Good Night, Nurse! (1918)

  • Year: 1918
  • Released: 08 Jul 1918
  • Country: United States
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  • Available in: 720p, 1080p,
  • Language: None, English
  • MPA Rating: N/A
  • Genre: Short, Comedy
  • Runtime: 26 min
  • Writer: Roscoe ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle
  • Director: Roscoe ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle
  • Cast: Roscoe ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle, Buster Keaton, Al St. John
  • Keywords: slapstick comedy, sanitarium, escaped patient, silent film, rainstorm, foot race,
41% – Critics
41% – Audience

Good Night, Nurse! Storyline

An inebriated man stands in front of a drug store during a rain storm trying to light a cigarette. Back at his home, his wife and butler see a report on the No Hope Clinic’s success curing alcoholics. When hubby arrives home, bringing two gypsies and their monkey, his wife insists it’s time for the clinic. Once there, he gets a look at various surgeries, and he wants out – assisted at first by a woman who believes she’s a mermaid. He pretends to drown, he dresses as a woman, and, when running away, he inadvertently joins the town’s annual fat man foot race. But can he outrun the men in white coats?—

Good Night, Nurse! Photos

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Good Night, Nurse! Movie Reviews

Arbuckle Teams Up With Keaton To Produce A Classic

There’s an old phrase, “Good Night Nurse,” so popular in the 1920’s. The expression meant a disastrous or a surprise ending. It originated from Roscoe Arbuckle’s July 1918 “Good Night, Nurse!” During one scene, Fatty disguises himself as a nurse trying to escape a sanitarium his wife had committed him to for his excessive drinking. When he’s confronted by the hospital’s head doctor, played by Buster Keaton, he begins to flirt like a fourth grader with him in the hallway. Keaton returns the shy mannerisms, creating a classic scene that is still talked about today.

One of the reasons Arbuckle was so impressed with Keaton is the synergy both created when they spent hours bouncing ideas off one another and expounded those jokes into a coherent, yet memorable progression of visual compositions on film. Keaton returned a year later after being honorably discharged from the Army, and appeared in a trio of films with Arbuckle before he was rewarded with his own film production unit under movie executive Joseph Schenck.

Did I see this movie, or did I dream it?

I tend to enjoy the comedies made by Buster Keaton and Roscoe Arbuckle during Buster’s movie-making apprenticeship, but I can also see how they may not be to everyone’s taste. Compared to Buster’s later solo work these early films are primitive in technique and content, haphazardly structured, and at times vulgar, but even so, at their best they have a wild unpredictability and a kind of loopy charm that grows on you after you’ve seen a few of them. You never know where the story is going, and you sense that the filmmakers didn’t know either, that they were making up everything as they went along, and this quality can be refreshing and exhilarating. Usually, anyhow.

I first saw Good Night, Nurse! as part of a Keaton retrospective at NYC’s Film Forum in the early 1990s, but the print shown on that occasion was in poor condition and obviously incomplete, so much so that the story was incoherent. At one point I even wondered if the surviving pieces of the film had been spliced back together in the wrong sequence. Now that the movie has been restored from better components for its DVD release, I realize it was a bizarre piece of work to begin with, a dark comedy with a very loose plot that unfolds like a disjointed dream.

The film begins with an extended storm sequence. We find a drunken Roscoe teetering about in front of a corner drug store, trying to light a cigarette in the wind. (Watch closely as a woman with an umbrella is blown Roscoe’s way by the storm — that’s Buster in drag!) When Roscoe finally makes his way home, bringing along an Italian organ-grinder, a gypsy dancer, and a trained monkey, his long-suffering wife decides that an intervention is in order, and checks Roscoe into the No Hope Sanitarium. There we meet crazed inmate Alice Lake, Al St. John in a dual role as both a doctor and a patient swathed in bandages, and most strikingly of all, young Buster Keaton as Dr. Hampton, who suavely enters the operating room in a bloody smock, sharpening a pair of steak knives. Soon Roscoe has swallowed a thermometer, provoked a frenzied pillow fight among the patients, and donned a nurse’s uniform to flirt with Dr. Hampton. If you’ve never seen Buster smile on screen, check out the flirtation sequence here, where he matches Roscoe grin-for-grin. Eventually, Roscoe escapes from the sanitarium and everyone winds up outside, participating for a cross-country marathon race. (Again, it feels like a dream: “Then suddenly we were all outside, running a marathon,” etc.) The race sequence is topped with a final surprise twist that isn’t actually much of a surprise, but it wraps up the whole imbroglio on an appropriately weird, anti-climactic note. What were you expecting after all that, a real ending?

In his autobiography Buster devotes a lot of space to the elaborate practical jokes he and his good pal Roscoe Arbuckle used to cook up, when they were on top of the world and full of youthful high spirits. Good Night, Nurse! captures the flavor of those heady days as well as any movie they made together. It may not be their best comedy, but it has a wacky, prankster-like quality that’s quite appealing for those willing to go along for the ride.


The sequence in the rain that opens this short is fantastic, maybe one of the best comedic portrayals of being drunk. There are so many funny bits here, including Arbuckle repeatedly trying to light a cigarette in the downpour, a woman with an umbrella (Buster Keaton!) being blown into him and then down the street horizontally by the gale, and Arbuckle trying to mail a fellow drunk (Snitz Edwards) home after writing his address on his shirt and stamping his forehead. Check out the high kick to the face Keaton gives him, one of two in the film (the other is delivered by Joe Keaton, Buster’s father).

His wife (Alice Lake) has seen an advertisement that claims alcoholism can be cured by an operation at the “No Hope” Sanitarium (never mind that right below it is an article claiming sensationally “Seasickness Cured!”). At the entrance to the place, they meet a heavily bandaged man walking out on crutches (Joe Keaton) saying he is fully cured which gives Arbuckle pause, and allows for a little effect work when he throws the man his crutches and he catches them in perfect walking pose, done with reverse motion. When they get inside, we meet the doctor (Buster Keaton) who has blood all over his surgical gown, sharpening a giant knife as if he were going to carve up a holiday roast. We get a further glimpse of the wickedness of Arbuckle’s humor when a “crazy” woman (also Alice Lake) runs into the room and throws herself into his arms. With his wife looking on, he realizes he can take advantage of the situation and after looking at the viewer, gives her a couple of kisses.

Much of the second half consists of trying to physically subdue Arbuckle to have the operation, or capture him when he tries to escape. Some of that is typical slapstick fare, like a pillow fight that results in a million feathers in the air, but there are lots of other enjoyable bits, starting with the camera gradually going out of focus when Arbuckle is sedated. At one point he disguises himself as a female nurse and then flirts awkwardly with Dr. Keaton, both men putting a finger in their mouth and bashfully looking away, Buster grinning sheepishly, a hilarious moment. Arbuckle shows once again that he was light on his feet, a result of having had dance lessons. Just watch him gracefully leap sideways into a pool to distance himself from the woman who during the escape now wants to go back, just as he pranced around so well in his living room early on. He finds himself in a race of the “200-Pound club” which amusingly has the other contestants keel over by the side of the road, and him dashing to victory.

It’s certainly not politically correct today and interesting to note it wasn’t politically correct in its day either, something that would eventually come back to unfairly haunt Arbuckle when he was put on trial in the Virginia Rappe case. Enjoy him here with his pal Buster, possibly at the height of his career.