January 30, 1916 [He Did and He Didn't]

Windsor McKay's rarebit fiend, like said fiend's gorge, rises again--this time rumbling within the stretched-taut waistcoat of "Fatty" Arbuckle, the jealous M.D.—and asking us to imagine Roscoe as a medical man is an even greater stretch—but never mind. The husband, his wife, and the childhood sweetheart eat—round and glistening lobsters, tinted red, promising unquiet dreams in the mere curve of their carapaces within the serving-platter—and do indeed dream: of thwarted trysts, and acrobatic burglars, and falls from high places, and fatal retribution and revenge.

But it's not until the end that we know the truth. As far as the picture informs us, Fatty did—before we are suddenly informed he didn't—kill his wife, that is—or thought he had (by strangling!), until she revived and gunned him down—after the visiting sweetie got his. Until then, it's all silly Keystone-ery, with grim-faced murder as the climax—and then it's all "just a dream," and the two men grin and jostle each other back to their respective beds.

But two uneasy questions remain:

Why is this funny? Yes, it's a variation on the "burlesque suicide"; but that's a gag I've never found particularly humorous—and not because of moral sensitivity (although that may be a part of it), but I am simply puzzled by the point of the joke. And I suppose it is a matter of scruples: there are other comic situations I find either simply tedious (How many times can I watch someone fall down and think it funny?) or too cruel—and murder is an obvious one. But I find even lesser violences unappealing: Last week I was witness to a prank, and was among the few who didn't laugh when some boys threw a cat into a crowded eatery, resulting in a scene surprisingly reflective of Arbuckle's usual milieu. And I'll admit that at first the squeals and overturned chairs made me grin—but I saw the cat limping away, and wondered how much harm is necessary for a chuckle. I am trying hard not to puff myself up as some scion of morality; but sometimes I simply can't laugh at random misfortune.

And the second question: Why don't we see the wife's dream? Again, in the end all the mayhem of He Did and He Didn't is revealed as products of the men's churning stomachs, while the wife sleeps blissfully through it all. Interesting: In the dreams, she shoots Fatty, so perhaps there's another dream here: the picture itself, dreamed by the wife, conjuring the erasure of husband and sweetheart. And a good job of it she does. After all my fine moral uprightness, I must admit I'm glad someone finally plugged Fatty. The more I look at his faux-innocent mugging mug, the more I'd like to see him get it. And, thanks to America's favorite Balloonatic, I can forgive myself that last sentence by asserting, "I'm only joking."


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