June 10, 2010

Buster & Fatty: Good Night, Nurse! (1918)

Good Night, Nurse! (1918)

Good Night, Nurse! is probably best remembered as the short where Buster and Fatty (in drag, naturally) flirt up a storm—they smirk, they grin, they play coy, Fatty bites his finger suggestively and Buster shyly scratches at the door. It’s an overwhelmingly ridiculous scene made bearable, delightful even, by the actors’ natural charms. 

But first, the plot: Fatty is a bum whose wife gets fed up of his drinking and carousing and has him admitted to a sanitarium to dry out. Buster plays an over-eager surgeon who, when introduced, has a rather ominous amount of blood on his smock. Al St. John plays his assistant. Also joining the fun are Alice Lake as a crazy inmate who takes an immediate liking to Fatty.

As soon as Fatty enters the facility, of course, he tries to escape. Buster and Al struggle to strap him down to a table and in one neat shot from Fatty’s point of view, the camera looses focus as he fades into an ether-induced sleep. What follows is madness: Fatty changes into a nurses’ uniform in an escape attempt (therein lies the flirting), he engages the staff in the wildest pillow fight with the highest down-count I’ve ever seen, and accidentally enters a race for ‘200-pounders’ and wins. However, these events turn out to be too good to be true: it really has been a dream all along. Fatty wakes up on the ether table once more and the film ends.

Unfortunately, the ‘it was all a dream’ conceit feels more like a cheat than a narrative innovation. The film’s pacing is somewhat wonky and some characters, especially the crazy girl, feel tacked on. Good Night, Nurse! is not the best Arbuckle-Keaton outing, although definitely not the worst thing you could choose to watch.

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