According to IMDB, today is the anniversary of the release date of the Buster Keaton silent comedy short The Scarecrow (1920, released the very same day as Neighbors). Other sources give November 17 as the release date, and frankly I don’t care which it is, and never will, and if, in my presence, you start a conversation about something as inconsequential as a month’s difference in two versions of when a film was released, I will go somewhere else, probably somewhere where people are laughing at a funny movie.
The Scarecrow is one of Keaton’s most perfect, best-loved shorts. Although for a good long while it keeps you wondering “Why is this called The Scarecrow?”
In the first scene, we meet farm-hand Buster and his house-mate (Joe Roberts). The pair live in a house that is a model of harebrained efficiency. The breakfast table is a contraption—all the condiments, salt, pepper, syrup and so forth are on a system of strings and pulleys that the guys swing to each other in perfect coordination. The biscuits arrive on a little wagon. The dishes are attached to the table; washing them is just a matter of hosing the whole thing down. Water from the sink empties into a little duck pond. Food scraps tumble down to waiting pigs.
The two farm-hands leave the house and see the girl they both love (Sybil Seeley) — and that’s the end of their cooperation. They fight over her, and her father (Joe Keaton, Buster’s real life father) chases them off. While the room-mate dances with the girl, Buster has a run-in with a vicious dog (played by Fatty Arbuckle’s frequent canine co-star, “Luke”).
Then, in order to evade the irate father’s wrath (and his shotgun), Buster disguises himself as the titular scarecrow, a sight both funny and striking. Next, when he just happens to be kneeling in a “proposal” pose, the girl emerges from out of nowhere and accepts! They flee together on a motorcycle, providentially picking up a preacher along the way. He marries them as they speed along on the two-wheeler without ever stopping — until they fall into a river as man and wife.
For more on silent and classic screen comedy please read Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube.