Columbia Pictures' studio style when it came to short subjects was, under the direction of Jules White, often focused on delivering a lot of broad physical slapstick. This converged perfectly with an act like The Three Stooges, but was not necessarily so natural a fit for the usually more sophisticated comedy of Charley Chase, who came over from Hal Roach Studios in 1937.
Sometimes, Chase's own personal style remained apparently intact and he starred in shorts that were similar in tone to his Hal Roach output. He had been brought in to Columbia not just as a comedy actor but for his skills as a writer and director as well, so it's no surprise he had input into the content of his films. "The Nightshirt Bandit," though, was directed by Jules White himself, and the Columbia emphasis on slapstick can definitely be felt. Fortunately, it's not a problem for Charley Chase -- he is such a subtle performer (with a slapstick pedigree from Mack Sennett comedies in the 1910s) that he plays the gags that are grounded in pure physical comedy (having trouble getting dressed in the morning, everyone continually falling down a trap chair into a pool) with believability and flair that puts him above other comics.
The premise of this short is a funny one on its own: Charley is a professor of criminology who is horrified to discover that he is the "nightshirt bandit" who has been terrorizing his college. This is put across, happily, with a good deal of comedy in Chase's specialty vein even as physical gags fly faster than usual, as Charley is placed into outlandishly embarrassing situations the land him, for instance, crawling under the beds in the girls' dormitory.
Unfortunately, Fred "Snowflake" Toones' night-watchman character is on the broader end of racial stereotypes, and the "cowardly black simpleton" humor won't play at all today (and was not very original even in 1938). Largely, though, this is an enjoyable short that shows the signature Charley Chase comedy of situation and character mixing surprisingly well with the violent slapstick of Jules White.
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