The Great Outdoors (Hal Roach, 1923)
The Spat family – that is, J. Tewksbury Spat (Frank Butler), his wife Mrs. J. Tewksbury Spat (Laura Roessing), and her brother Ambrose (Sidney D’Albrook) – are out camping. None of them being entirely on the ball, they neglected to bring fishing poles. When hunger sets in, they jump in the river and try to catch trout by hand. This… doesn’t go well. All they succeed in doing is getting soaking wet, and that’s when they realize they didn’t bring anything else to wear. They had better work something out before the sun sets and they freeze to death. Tewksbury’s starts a fire and Ambrose rigs up a clothesline to dry off their things. Trouble is, the clothesline runs directly over the fire, which they don’t notice until they’ve burned every last stitch of clothing they have.
As chance would have it, camping nearby is group of outlaws – three of them, in fact: two men and a woman (Katherine Grant, George Rowe, Jules Mendel). Tewks gets an idea: he goes near their camp, just out of sight, and tosses a rock in the river, loudly exclaiming “There goes all our money!” The outlaws strip down to their underwear and jump in after the supposed loot. The Spats then help themselves to their discarded clothes. Unfortunately, they were a bit too slow and the outlaws see them as they’re getting away. Commence the chase.
The chase leads to the railroad tracks, where the Spats have several misadventures with the pursuing outlaws and with a railroad bull who doesn’t take kindly to them hopping on his train. At the end of the line is “the final disaster”: a cop spots the Spats climbing down off a boxcar and, given their dress, takes them for the wanted outlaws. Fade to black as they’re lead away in handcuffs.
The Great Outdoors (1923) is the fourth installment of the 24-part Spat Family Comedies series. How many Spat Comedies survive, I don’t know. Including this one, I’ve seen three. All seem to follow the same basic formula, which I can most easily describe by saying Tewks is the Skipper, Mrs. Spat is Mary Ann, and Ambrose is Gilligan.
I enjoyed Great Outdoors up until the train sequence, when the film seemed to lose focus. There were some good scenes there, and some scary-looking stunts, but they just didn’t fit in with the camping theme. I thought the ending was decent, even if I guessed that was the direction it was headed as soon as the switching clothes gimmick was introduced. All in all, I suppose the good outweighs the bad in this short, so it has my recommendation.
My rating: I like it.