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.
“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.
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!