Now that Buster’s complete silent film oeuvre is available from Kino on Blu-ray, and more historic Hollywood photos become available for study, we continue to learn more and more about how Buster crafted his amazing comedies. One fun discovery is learning how Buster filmed scenes from Cops (1922) on both the original Metro Studios backlot in Hollywood (across the street from his small studio) and at the Goldwyn Studios backlot in Culver City, two years before Metro would relocate to Culver City to join with Goldwyn to form M-G-M in 1924.
But Keaton employed another famous studio backlot to film two of the most iconic scenes of his career; the once long-lost high-dive gag from his 1921 short comedy Hard Luck, and the waterfall rescue stunt (above) that climaxes his second feature film Our Hospitality (1923). As we’ll see, both were filmed at the unique “T” shaped concrete pool (or plunge as they were called back then) that stood on the Robert Brunton Studio backlot just north of Melrose Avenue, now part of the current-day Paramount Studios lot.
During the climax of Hard Luck, Buster climbs a high diving platform, and hoping to impress the bathing beauties assembled to watch, performs a swan dive so far from the tower that he passes the far edge of the pool, and smashes through the brick deck creating a crater. The women peer deep into the hole, unable to see where he has gone. In what Buster would later recount as his biggest laugh-getting gag ever, years later Buster climbs back out of the crater, wearing Chinese garb, followed by his Chinese wife and their children. In many versions of this film, once considered lost, the movie fades out just as Buster attempts his dive. But in the special version of Hard Luck appearing in the Keaton Plus DVD from Kino, you can see the gag play out fully (see above). It appears that Buster’s dive to the pool deck was created using animated drawings, as his body travels horizontally in a fashion that defies physics. I originally thought Buster had performed the stunt for real, as it would have been possible to cover the left base of the “T” shaped pool with paper, painted to look like brick, that Buster could have dived through.
During the climax of Our Hospitality, Buster rescues his girlfriend, played by his first wife Natalie Talmadge, from sweeping over the brink of a waterfall, by swinging like a pendulum from a rope tied to a log jammed in the rocks, grabbing her just as she starts to fall. Buster’s waterfall stunt set was built astride the special “T” shaped pool that stood at the Brunton Studio, readily apparent in these behind the scenes photos above and further below. The Brunton Studio plunge was located just north of Melrose, due east of the modern Windsor Boulevard entrance gate to the Paramount Studios. Buster’s small studio, at Eleanor and Lillian way, stood just a few blocks away.
Our Hospitality and Hard Luck licensed by Douris UK, Ltd. Special restored version of Hard Luck copyright 1987 The Rohauer Collection.