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The Bell Boy (1918)

 -  Short | Comedy  -  18 March 1918 (USA)
6.8
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Ratings: 6.8/10 from 601 users  
Reviews: 7 user | 3 critic

At the Elk's Head Hotel bellhops torment the lobby, each other and guests. The elevator is powered by a stubborn horse. A sham robbery turns into a real one. And there is a chase on a ... See full summary »

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Cast

Complete credited cast:
...
Bellboy, barber
...
Bellboy
Al St. John ...
Desk Clerk
Alice Lake ...
Cutie Cuticle, manicurist
Joe Keaton ...
Guest
Charles Dudley ...
Guest
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Storyline

At the Elk's Head Hotel bellhops torment the lobby, each other and guests. The elevator is powered by a stubborn horse. A sham robbery turns into a real one. And there is a chase on a runaway trolley. Written by Ed Stephan <stephan@cc.wwu.edu>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Plot Keywords:

chase | horse | hotel | bellhop | elevator | See All (18) »

Genres:

Short | Comedy

Certificate:

Not Rated | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

 »
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Details

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Release Date:

18 March 1918 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

El botones  »

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 »
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Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
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Did You Know?

Trivia

One of the few films in which Buster Keaton smiles. See more »

Goofs

In the scene where Buster is dripping mop water into the guest's top hat, long and close shots show his feet in different positions. See more »

Connections

Referenced in The Cinema Snob: Caligula: Part I (2010) See more »

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User Reviews

 
My nominee for the best of the Comique series
25 October 2005 | by (Westchester County, NY) – See all my reviews

In my opinion The Bell Boy is the most enjoyable of all the "Comique" productions starring Roscoe Arbuckle and Buster Keaton. I'll go farther than that: I think it's one of the best Arbuckle films from any period and ranks just a notch or so beneath Keaton's top solo shorts from the 1920s. This is a delightful comedy, free-wheeling and fun, packed with clever routines that display both Buster's and Roscoe's talents to good advantage. Their characters are likable, violence is kept to a minimum, and even Al St. John comes off well. (Luckily, and unlike some of the other Comique shorts, The Bell Boy survives in good condition with decent picture quality and no obvious missing pieces.) It's clear that Buster himself held this effort in high regard, for he continued to rework its gags throughout his career. In the '30s he reworked entire sections of this film in Love Nest on Wheels, one of his talkies for Educational Pictures that also marked a reunion with Al St. John. And in T.V. and movie appearances as late as the 1960s Buster was still polishing invisible panes of glass and mopping the floor from a sitting position, gags that can be traced back to The Bell Boy of 1918.

Our setting is the Elk's Head Hotel, which boasts "third-rate service at first-class prices." Roscoe and Buster are bell boys and Al is the desk clerk. When new manicurist Alice Lake arrives a competition for her attention erupts between the guys, but there's little suspense about the outcome for she openly prefers Roscoe from the start. Meanwhile, there's plenty of time for goofing around. The most original and unexpected sequence involves a bearded, demonic-looking guest who seeks a shave at the hotel's barber shop. This scene might surprise some latter-day viewers when the guest, who initially seems so menacing, proves to be a mincing swish-- watch for Roscoe's quick "fairy" pantomime when the guy isn't looking --but this sort of risqué humor was not uncommon in the silent era. Things get a little surreal when Roscoe serves as barber, and briskly transforms his customer into the living image of 1) General Grant, 2) Abraham Lincoln, and 3) Kaiser Wilhelm. This comedy has the heady atmosphere of a live-action cartoon, where anything can happen and the characters seem to be made of unbreakable plastic.

Before you know it we're back in the lobby, where Buster engages in some knockabout with a top-hatted hotel guest (played by his father Joe), and then all the lead players take part in an exquisitely well-choreographed routine involving the hotel's faulty elevator, a plank, and a mounted elk head on the wall which winks lewdly at Alice. For most of the film's running time the stars are blessedly unencumbered by any sort of plot, and are free to use the hotel setting to stage one great set-piece after another. Towards the end there's a half-hearted attempt to work up a plot about bank robbers, but it's really just a springboard for a wildly staged fight and a frantic chase that ends things on an exhilarating note.

The Bell Boy is available on DVD from both Kino and Image Entertainment. The source material appears to be identical for each of these versions, but the wording of the title cards differs somewhat. More significantly, the musical score supplied by The Alloy Orchestra in the Kino release is so wrong it practically ruins the movie, too raucous in some scenes and inappropriately spooky-sounding in others, and generally calls too much attention to itself: precisely what silent film music is not supposed to do! But the piano score by Neil Brand heard in the Image release supports the material nicely, so I'd recommend seeking out that version. In any event, this movie is an absolute must for Keaton fans, and also an ideal selection for anyone unfamiliar with silent comedy who'd like to experience the real thing, demonstrated by experts.


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