Wheel Reviews-The Speed King-1913

By David G. Firestone

Before we get to the movie review, I have some housekeeping to take care of. I’m starting a new job soon, so I won’t have as much time to devote to The Driver Suit Blog as I once did. As such, I will only do Friday Features every other week. The Tracker and Grades will be unaffected. With that out of the way, let’s get to the review:

I have a great deal of respect for silent movies. Nowadays anyone can shoot their own shows for YouTube, with the greatest technology a person can have. Back when movies first started in 1894, sound technology wasn’t even close to being a thing, so “moving pictures”, which movies were called, had no sound, and usually, at theaters, there was someone playing a piano for the audience. Once movies with sound, or “talkies” became a thing, silent film was done pretty much for good.

It’s easy to dismiss silent films as obsolete, but these movies can be really entertaining. Guys like Laurel and Hardy, Buster Keaton, and Charlie Chaplin made the genre their own, and produced some very hilarious films over the years. One of the most popular stars of the silent era was Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle. While Arbuckle was known for his movies, he is better known for the death of Virginia Rappe, at a party at the St. Francis Hotel, in San Francisco. While Arbuckle was not responsible for her death, the press at the time painted a picture of Arbuckle as a violent rapist, which would destroy his career. History has since vindicated Arbuckle, but that was of little comfort to a comedian who had everything stolen from him.

One of Fatty Arbuckle’s early roles was in a 1913 Keystone film named The Speed Kings.

It stars Ford Sterling as Papa, Mabel Normand as Mabel, and Teddy Tetzlaff, Earl Cooper, and Barney Oldfield as themselves. The plot is that Mabel and Papa are going to watch the races, Papa is a fan of Cooper, whereas Mabel is a fan of Tetzlaff. While Cooper and Papa are talking, Tetzlaff and Mabel sneak off to a bench for some alone time before the race. Papa decided to sabotage Tetzlaff’s car to keep him from winning the race and his daughters heart.

The day of the race comes, and Papa and Mabel attend. They briefly see Barney Oldfield in his car, and in that same brief sequence, Fatty Arbuckle also make an appearance. Mabel goes to see Tetzlaff, and this enrages her father. She takes a seat, and the race begins. The racing footage itself was from several races, so it does look kind of odd, but it’s not bad. Given the technical limitations, some of the footage shot for the short is really good.

During the race, Mabel goes on to the track and stands next to Fatty Arbuckle, who waves the flag. An argument ensues, Papa attacks Fatty, and Mabel and Papa have a chase back to their seats. Papa’s sabotage works, and Tetzlaff’s car is damaged, forcing him and his mechanic to pull over and fix it, losing the lead to Cooper. Cooper wins the race, and Papa tells Cooper that Mabel is his, though Mabel runs towards Tetzlaff. Mabel and Tetzlaff embrace, while Papa decides to have another fight with Arbuckle, as the movie comes to an end.

While I did enjoy this movie overall, there were a few issues. First, the race footage looks odd when compared to more polished movies. Sometimes the race is on a track, other times it is on public roads. The second, and bigger problem is Papa. Papa is played by Ford Sterling, a well-known and respected silent film veteran. My problem with Papa is that Sterling is way too over the top with his facial and body expressions, especially when compared to the rest of the cast. He is overacting, while everyone else is acting normally, and it just looks odd. Still, I like the movie, so I’ll give it an A-.

Next week, a Charlie Chaplain classic from 1914.

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