If the name isn’t familiar to you, or if you just remember him as “Fuzzy” in his Western B-movie phase, Al St. John was the third comedian in the Fatty Arbuckle/Buster Keaton 2-reelers. He was Arbuckle’s nephew, which didn’t hurt during those golden days, but Al earned his place in pictures. He was incredibly athletic and almost as spry as Buster, as can be seen especially well in The Butcher Boy (1917), which incidentally was Keaton’s first film appearance.
He also had the longest continuous film career – from at least 1913 to his death from a heart attack while waiting to go onstage in 1963 – despite being the least known of the three comedians.
Why Al St. John rules
I never saw him as Fuzzy, but based on his work with Arbuckle and Keaton, it’s easy to believe the truth in Lash LaRue’s description of his bearded sidekick (in the Rotten Tomatoes biography of St. John): “Fuzzy could stumble over a match stick and spend 15 exciting minutes looking for the match.”
Al St. John was that good with physical comedy, as good as Buster Keaton (which is saying a lot, of course). But here’s another reason, from “Bridge Wives” (1932), directed by Arbuckle (who was still working under the pseudonym of William Goodrich but later in the year would start his comeback):
“I haven’t got room to….peel potatoes” and “SOMEbody must have trumped an ace,” as well as his physical work, and the way he holds your attention even after entering a crowded room of excited people (again, a la Keaton): These are all wonderful, but take a listen to St. John’s scream at around 3:35:
That. Is. Awesome.**
Remember it, next time somebody gets to talking about how talkies ended the careers of silent film stars. Sound actually enhanced St. John’s comedy.
**So is the way those four actresses around the bridge table manage to establish characters and convey so much about the game and their personal interactions in seconds, without saying a word. Sure, the whole setup is dated and politically incorrect today, but let’s give those women their due.
Categories: Reviews of old movies