My Favorite Scene In All Of Silent Comedy (Yes, All)

Greetings, lovers of pratfalls and other priceless bits of physical comedy! This post is especially for MovieMovieBlogBlog‘s See You In The Fall ‘thon. Thanks for taking the time to enjoy this post–I hope you check out all the others too! 

When I saw that my friend Steve was hosting a blogathon devoted to favorite moments in physical comedy, one scene jumped to my mind right away. But just before putting my fingers to the keyboard, I told myself, “Now, wait a sec. Let’s sift through some other favorite moments first, in case there’s another one out there that’s equally hilarious and inspiring and will cause rivulets of scintillating wit and insight to flow from your brain and become immortalized on the softly glowing laptop screen. And calm down, already.”

But it was useless to resist. Simply useless. My favorite scene in silent comedy, for sheer laughs, and for sheer novelty value when it comes to the presence of a certain comedian, is–and probably always will be–the “flirting scene” from Roscoe Arbuckle’s Good Night, Nurse! (1918).

If you live a sad, empty life due to not having watched Good Night, Nurse!, allow me to fill you in on the story line leading to this scene. Arbuckle, our main character, is a drunk whose exasperated wife takes him to the No Hope Sanitarium (it’s on Sober Street!) to be cured of his alcoholism. Buster Keaton has a meaty supporting role as the quack doctor. This was his tenth appearance in “moving pictures”–he was still a year or so away from getting his own studio. Inpatient Arbuckle quickly has misgiving when the sanitarium turns out to be giving new weight to the expression “the lunatics are running the asylum.”

One thing leads to another, and Arbuckle ends up trying to disguise himself in a nurse’s uniform in order to help a young (and pretty) female patient escape. He dons the immaculate white outfit and primly walks out into the hall, only to encounter Dr. Buster coming out of another room. And that’s where the joy begins.

Buster, taken by surprise, seems to be sizing this new lady up. And Nurse Roscoe, with a mischievous glance to the camera, decides to really get into character.

Arbuckle goodnight nurse winking

“She” winks at Buster and gives him “come hither” eyes. He responds with delightful “aw shucks” bashfulness. “She” grins at him shyly, with forefinger in mouth like a little girl. They giggle and blush and “makes eyes.” They play a kind of infantile game where Buster imitates the way Nurse Roscoe pokes at the doorframe and counts the wooden boards along the sides of the hallway. At one point Buster falls through an open door, only to have a patient gleefully smash a vase over his head. He laughs it off with some embarrassment. Finally, they sidle up to each other and playfully shove each other until Nurse Roscoe decides Buster went one shove too far.

The scene is surely one of the most priceless moments in comedy history.

And this is no less because Buster, our familiar, straight faced, “Great Stoneface” Buster, the man whose solemn countenance has inspired a thousand poetic musings and a thousand thoughtful essays, is completely cutting loose with the darn adorable-est grinning, laughing piece of campiness you ever saw. What a treat, my friends. What an indescribable treat!!

Buster’s bashful doctor is a perfect match for Arbuckle’s own gleeful campiness. Always one to have fun with female impersonation gags (audiences back then loved ’em), Arbuckle pulls out all the stops in this scene. There’s a strong whiff of improvisation about it, with Buster following Arbuckle’s lead while clearly trying his darnest not to completely lose it (awww).

Just imagine how much the crew was laughing during the take (takes?) of this sequence. Heck, if someone would get me a time machine I’ll go witness it myself.

The Comique gang must’ve known the scene would be a sure-fire hit, since it was featured in gag photos that were used in lobby cards and other promotional pictures. Even today, it easily stands out as the funniest thing in a (very funny) picture.

Arbuckle Goodnight Nurse

Buster would go on to many wondrous and awe-inspiring things, for which I and many fans around the world are infinitely grateful, but in the case of Goodnight, Nurse! the world owes a debt of gratitude to Roscoe Arbuckle for setting the stage for this beautiful bit of Buster buffoonery.

Wanna take a look? Here’s the best quality version of this classic short that’s available online–with a perfect soundtrack, to boot! The “flirting scene” starts at 15:07.

Check it out! Enjoy! Indulge! And as always, feel free to share your thoughts below. I’ll close this piece with one last, priceless image.

This is getting to be too much pricelessness for my mind to comprehend. I may need to lie down. Over and out!

