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 France.

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 trouble-maker.

Scene One: In the Café

The 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 him.

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 meat cleaver.

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 washline.

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 goat-drawn cart.
Arbuckle 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. Fish

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 concluded.

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.

Credits:

Thanks to David B. Pearson of

Arbucklemania for the photos from
The Cook.

Site artwork and layouts copyright
Victoria Sainte-Claire for
The Damfinos: The International Buster Keaton Society, 1999.

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