The Haunted House (1921)

Article 3598 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-6-2011
Posting Date: 6-21-2011
Directed by Edward F. Cline and Buster Keaton
Featuring Buster Keaton, Virginia Fox, Joe Roberts
Country: USA
What it is: Silent comedy short

When a bank clerk is mistaken for a bank robber, he hides out in a mansion that is supposed to be haunted…. but is actually the hideout for counterfeiters.

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. There’s a running gag about a trick stairwell, some of the best skeleton outfits I’ve ever seen, and a bizarre gag involving an old man and a turntable in the floor. It’s not one of Buster’s best, but it’s still very good and a lot of fun.


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