The Cook (1918)
There isn't much of a story to this little picture, and many of the bits are lifted whole cloth from the earlier short, The Waiter's Ball (1916), with at least three of the main actors: Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle, Al St. John (Fatty's nephew, as it happens), and Alice Lake. Not that it matters: Arbuckle directed both pictures, so he could do what he wanted. This time around, in 1918, he added spice in the form of 23-year-old Buster Keaton, who had not been on the scene the first time around.
Arbuckle is still the cook. Keaton replaces St. John as the waiter who likes Alice Lake, who is still the pretty restaurant hostess. Al St. John gets to be a creepy drunk masher from whom Lake needs to be rescued, and Arbuckle's real life dog, "Luke" the Pit Bull, gets to chase him up ladders and bite him on the seat of the pants a bunch of times. The beginnings and ends of some of the reels are missing, which gives the short an especially jumpy and disconnected feel, but the skill with which Arbuckle and Keaton work their slapstick magic is completely worth the time. And even though the gag is repeated a few times, watching Fatty toss a glass of milk and a bowl of soup to Buster who catches them on the fly without spilling a drop is priceless.
Keaton is less stoic of expression than in his later films, though still fairly deadpan. In The Cook, he's a handsome little devil, pretty flirty, and very cute when he's angry. He gets to dance an exotic, Egyptian-ish gavotte with a skinny belly dancer while Arbuckle does a fantastic parody of Salome in the kitchen in a bra made of pots and an artfully placed dustpan. Keaton does some spectacular falling and diving, and it's clear that he and Fatty Arbuckle are having a grand time. The Cook would be last film Keaton made before going off to fight in France as a private in the U.S. Army. We're all very lucky he came back.
It's a beautiful, silly, expert ballet, but for restaurant staff, their hands are unbelievably dirty.
But don't take my word for it: watch it for yourself!
I'll do just about anything a movie tells me to do. Unless it tells me wrong...
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