Cops (1922)

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  • directed by Edward F. Cline and Buster Keaton
  • starring Buster Keaton, Joe Roberts, Virginia Fox, Edward F. Cline
  • A series of mishaps manages to make a young man get chased by a big city’s entire police force.

“Get some cops to protect our policemen!”

As I did with Chaplin not too long ago, I spent the better part of the morning cycling through some of my blind-spot Buster Keaton short films before arriving at my destination—1922’s Cops. One of the comic master’s final shorts before graduating to the feature format, Cops in many ways strides firmly in the typical Keaton formula, combining daring stunts and, if you dig deep enough, allusions to ideas larger than the physical comedy on screen. Here and in many of his other films during these years Keaton plays the very basic young man who desperately grasps at every opportunity to become a “mature adult” so he can win the girl. His intentions remain good throughout but the trouble and bad reputation grows and grows with every move.

Become a dependable businessman and then we can marry is the charge Keaton receives from the girl in the beginning. From there, a series of serendipitous incidents leads him to the acquisition of exactly three things–a mountain of secondhand furniture, a horse, and a buggy. Roaming the streets he winds up in a procession full of the entire city’s police force where he discards a bomb that was thrown onto his lap and immediately becomes the city’s No. 1 fugitive. The trouble from there is that seemingly every single cop on the payroll has now ID’ed him and is on the chase. There is no way to explain this plot to a point where it makes sense but it flows in perfect Keaton fashion. I never scoff at a bomb or a wallet loaded with cash literally falling onto his lap from above because to believe and enjoy his most cartoonish physical comedy moments is hand-in-hand with forgiving the silly, forced plot points needed to propel the character to his end.

Once the bomb detonates, the remainder of the film is an all-out several hundreds versus one chase through the streets full of inventive gags and some of the most impressive acrobatics that I’ve seen from Keaton. Cops has a good reputation and is praised quite a bit, but I have to say that I didn’t find anything terribly interesting in it. I much prefer Keaton’s One Week or The Boat, two films in which the metaphors are as thick and prevalent as the laughs. I read that Cops may have been a veiled shot at the legal system due to his mentor Fatty Arbuckle’s very public scandal surrounding the death of party companion Virginia Rappe. So whether it was meant as yet another Keaton metaphor for the struggles of growing up, a show of solidarity to his now-toxic friend and mentor, or just an excuse to stage an extremely elaborate chase sequence, it was still the same purely delightful viewing experience for me.

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About classixquest
all the things I should have seen

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