The Rough House is a 22 minute two-reeler starring Fatty Arbuckle and Buster Keaton – the second of their films together. A brief Wikipedia article about the short states that this was the first film in which Keaton served as director.
There is a sort of story mixed in with the slapstick comedy, but it’s kind of hard to root out.
The story begins in a house by the sea – and we see some brief (but interesting) shots which show us that, indeed, the house is next to a large body of water. Mr. Rough (Fatty Arbuckle) is in bed early in the morning and he is smoking a cigarette but nods back off to sleep. The cigarette falls from his hand which results in a fire in the bedroom.
Rough awakes and sees the fire and begins the process of putting it out. He casually walks back and forth to the kitchen and gets water, a cup at a time, and even pauses for a snack on the way. His efforts have no effect on the fire and with the bed now fully engulfed, his wife (Alice Lake) and mother-in-law (Agnes Neilson), who are in the next room, get involved.
Eventually, they get the attention of a gardener (Buster Keaton) through the bedroom window and he provides a garden hose, which is used to put the fire out. When it’s all said and done Rough uses the hose to get a drink.
With this crises passed, the action shifts to the kitchen where a cook (Al St. John) and a female servant are preparing food. A delivery boy (Buster Keaton) arrives on a bicycle with a delivery and he likes the looks of the young female employee. This causes the cook and delivery boy to engage in an argument, complete with knives, that wreaks further havoc on the house.
At one point, Rough gets whacked and sees stars. During this process we are treated to some pretty high-tech 1917 graphics.
Here’s where this all starts to make sense: The delivery boy and cook are arrested after the argument spills outdoors. When they are hauled into the police station, instead of punishing them, they are conscripted into the ranks of the police force.
Meanwhile, back at the house, the Roughs are hosting a dinner and Mr. Rough has been reduced to being the cook. That’s not successful in any way. But, the important guests turn out to be jewel thieves so who cares?
All of this in 22 minutes.
According to imdb.com, this film was one of only two movies made at the Norma Talmadge Studio in New York City.