney Island” (part 2 of 2)

Categories: Reviews of old movies

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