HAUNTED HOUSE, THE (Buster/Eddie Cline Keaton, 1921, USA, 21m, BW)
Edward F. Cline
Produced by Joseph M. Schenck
Edward F. Cline
Edward F. Cline
Edited by Elgin Lessley
Distributed by Metro Pictures
February 10, 1921
Country United States
Language Silent film
Keaton plays a teller at a successful bank and unbeknownst to him, the manager at the bank and his gang are planning on pulling off a robbery and hiding in an old house which they have rigged up with booby traps and effects to make it appear to be haunted. After a mishap that afternoon with Keaton getting glue all over the money and himself, he almost thwarts the gang's robbery but when the owner of the bank walks in and sees Keaton armed with a gun he assumes it was he who tried to rob it. Keaton flees and takes refuge in the old house, however a troupe of actors from a theatre production are currently seeking refuge in the house and are still fully clad in their scary costumes from the production (ghosts, skeletons etc) leading Keaton and the gang of robbers to believe the house actually is haunted.
After running from the "ghosts" and overcoming the house's booby traps, the scam is finally revealed and the manager is revealed as being behind the robbery. As he is about to be taken away, the manager hits Keaton over the head and knocks him out before escaping. Next we see Keaton being awoken by two angels at the foot of a large stairway which he ascends all the way to Heaven. He asks Saint Peter to be let in but is denied and is sent all the way down to Hell. However, this is all revealed to be a dream sequence as Keaton regains consciousness in the house seconds later.
There's actually quite a few movies called THE HAUNTED HOUSE, and at least seven or eight of them are on my hunt list; this is the only one so far that I've been able to find. As you can tell from the above plot description, the hauntings are faked, but there is at least one gag (in which an artificial man is built by two skeletons) that goes beyond the usual faked scares, and there's a dream sequence where Buster visits heaven and hell to add to the fantastic content.
The idea of a comedian having adventures in a haunted house is hardly a novel concept, but given that Buster was such an inventive physical comic during the silent era along with the fact that his stone-facedness prevents the short from descending into nothing more than a series of "Buster is scared" scenes, it's one of the more clever of the genre. The first half of the movie gets most of its mileage with a running gag involving the fact that Buster accidentally dips his hand into a jar of glue; the second half concentrates on the haunted house, which, on top of being occupied by counterfeiters imitating ghosts and skeletons, is also the hiding place of the cast of a cut-rate production of "Faust" that are on the run from an irate audience.
The Haunted House has some excellent gags. There’s a lot of set gags in the finale, when bank clerk Keaton ends up in the–well, the haunted house. His coworker–a delightfully evil Joe Roberts–is actually a counterfeiter who uses the haunted house to print money; the haunted bit is just a cover. Lots of great comedic set pieces, including the collapsing stairs. Earlier, there’s even a nice bit with Keaton doing lower key physical comedy when he can’t get dollar bills off his hands (there was an incident with some glue). The Haunted House is a smooth experience, with lots of pay-off, at least in terms of the gags.
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