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Roscoe 'Fatty' Arbuckle
Roscoe 'Fatty' Arbuckle,
Al St. John
Gloria Dawn lives down the hall from her sweetheart, Bobbie Knight. The dishonest Henry Black is Gloria's guardian, and he is also in charge of Bobbie's inheritance. The scheming guardian and his sister have been spending Bobbie's money, and they hope to have the sister marry Bobbie so that they can keep control over his money.Written by
A rip-snorting comic melodrama, still fast and fun
Anyone who believes that early films were slow or stodgy, or thinks rapid cutting was invented for MTV, ought to take a look at this one. Even for modern viewers, the Keystone comedy Teddy at the Throttle races along so fast you have to pay close attention if you hope to follow what's happening. The plot is somewhat complicated, but that's okay; the real point of the exercise is the suspenseful, action-packed finale. Compared to the short comedies Chaplin and Arbuckle were making at the time it's not an especially laugh packed film, being more of a situation comedy with dollops of melodrama, but it sure does move, and we can still see why audiences of the time found it exciting. We might chortle today at such cornball elements as a top-hatted villain who actually ties his victim to the railroad tracks, but viewed in context -- that is, with the understanding that these elements were already considered old-fashioned, even in 1917 -- this film is still exciting, satisfying, and fun.
Gloria Swanson and Bobby Vernon were teamed in several short comedies for Sennett during the 1916-17 season, but aside from the diminutive stature they had in common they make a rather odd couple. Even in her early youth Gloria Swanson was a forceful screen presence, and it's hard to accept her in the role of a victim. Just watch the scene when she's locked in a cloak room, and villain Wallace Beery (then her husband off screen, briefly and unhappily) considers leaving her there. When Gloria bursts through the wood paneling and berates Beery furiously, she doesn't appear to be acting, and probably wasn't using the most ladylike language either, from the looks of it. Juvenile lead Bobby Vernon, on the other hand, was . . . well, the polite word to use would be "fey." When he dons women's clothing, as in The Sultan's Wife, he's very convincing. Very, very convincing. He moved gracefully, and was a good dancer -- his dance in Teddy at the Throttle is one of the film's comic highlights -- but macho he was not. Some of the humor in this film derives from the impression given that Bobby appears more likely to get tied to the railroad tracks by the villain, while Gloria looks better equipped to rescue HIM, with or without any assistance from Keystone Teddy.
Teddy, by the way, gives one of the screen's most memorable dog performances in this film. I must admit I was a little disillusioned to learn that there were several "Teddys" used by the Keystone/Sennett Studios over the years. This particular Teddy, in any case, performs admirably during the genuinely thrilling race-against-the-clock climax. Audiences must have cheered Teddy at the Throttle in 1917, and, given the opportunity, modern audiences will cheer it yet.
P.S. On a personal note, in 1976 I interviewed Gloria Swanson for my school newspaper. She was cordial for the most part, but when I mentioned this film she gave me a sour look and promptly changed the subject. It's easy to see why in retrospect, for although she comes off pretty well there's no denying that, in the end, it's the dog who saves the day and steals the show. This film is more of a vehicle for Teddy than Gloria!
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