Twice in as many years one
of the missing Keaton-Arbuckle shorts has turned up.
First it was Oh, Doctor (release date Sept. 30,
1917), which is now available on the Slapstick
Encyclopedia series from Kino.
In that one, Keaton plays Arbuckle's obnoxious little
boy, dressed in a sailor suit and laughing and
mugging his way through the film.
Now, it's The Cook, the last
film Keaton made before entering the army on July 7,
1918, in Long Beach, California, where this short was
filmed. The film was released on Sept. 15, 1918,
after Keaton had left to serve in the U.S. Army in
The newly discovered print
of The Cook was shown Wednesday, May 26, 1999, at
UCLA. The film was found by Jan Olsson, who teaches
at Stockholm University and is currently a visiting
professor at USC. He found the print while looking
through cans of nitrate material belonging to the
Norwegian Film Institute.
Although The Cook is not
complete - it's missing the beginning and ending of
each reel, plus some gags in between - it's a real
gem - in fact, one of the best of the series the two
comedians made together before Arbuckle graduated to
features and Keaton to making his own films. The
Cook is fast-paced, full of closeups and great
gags, with a simple story that makes a reasonable
amount of sense.
The film (called Fatty Paa
Nye Eventyr in the Norwegian title) stars Arbuckle as
the Cook; Buster and Arbuckle's own pet pit bull Luke
are his assistants. Al St. John plays Shotgun Jack
"from the Wildest Wild West," a
Scene One: In the Café
sepia-toned print begins with Arbuckle at the stove,
doing his famous knife trick - nonchalantly tossing a
large knife in the air where it does a couple of
somersaults and lands point down in the table behind
Out in the café dining
room, Buster is enamored of Alice Lake. During a
dance, she is swung around, legs in the air, knocking
Buster off his feet and sending him flipping through
the kitchen door and headfirst onto a butcher block
just as Arbuckle comes down on his neck with a giant
Arbuckle, back at the stove,
fills a coffee cup from a large vat, and then a soup
bowl from the same vat (which will later contain milk
and, finally, Roscoe's clothes). He tosses the cup,
saucer and then soup bowl across the kitchen. Cut to
Keaton coming through the swinging kitchen door,
casually catching the dishes with precision timing,
juggling with them and exiting back into the café.
The juggling routine may remind viewers of The
Waiter's Ball (1916).
In the dining room, Buster
blows a vast cloud of powder off Alice Lake. Arbuckle
in the kitchen repeats the knife trick. A Fatima
dancer entertains the customers. Her dance is so
infectious that soon Buster is dancing, too. Off in
the kitchen Arbuckle begins to cavort, draping
himself in a brassière of saucepans, with a dustpan
for a skirt. He's so caught up in the music that he
dances out into the café and starts smashing dishes
with gusto. He sees a string of sausages; for him, à
la Cleopatra, they become an asp. He spies a huge
cabbage on a platter, and suddenly he's Salomé and
the cabbage head is the head of John the Baptist.
By now, everyone is dancing.
Al St. John, the cad, steals Alice Lake from Buster,
and begins to dance with her. (In the background, we
see Keaton crack up for a moment. With only one other
exception, however, he retains his traditional
deadpan demeanor throughout the film.)
Cut to Keaton with a bass
fiddle, apparently about to break up the dancing duo
with some sort of gag. Unfortunately, the gag is
missing from this print. Next thing we know, Luke the
dog has taken matters into his own teeth, attaching
his incisors to the seat of St. John's pants, egged
on by Buster (who laughs again). Luke chases St. John
out of the café and all over the outside - chasing
him up a high ladder and eventually up the tracks of
a high roller coaster. This bit is almost identical
to the one in The Scarecrow, in which Luke chases
Buster up a ladder.
Scene Two: Spaghetti Dinner
Cut to a long table. At one end
is John Rand; at the other is Bobby Dunn, both fine
comedians who are featured nicely in the film.
Between them are Arbuckle, Keaton and an enormous
bowl of that exotic food, spaghetti.
How to eat this stuff?
Buster crams some into a cup, cuts off the excess
with a razor and sticks his face into the cup.
Arbuckle nearly swallows his tie along with his
spaghetti; he winds a strand spring-like around his
finger, then pops the finger into his mouth, sliding
the spaghetti off. Arbuckle flails away at the stuff
with an egg beater; Buster gathers a bunch on his
fork, and cuts off the hanging strands with scissors.
Now we see Arbuckle knitting it with his knife and
fork. Over on the left end of the table, John Rand
slurps a strand out of a funnel into his mouth.
A long shot of the table
shows that Rand and Dunn have each gotten one end of
a particularly long (and seemingly strong) strand,
which hangs suspended over the length of the table.
Arbuckle and Keaton survey the scene, then drape
their napkins over the strand as if it were a
Scene Three: At the Beach
|Arbuckle puts his apron
and hat on Luke the dog, gets his civvies out
of the vat, and heads to the beach. Cut to
the amusement park, and Goatland, where
Keaton and Alice Lake are being carried in a
begins to fish with a very long pole - he and
Luke are silhouetted in the surf at sunset -
almost identical to the scene in Fatty and
Mabel Adrift (1916). Luke helps by chasing a
giant fish down the beach.
Cut to Al St. John
chasing Alice Lake. She jumps in the water to escape
him, at which point Luke picks up the scent and takes
off after St. John again.
Arbuckle and Keaton hear
Alice's cries and set off out rescue her. On their
way, they spy a coil of rope on the dock; while
they're arguing over who will use the rope, a third
man appears behind them and walks away with the rope.
The two retrieve the rope, each grabbing a different
end, running off and knocking the man down.
They head off to save Alice,
eventually landing in the water themselves.
It's at this climactic
moment that the print of The Cook abruptly ends,
tantalizing us with the possibilities of how the film
If, after all these decades,
lost films are still turning up, perhaps there's hope
yet of finding the lost footage from Hard Luck, The
Cameraman, Daydreams or the ending to The Cook.
Someday we may even find out what Buster did with
that bass fiddle.
Thanks to David B. Pearson of
Arbucklemania for the photos
artwork and layouts copyright
Victoria Sainte-Claire for
The Damfinos: The International Buster Keaton
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