Buster Keaton’s debut film One Week (1920) was hailed as the comedy sensation of the year. It ended with a powerhouse one-two gag that still wows audiences today. Buster attempts to move his newly built home which becomes stuck at a train crossing. A train from the east barrels down on the house, but passes safely by on a parallel track, disaster averted. Two beats later, as Buster and the audience breath a sigh of relief, a train from the west plows right through the home, completely demolishing it. The crash was staged in Inglewood, as I report in great detail in my book Silent Echoes, and in this prior post showing the Inglewood station.
Keaton repeated the joke eleven years later in his 1931 MGM talkie feature Parlor, Bedroom and Bath (available for viewing at the 36:00 mark here at the Internet Archive), and on DVD from the Warner Archive Collection. In this version (see above) Buster’s small roadster breaks down on the tracks, and is spared by a southbound train before a northbound train does it in. As shown below, the two crash scenes were filmed on the same rail line, a few miles apart.
Parlor, Bedroom and Bath is a silly bedroom farce, and as far-removed from Keaton’s classic-style silent comedies as one can imagine. Still, if you can accept it on its own terms, the movie is really quite enjoyable. Buster plays a “never been kissed” bumpkin who is mistaken by the society crowd as a great lover. The final third of the film takes place at a hotel where Buster woos a series of women in rapid succession, and is caught with each conquest by an increasingly impressed bell hop, played by Cliff Edwards (the future voice of Jiminy Cricket). Despite the screwball plot, the train crash sequence from Parlor, Bedroom and Bath is cited by film scholars as an example of how Keaton could successfully introduce visual gags into his talking pictures when given the chance. The movie is also noteworthy because Buster’s actual home (The Italian Villa, at 1018 Pamela Drive in Beverly Hills), appears as the high society playground where Buster meets the other characters.
Aside from re-working one of Keaton’s best gags, what is also interesting about the Parlor, Bedroom and Bath crash scene is that it was filmed at the southeast corner of the former Mines Aviation Field, the future home to LAX, the Los Angeles International Airport. Buster’s camera captured rare views of this wide-open landscape at the dawn of the aviation age.
As shown on the above map and photo (both circa 1930), Buster’s car stalled where Collingwood Street (later 114th Street, and now W. Imperial Highway), running east-west, crosses the AT&SF rail line that runs north-south parallel to Redondo Boulevard (now Aviation Boulevard). Mines Field, a former hayfield, was officially dedicated as Los Angeles Municipal Airport on June 7, 1930. Mary Pickford reportedly made the formal dedication.
Above, Buster and actress Joan Peers set off on foot west down what is now the W. Imperial Highway after a train demolishes their car. Behind them stands the former Moreland Aircraft factory. Below, another aerial view of the train crash setting, this time taken during an airshow at Mines Field.
Below, a panorama looking west down the W. Imperial Highway from Aviation Boulevard – the red lines correspond to those on the photo and map above. To avoid possible distraction, the large sign in the background, probably announcing the opening or further development of the new airport, is covered with a cloth. As I explain in my book, while filming Neighbors (1920) Buster put a paper bag on a real street sign for the same reason. The right edge of this panorama was made from narrow slices of clear view in front of the advancing train as the camera panned from left to the right.
Below, the extant east hangar airport building made a prior appearance on film during Feet First, Harold Lloyd’s 1930 talkie re-make of Safety Last!, during a scene where Harold stows away in an airmail delivery sack.
Below, a comparable aerial view today, with red field of view lines corresponding to the map and images above.
For amazing, high detail panoramic photos of the June 7, 1930 opening of the Los Angeles Municipal Airport, check out these images from the Huntington Digital Library: view one, view two, and view three. Be sure to zoom in to see all of the details.
Jerry Miles has put together a YouTube video of historic images of Mines Field that you can view here.
Parlor, Bedroom and Bath (C) 1931 Turner Entertainment Co. One Week licensed by Douris UK, Ltd. HAROLD LLOYD images and the names of Mr. Lloyd’s films are all trademarks and/or service marks of Harold Lloyd Entertainment Inc. Images and movie frame images reproduced courtesy of The Harold Lloyd Trust and Harold Lloyd Entertainment Inc.