[This is based on the 2001 Kino laserdisk version, which is fragmentary. They used the available film footage, three still photographs, and bridging titles to create a sense of the complete film.]
Day Dreams is an epistolary film of sorts: four short episodes are stitched together by the narrative device of letters. It opens on a girl (Renee Adoree) exchanging an old bunch of flowers in a vase with a new bunch. Keaton, outside, plays "loves me, loves me not" with a daisy. She loves him. The girl tosses out the old bouquet and Keaton catches it. He follows her into the living room, where her father (Joe Keaton) is reading the newspaper. Keaton grabs her, kisses her, and gives her the flowers. She introduces him to Dad. Keaton asks for his daughter's hand in marriage. Dad isn't pleased; he asks how he will support her. Keaton replies that he will go to the city to make good. If he fails, he'll come back and shoot himself. Dad offers to lend him a revolver. As Keaton bids girl farewell, he backs across a busy street with cars narrowly missing him.
A few weeks later his first letter arrives. Adoree, reading it by her fireplace, learns that he's working at a hospital. She imagines him in surgical garb and sighs.
Keaton goes to Dr. Richard M. Scott's Dog and Cat Hospital, accompanied by a dog. He hoses out the kennels, then attaches a weight to a lame dachshund's leash so he can't get away in his little cart. He goes into an office where his dog lies waiting. He puts a cat into a basket, but it has no bottom to it so the cat stays while Keaton goes into the vet's office. The dog chases the cat out. Keaton goes out looking for the cat, sees a rocking barrel, and pulls an animal out. It's a skunk, but he's too busy scolding his dog to notice. He takes them both inside. Later, dressed in a robe, he comes out holding his clothes at arm's length. He digs a hole for them. The dog trots out with his collar in his mouth and he drops it in, too.
Adoree reads the next letter on a bridge. Keaton has been on Wall Street, cleaning up in a big way. She sees him wearing a top hat in an office with a ticker tape machine and sighs.
Keaton pilots his street cleaning cart down the avenue, stopping to clean up a pile of horse manure. A passing wagon leaves a trial of dirt. Because the bottom dropped out of his cart, the dirt just lands on the street after he sweeps it up and deposits it. Luckily, when he moves his cart it's over an open manhole, and the dirt disappears - only to reappear all over a workman who comes out, wallops Keaton, and goes back down. Keaton stumbles around, looking for what hit him, and he steps into the hole on the worker. Even angrier, the worker throws a rock at Keaton, who swings at it with his broom, misses, and twirls around.
A politician (Joe Roberts) speaks at a confetti-strewn political rally down the street. Steamers drift towards Keaton, multiplying until they overwhelm him. Keaton starts a bonfire that quickly gets out of control. Using a hose to douse the fire, he soaks Roberts and his band. Roberts throws a drum at him, but Keaton uses the hose to squirt it back at him. Roberts comes over, bops him on the head, and holds him over the flooded manhole. When the band votes thumbs down, he drops him in.
Adoree stands by her horse, reading the next letter. Keaton has decided to explore his artistic gifts, and will be making his theatrical debut. She sees him bowing, clutching Yorick's skull after wowing the audience with his Hamlet.
Keaton marches in a chorus line of guards behind an opera singer. Due to sandal troubles he gets out of step. Despite the stage manager's (Eddie Cline) backstage demonstration of correct marching, Keaton can't keep up with the group. The singer leaves the stage to complain about him and the manager drops the curtain. However, Keaton gets in front of it and does a dance. The audience gives him a standing ovation, but the manager uses the hook to get him off and tosses him out the door.
After using the brush on his helmet to dust himself off, Keaton walks down the street. A cop doesn't care for his guard uniform (a short tunic) and begins to chase him. At a corner, a traffic cop stops them. After the cross traffic clears, they resume their chase. Keaton runs through an immigrant neighborhood, topples a man who's carrying two baskets on a stick, and leaves the cop to explain.
A used clothing storeowner shows a customer his wares. The customer steals his wallet, but when the owner calls a cop, the thief puts it in the pocket of a pair of pants on the table. When the cop can't find the wallet he sends the thief away. The first cop comes looking for Keaton, not noticing the Keatonesque store dummy. Both cops leave, and Keaton gets down. He puts on the pants with the wallet. The Keaton-chasing cop comes back and the owner asks for payment for the pants. Keaton finds the wallet and pays. The cop, not recognizing him, shakes his hand, but Keaton leaves -- the cop has the dummy's hand. Keaton's new pants slide down to his ankles and the cop realizes it's his quarry. Keaton loses the cop by ducking into the Hop Singh Café, and he doubles back to search for more wallets at the used clothing store.
Adoree reads his next letter while sitting in a chair. Keaton is now in the position of having the police follow his every step. She pictures him dressed as an officer, standing among dignitaries.
Keaton runs down a street, pursued by hundreds of cops. He grabs hold of the back of a streetcar and his feet fly up. He hauls himself in and salutes the cops, but the car arrives at the end of the line, turns around, and catches back up to the cops. Keaton, distracted by his newspaper, doesn't notice. Some cops get on and one taps his shoulder. He's about to give him money until he sees it's a cop. He jumps off of the moving streetcar and slides on his rear. The cops get off and keep chasing.
Keaton goes up a fire escape and into a building with two cops on his tail. He goes out the window and rides the counterweight to the ground. The cops get on the escape, but Keaton attaches the weight to a truck so the ladder won't go down. The truck drives off and the ladder dangles from the building by a cable. Keaton opens up the basement door in the sidewalk, the cable breaks, and the cops fall in. Keaton shuts the door.
Keaton walks towards an empty streetcar. About a hundred cops pop up inside. He runs to a pier and jumps on a departing boat. Unfortunately, it goes back to the dock and the cops get on. Keaton hides on the paddle wheel. When the boat leaves he must run on the wheel (like a hamster on an exercise wheel). Eventually he climbs out and goes into the water. A cop blows him a kiss goodbye.
A fisherman on the pier hooks a waterlogged Keaton and adds him to his catch.
A mailman checks the address tags on his delivery: first a goat, then Keaton. He takes him, battered and worn, to Adoree. Dad leaves his gun out on the table and escorts the girl to the living room. Smoke comes in from the hallway, and soon Keaton does, too: he missed. He tries to walk out, but Keaton Sr. makes him bend over in front of the French doors. He kicks him out.
Because surviving prints are fragmentary, there is more than one version of Day Dreams available. For example, the letters are quite different in the prints other synopsis writers have seen. According to Oldham, the final letter says "Fantastic success! The crowds were so enthusiastic I just had to make a clean getaway." On the Kino disk it reads: "Dearest: The crowd was enthusiastic for my performance, but the theater does not suit me. I am now in the position of having the police follow my every step." So don't be surprised if you see a print slightly different from the one described here. -- Lisle Foote