29 thoughts on “My Favorite Scene In All Of Silent Comedy (Yes, All)

  1. Pingback: The SEE YOU IN THE ‘FALL’ BLOGATHON is here! |

  2. Pingback: Day 3 recap of the SEE YOU IN THE ‘FALL’ BLOGATHON |

  3. I had not seen this one before; thanks for posting the link to the video. The flirting scene is a classic indeed. Boy, they burned some calories making this film! I assume this is from the Kino Arbuckle/Keaton set that unfortunately seems to be out of print, is that right? I wonder who does the music in these? It is excellent.

    • Edit: Now I see Dwight’s mention of the Arbuckle/Keaton Collection above—need to read more carefully.

      By the way, my favorite thing in this series of films would have to be Al and Roscoe showing up as students at the girls’ school in Butcher Boy. I can’t watch that without cracking up!

  4. Yesssss, this scene! This GLORIOUS scene. I think I was subconsciously holding my breath while reading through your post, mainly because smiling Buster??? My heart can only take so much, but I never tire of it. And Roscoe is a gem, of course.

    • I would give almost anything to see outtakes and goofs from this scene–assuming it was taken more than once. Actually, scratch that–outtakes and goofs of ANYTHING on the Comique set would be the DVD extras to end all DVD extras. 😉 Too bad such footage doesn’t seem to have survived.

  5. I went to watch only the particular segment, but I’ll see the full short later. What a funny moment! And isn’t Buster the cutest guy, one we would like tohug and kiss?
    Strangely, when you said “my favorite scene in all comedy”, one scene appeared clear in my mind: when the Marx brothers manage to put some 15 people inside a tiny ship cabin in A Night at the Opera!
    Don’t forget to read my contribution to the blogathon! 🙂

  6. Another excellent piece, Lea! Enjoyed it so much. Roscoe is terrific. Buster smiling is worth the price of admission any time! The nurse scene is one I’ve watched so many times whenever I need a laugh. So glad you spotlighted it here. Love!

    • Talk about the perfect pick me up scene for the end of a tough day, eh? Few things are more fun than showing it to someone for the first time, too! Thanks for stopping by, Shaune.

  7. Wonderful scene, indeed. Buster and Fatty are priceless here. Anyway I can’t just pick a single kind of best comic scene from the silent era and I’m totally unable to say if this is my favourite of them all. There are too many! My brain could explode if just thinking in that task. There are great ones even from some of the commedians I feel less atracted to. Thank you for your entry.

  8. I’ve become a big fan of the Arbuckle/Keaton films recently. Debating on getting the Flicker Alley MOD dvds or wait to see what’s on the upcoming Arbuckle blu ray set. Tough choice because there’s a few I’ve still not seen and I want to see them now!

    • The old Flicker Alley set is the one I have, it has wonderful scores and I really recommend it. Haven’t seen the the MOD DVDs, but I’m believe it’s the same awesome material. I can hardly wait for that new Arbuckle set, it’s going to be fantastic!! *hops around*

  9. If it weren’t for you… long would it have taken before I discovered this fantastic short?!!!!

    First off, the opening scene, in the rain……holy christmas!!!! Then the scene when he brings the organ grinder and the gypsy girl back to his house! Then the scene where they admit him to the hospital! Just the idea that there’s a headline: “Scientists Discoer Cure For Alcholism!”

    Then there’s the scene where he and the girl escape! Oh my god, she is amazing!

    And then there’s the flirting scene! I purposely didn’t want to read this entry you wrote until I had seen it for myself! When Buster first starts just the initial HINT of cracking……I actually stopped and rewound it at first, to see if I was imagining it!!! If it had just stopped there…I would have been endlessly fascinated!

    This kind of making woo-woo faces….you see it ripped off in so many comedies. (homages, I mean!). I’m thinking Woody Allen in “Love And Death” has a great scene like it….when they’re at the opera.

    What can you say……the whole short is hysterical, brilliant…..and then you have this extraordinary scene……you’re right, Lea!!! O to be able to have been a fly on the wall….or a member of the crew!!!!!

    THANK YOU for pointing this one out! I can see why it’s your favorite, and it’s definitely a Hall of Famer!!!!!

  10. Pingback: My Top 10 Favorite Silent Films (So Far) | Silent-ology

  11. Pingback: Thoughts On: “Moonshine” And “Good Night, Nurse” | Silent-ology

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