"Hey, Pop!" is Roscoe Arbuckle's talkie debut, and also his return to the screen after the long and unfair blacklisting that ruined his career. After he grins at us in the opening credits, the film begins with a shot of Roscoe smiling broadly while he repeats his window-cleaning gag from his silent films. (Many comedians recycled their old gags; Arbuckle did it more often than most, but in this case we'll forgive him.) Roscoe is clearly delighted to be back on screen, and we want to welcome him.
But "Hey, Pop!" isn't a very good film. Roscoe plays a butcher here. He meets an orphan boy who looks about nine years old. The kid is on the run from the authorities, who want to lock him in the mean old orphanage. There were often flashes of astonishingly bad taste in Arbuckle's films, and one of them occurs here. When the child-welfare authorities arrives, Roscoe sneaks the orphan past them by disguising him as a slab of beef. There's a shocking camera set-up in which Roscoe carries some "beef" slung over his shoulder: the beef is obviously a small boy wrapped in a thin piece of butcher's cloth, and we can clearly see that the boy is naked underneath the translucent cloth! I'm astonished that this sequence was ever filmed, much less included in the movie. It would have been funnier if the boy kept his clothes on while Roscoe drew a moustache on the boy's lip, gave him a cigar, and passed him off as a midget.
Roscoe and the boy (minus his clothes) go on the lam, and they need disguises ... so Roscoe dresses up as a woman and he disguises the boy as a baby in a pram. They accidentally end up in a baby parade, and they have to keep playing their roles. (Of course they win the baby contest, so "Mama" Arbuckle has to give a speech at the judging stand.) Despite his bulk, Arbuckle was one of the very few male comedians who could convincingly impersonate a woman ... but there's something quite tasteless about a man disguised as a woman playing a scene with a 9-year-old boy dressed as a baby, especially after the nudity we've witnessed earlier.
The last gag in the movie (a well-framed long shot) is a funny surprise, just a little bit poignant, but most of what comes before it isn't funny at all.
I'm from Britain, so it pains me to report that - when "Hey, Pop!" was first released - it was immediately banned by the British film censors, sight unseen. Arbuckle made five more films, but all of them were denied exhibition certificates in Britain.
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