Oh Doctor! (1917)

  • Year: 1917
  • Released: 30 Sep 1917
  • Country: United States
  • Adwords: N/A
  • IMDb: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0008377/
  • Rotten Tomatoes: https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/oh_doctor
  • Metacritics:
  • Available in: 720p, 1080p,
  • Language: None, English
  • MPA Rating: N/A
  • Genre: Comedy, Short
  • Runtime: 23 min
  • Writer: Jean C. Havez, Joseph Anthony Roach
  • Director: Roscoe ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle
  • Cast: Roscoe ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle, Buster Keaton, Al St. John
  • Keywords: silent film, betting, marital discord, fake illness, short film,

Oh Doctor! Storyline

Instead of a having a good time at the horse-races with his wife and his pampered son Junior, the prosperous Dr. I. O. Dine ends up losing all his money, after betting on the same losing horse with a reckless horse-racing gambler. However, as the gambler and his femme-fatale sweetheart refuse to take their financial loss lying down, they devise a bold plan so they won’t need to return home empty-handed. But the ever-watchful Junior already knows much. Can he save the day?—Nick Riganas

Oh Doctor! Photos

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Oh Doctor! Movie Reviews

Delightful comedy about horrible people

Roscoe Arbuckle plays a rude family man who argues bitterly with his wife and pushes around his young son (played by a twenty-one year old Buster Keaton!). When he is lured in by a greedy vamp who, along with her thieving cohort played by Al St. John, his wife’s jewels are endangered, in addition to Arbuckle’s own finances, which are all at stake in a horse race.

Oh Doctor! is one of Arbuckle’s stronger efforts, with more of a coherent plot and character-based gags. Arbuckle plays a truly horrendous person, which is funny in a dark way. Al St. John seems to be a love or hate performer in my circles, but he’s great here as the scheming conman. Folks used to Buster Keaton’s stoic manner will be shocked to see him mug so here, crying and laughing and whining with his mouth gaping open at its fullest capacity. Especially hilarious when you read interviews of his from the 1950s and 1960s in which he proclaimed he could not smile in front of a camera ever. That’s show business, kiddos.

In which Roscoe portrays a deeply dysfunctional doctor dad

Considered a missing film until quite recently, Oh Doctor! marked the fifth collaboration between Roscoe Arbuckle and Buster Keaton. The surviving print turned up in Norway, which might account for the somewhat awkward English of the re-translated title cards, but no matter; this is an exciting and fascinating find for silent comedy buffs, and an offbeat film in many respects. Not hilariously funny, but novel and enjoyable in its own way, and of course a real treat for fans of the two stars.

Viewers who’ve seen Arbuckle’s other “Comique” brand comedies will notice right away that Oh Doctor! is plot-driven to an unusual degree for this series. In some of the other films it seems as though the guys started shooting with only enough material for a one-reel short, then had to switch gears midway through and come up with a whole new storyline. (You find that in some of the Sennett comedies too, suggested by weird hybrid professions for the lead comic: barber/jailer, sheriff/photographer, etc.) But for this film screenwriter Jean Havez provided a strong storyline, and while some of the gags appear to have been improvised along the way, director Arbuckle and his crew clearly stuck to the script for the most part. Most of the laughs derive not from slapstick or pratfalls — although you’ll find a fair amount of roughhouse here — but from the situation. Oh Doctor! is essentially a situation comedy with farcical elements, and that alone makes it unusual in Arbuckle & Keaton’s output from this early period.

More striking still is Buster’s far-from-deadpan performance as Roscoe’s obnoxious son. He wears a sort of modified Buster Brown outfit, and plays much younger than his actual age (only 21!) at the time the film was made. Although Buster can be glimpsed smiling, laughing and weeping in some of the other collaborations with Arbuckle, right up to The Garage, their last co-starring effort, he really mugs up a storm in Oh Doctor!, sobbing with enthusiasm in almost every scene. Then again, he has good reason to cry, for he has one mean daddy here. From the very first scene “Dr. Holepoke” is hostile to his son, deliberately sticking him with a pin, kicking him, pushing him over a table, etc. Sure, this is only a silent comedy from a simpler era, and maybe we’re all too self-conscious about this sort of behavior now, but still as I watch this I wonder which came first: the kid’s bratty behavior or Dad’s slapping and punching?

It’s notable that Roscoe Arbuckle, like W.C. Fields later on, often chose to portray such unattractive characters, as he does here, and that audiences loved him anyway — up to a point, that is. In this film Roscoe is not only mean to his son, he’s chilly towards his wife, flirts openly with a dark-eyed vamp at the race track (where he also brusquely snatches his wife’s binoculars away), squanders his family’s money on a losing horse, and deliberately crashes his car into a crowd of pedestrians so he can distribute his business card to the injured. Then to top off his perfect day, he gets tipsy with the race track vamp in her apartment, and for the finale, steals cash from a bookie joint while impersonating a cop, stuffing wads of bills into his clothing. In the final shot, when Mrs. Holepoke kicks her husband, he kicks her back.

And yet, despite all of the above, when this movie is over we somehow like Roscoe nevertheless. On screen he is doggedly sympathetic, and even when his character acts like a jerk his own likability as a performer transcends everything. Arbuckle had a special star quality, and it lasted until his luck ran out. But he shines in Oh Doctor!, and we can be grateful that this highly unusual and entertaining film has been rediscovered.

Oh Doctor! was another enjoyable Arbuckle/Keaton short

This is yet another Roscoe Arbuckle/Buster Keaton short I watched on the DVD collection of the best of Arbuckle/Keaton. In this one, Arbuckle is married with Buster playing his obnoxious son. Perhaps because I knew this was a slapstick comedy with Keaton being an expert at acrobatics, I laughed every time Arbuckle shoved his “son” upside his head with the result of Buster constantly wailing! Buster also laughs at such inappropriate places as when the horse at the racetrack Roscoe secretly bets on keeps running in circles! Plot-which also has Arbuckle flirting with another woman unbeknownst to his wife-gets confusing at times but whenever he and Keaton do their stunts, the short provides some decent laughs. So on that note, Oh Doctor! is worth a look.