Reflections on Keaton’s Cops at the SF Silent Film Festival

The San Francisco Silent Film Festival starts next week, with another wide and varied lineup of classic silent films accompanied with live musical performances. Comedy fans will be especially interested in the Saturday morning program, introduced by Leonard Maltin, where renowned scientist/film collector/Lon Chaney expert/musician (in no particular order) Jon Mirsalis will present and accompany a restored version of Laurel & Hardy’s epic pie fight comedy, The Battle of the Century (1927). For decades this fan favorite was known only in truncated form until Jon’s recent discovery of a complete print.

8. Battle of the Century.AGILE

The program also includes a restoration of Buster Keaton’s most famous short film Cops (1922), the only movie in Keaton’s oeuvre filmed completely outdoors. I’ve written frequently about the alley on Cahunega, steps south from Hollywood Boulevard, where Buster grabs a passing car one-handed in Cops, showing that Charlie Chaplin (The Kid (1921)), Harold Lloyd (Safety Last! (1923)), and even Harry Houdini (The Grim Game (1919)), filmed there as well.

output_mgeP9L COPS GIF

But the clarity of the new Kino – Lobster Films Blu-ray Buster Keaton: The Shorts Collection release of Cops invites further reflection. For one thing, you can witness several people watching the filming.


Witnesses caught on film – upstairs, a young woman wearing a puff sleeve dress (orange oval) rises from her seat to look down at Buster, while a man watches from across the street (blue oval), and another man inside The Tavern (yellow oval) looks through the glass.

Moreover, 1651 Cahuenga, the reflected building with the diagonally cropped corner entrance standing across the street from the Keaton stunt site (see reversed image below), once a rubber and vulcanizing store belonging to Harley H. Andrews, is now a porn shop. Coincidence? Or simply 90 years of retail evolution?

Harley vulcanizing

Harley H. Andrew’s vulcanizing shop now sells Hollywood porn.

A view of the reflected corner building – spin the view around to see Keaton’s alley.


This entry was posted in Buster Keaton, Cops and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Reflections on Keaton’s Cops at the SF Silent Film Festival

  1. Lea S. says:

    I’m very much looking forward to seeing the comedy restorations this weekend, as well as visiting Cahuenga Alley again next week! 😉


  2. Dave says:

    So looking forward to this. Saw “Battle” at the TCM Fest, but to get to hear Jon play it? Well, it doesn’t get much better.


  3. Nicole says:

    I have been following your blog for quite some time now, and I think I recognized you at the SF Silent Film Festival, but was too shy to follow up on my notion. I wanted to say that I trailed the path of some of your northern California Keaton locations while on my trip, and it was so wonderful to actually see them in person. Many thanks for your excellent work!


  4. Hi Nicole – I’m sorry we missed the chance to talk. I hope you had a good time at the festival, and am so glad you got to visit a few spots. Finding those SF Keaton spots 21 years ago, using snapshots taken of my television set (!), was how I got started diving into the background of silent films.


  5. Pingback: The Return To Hollywoodland | Silent-ology

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.