Tag Archives: Keystone Kops

Best Stunts of The Year List 1913-1919

 

The future versions of this list will be a decade list of the top stunts of every year as listed in the book, 100 Years of the Best Movie Stunts.  Since this is the first list, it will start with the first year listed in the book 1913 and move to the end of that decade of film.

1913:  The Bangville Policebangville police

This is really the first real Keystone Kops short film, and for back then has some impressive stunts, like a series of explosions that follow a car as it weaves down a dirt road.  There are a few pratfalls as well.  Film is so new at this point that companies were still wondering if they could make money in this medium.  A few breakout hits made people realize that film could be a great new business proposition and little mini-studios started popping up in southern California in a place called Hollywoodland.  The rest is history.

1914:  The Perils of PaulineThe_Perils_of_Pauline_(1914_serial)

Women seemed to be ruling the action films in this period and one of the hottest stars/stunt performers of the time was Pearl White. This was one of her biggest serials, and the one that would remain a classic for a new type of cliffhanger series with a chapter being presented to theatre-goers weekly.

1915:  Les VampiresLes Vampires Stunt

Musidora would be considered the first Femme Fatale and a damn good stunt performer in her own right. This was one of the first crime serials and she was a stand-out as one of the bad guys.  Most of her stunts are done while wearing a skin-tight nylon body suit. Her bruises must have been massive.

1916:  IntoleranceIntolerance Babylon

DW Griffith’s Intolerance is as grand spectacle as anything to ever have been put on film and is widely considered to be the first cinematic epic.  The actors themselves do all the stunts and they are massive, with hundreds if not thousands of people on screen at the same time doing incredible battles.  It’s impressive.

1917:  Oh, Doctor!  arbuckle-keaton-st-john-1917

Sometimes the simplest stunts are the best, and nothing showcases this better than a stunt about 10 minutes into the film where Buster Keaton gets smacked by Fatty Arbuckle and he backflips over a table and lands in a chair with his feet propped up, reading a book as if he’d been there all along.  Simply brilliant.

1918:  Cupid’s Round Uptom mix and tony

Westerns really started to grow in popularity and Tom Mix was king of the cowboy serials.  This was his first full-length feature film and showcases a stunt that he would repeat several times throughout his career is different versions.  He jumps from his horse Tony through the window of a moving train.

1919:  The Great Air RobberyGreat_Air_Robbery_lobby_card

Ormer Locklear was the creator of “wing walking” and this film was produced to showcase his new thrill-seeking techniques.  They called him The Sky Dare-Devil.

For more information about these stunt performers and these movies, including a lot of great trivia, please look for their chapters in the new movie stunt book, 100 Years of the Best Movie Stunts!Screen Shot 2015-09-19 at 8.23.28 PM

Keystone Kops and the Bangville Police

 

One of the few cases where it’s hard to identify just one stunt and one person involved for the Best Movie Stunt, The Bangville Police is a 1913 comedy short starring Mabel Normand and the Keystone Kops (Fred Mace, Raymond Hatton, Edgar Kennedy, Ford Sterling, and Al St. John). The film, notable for being regarded as the seminal Keystone Kops (sometimes known as filmdom’s original “stuntmen”) short, was directed by Henry Lehrman.

I think Mabel Normand looks like Kate Winslet in this, with a very nice dress. Mabel was one of the film industry’s first female screenwriters, producers and directors. Onscreen she co-starred in commercially successful films with Charles Chaplin and Roscoe Arbuckle more than a dozen times each, occasionally writing and directing movies featuring Chaplin as her leading man. At the height of her career in the late 1910s and early 1920s, Normand had her own movie studio and production company.mabel normand bangville police

The Keystone Kops were a ragtag gang and began as prize fighters, race car drivers, circus acrobats, strongmen, clowns, roustabouts and vaudevillians. They were a wild bunch, up for nearly any stunt the Sennett writers could concoct, and left behind a hilarious legacy of diverse performances. They were doused in oil, tossed off rooftops, launched into the ocean, butted by wild animals and plastered with pie. Their wacky “Kopwagon” was rigged to handle outrageous chases, near misses, collisions and explosions. Through improvisation and experimentation they developed many stunts and stunt techniques that remain popular today.  The Keystone Kops were the first Movie Stunt Team and is a great example of why being a great acrobat is of so importance as a stunt performer.bangville police

The film itself is not very eventful, but I think it stands up as one of the first action-oriented films. In The Bangville Police, a girl wishes they had a baby calf, which her father agrees with but when she enters a room she thinks she hears burglars and calls the police who get out of bed in broad daylight and drive a repeatedly exploding car to girl’s farm where everyone discovers there are no burglars after all. But a baby calf miraculously appears.

The cops bumble about with a pretty cool fall at about 2:32 marker on the film and has a pretty big explosion with the car at 5:04 marker.Bangville Police Stunt

As a side note, Al St. John did stunts his entire life, from daring bike tricks as a child until his last days touring with a western show performing all kinds of gags, still doing falls and trick bicycling. His stunt work in the films were of a wide range and skillfully executed. I am not exaggerating when I say that he was one of the best stunt men in the business. Unfortunately his best work is still considered lost.

The shorts he did when he got his own company, wrote, starred and directed himself under names like Fox and Warner got rave reviews, papers and magazines dubbed him “superhuman”, “nuts”, “eccentric”,”different”…all in all, he stood out, leaving cinema audiences screaming of laughter and awe of his stunts and gags. His work was at the time called thrill comedy…not just comedy.

To see a fantastic youtube channel dedicated to his work, please drop by for some laughs: http://www.youtube.com/AlFuzzyStJohn/

Things to look up (click on item to go to IMDB page or Website):
Keystone Kops

Bangville Police

Mabel Normand

Henry Lehrman

Fred Mace

Raymond Hatton

Edgar Kennedy

Ford Sterling

Al St. John

Charlie Chaplin

Roscoe Arbucklebangville police
Glossary of stunt terms as defined by Wikipedia (www.wikipedia.org):

  1.  Stunt Team – stunt team is a crew of stunt performers that follow the direction of the Stunt coordinator to collectively participate and execute an action sequence for film, television, or theater. I’d like to add that in many cases stunt teams have worked together over the course of years and as such develop their own techniques and often, their own verbal language and sign language.
  1.  Acrobatics – Acrobatics is the performance of extraordinary feats of balance, agility, and motor coordination. It can be found in many of the performing arts as well as in many sports. Acrobatics is most often associated with activities that make extensive use of gymnastic elements, such as acro dance, circus, and gymnastics, but many other athletic activities — such as ballet and diving — may also employ acrobatics. Although acrobatics is most commonly associated with human body performance, it may also apply to other types of performance, such as aerobatics.

Check out our new Book, 100 Years of the Best Movie Stunts!

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