Thursday, December 12, 2013
The Big Baby
The optical trick of surrounding an adult actor with oversized furniture and props to make him look like a small child was employed by Roscoe Arbuckle years before it was employed by either Harry Langdon (Tramp, Tramp, Tramp, 1926) or Laurel and Hardy (Brats, 1930). The effect was used for the prologue of Brewster's Millions (1921), an adaptation of a popular farce novel by George Barr McCutcheon. The following description of the scene was included in a Film Daily review dated February 6, 1921: "Roscoe Arbuckle is not only a riot as young Brewster, but he makes a bid for the first prize in versatility when he appears as a one year old. The introduction is immense, for 'Fatty' is shown in a high chair. He wears a baby bonnet and is shown playing with two pieces of lump sugar which he clumsily handles (infant-like), when suddenly he surprises the audience and delights himself with rolling them, which despite his youth indicates an inborn knowledge of the African game."
The stills from this lost film leave no doubt that the filmmakers went a long way with set design and costuming to make Arbuckle look convincing as an infant.
However, the question becomes why the comedian would play a shrewd game of dice with sugar cubes when this less than childlike activity posed a risk of shattering the illusion. What makes Brats so enchanting is the fact that Laurel and Hardy fully commit to their roles as children.