As reported in Variety, and in my prior post, film historian Fernando Pena has topped his discovery of a complete version of the Fritz Lang 1927 epic Metropolis with a 9.5 mm print of Buster Keaton’s 1922 short The Blacksmith that contains unique scenes that do not appear in any other version of the film. Mr. Pena’s discovery prompted me to review the three different DVD or Blu-ray copies I have of the film, and I was surprised to see they differ in some respects too. (My third post shows how the Robin Hood castle set appears in The Blacksmith.)
My prior post shows that Keaton built a small Chamber of Commerce set across the street from his studio to film a unique sequence in Mr. Pena’s copy of the movie. But the set also appears briefly in the Masters of Cinema version of the film below.
During The Blacksmith Big Joe Roberts is hauled off to jail for assaulting a sheriff. The building portraying the jail in the movie is not the Chamber of Commerce set appearing in Mr. Pena’s new footage. But later in the Masters of Cinema version, Big Joe knocks down a wall, apparently escaping from “jail,” even though you can see from the sign that it is the same Chamber of Commerce set appearing in Pena’s new footage. As Mr. Pena comments following this post below, this is one of the continuity problems in the currently available copies of the film. Mr. Pena explains that during the complete version of the film, Big Joe is actually locked away twice, both in jail, and in the Chamber of Commerce building while Buster tries to propose to Virgina Fox.
In Mr. Pena’s version of the film, Buster rides off from a vacant lot while sitting on some lumber extending from the back of a truck. The vacant lot stood on Cahuenga to the west of the Keaton Studio. In the background of the new footage stands the house at 1022 Cole Avenue (yellow oval), discussed at length in my prior post, and further back stands the duplex at 1017-1019 Wilcox Avenue (red box). The same vacant lot and Wilcox duplex (red box) appear during the scene (above, right) from the Masters of Cinema version, as Big Joe begins pushing his way out of the Chamber of Commerce building.
I mentioned in my prior post that Keaton filmed scenes from The Blacksmith several months apart. I’ll first establish this point, and then discuss its significance.
In scene A above, Buster is dragged east along Melrose Avenue, while in scene B an equestrian with a shock absorbing saddle bounces north up Highland. Both scenes were filmed at the NW corner of Melrose and Highland, marked with an oval in the aerial view at the top of this post; the arrow at top marks the equestrian’s path. Notice how the ridge lines in both scenes are identical, and that both scenes show the Bernheimer Estate (now Yamashiro’s Restaurant, yellow oval) and the top of the former Garden Court Apartments (red box) that once stood on Hollywood Boulevard.
Although filmed at the same spot, a closer look reveals scene A and B were filmed months apart. First, the Union Oil Company once located on Santa Monica Boulevard has three tanks (yellow oval, scene B) instead of two (yellow oval, scene A). Next, the Pacific Electric Railway freight house (orange box in scene B), stands on formerly vacant land (orange line in scene A). Last, an extension of the Kerckhoff Cuzner lumber building (red box, scene B) stands on formerly vacant land (red line, scene A).
Looking closer still, we can see (at left) how the rooftop sign of the lumber company was correspondingly extended to match the length of the building expansion. The sign that once read “KERCKHOFF CUZNER MILL & LUMBER CO.” in scene A now reads “KERCKHOFF CUZNER MILL & LUMBER CO. – BUILDING MATERIALS” in scene B, and corresponding vintage photo.
Although The Blacksmith was reportedly shot during January – February 1922, it was held back, and released out of order on July 21, 1922, after the June 12, 1922 release of Keaton’s subsequently produced short My Wife’s Relations. Thus, a gap in filming between January 1922 and July 1922 would have allowed 4 months or so to account for the changes visible between scene A and B.
While the visual clues determine there was a gap in filming The Blacksmith, it struck me that only 3 – 4 months was insufficient time to account for all of the new construction. But then Mr. Pena wrote to me explaining that Susan Buhrman had made some amazing discoveries. According to her research, a September 22, 1921 newspaper account from the Philadelphia Public Evening Ledger (left) reports that the movie originally ceased production in September 1921, and was forwarded to New York City for preview within a week. UCSB Professor Charles Wolfe then checked his files, and wrote that the August 18, 1921 Los Angeles Times (right) provided an even earlier account of The Blacksmith completing production. Further, the movie received a negative review in the January 1922 issue of Photoplay Magazine (above). Thus, a break in filming from between August 1921 and June 1922, as long as 9 months or more, would have provided far more time to account for all of the new construction (see below).
Initially completed in August 1921, and screened in September 1921, The Blacksmith was not copyrighted until July 1922. I had first wondered if Mr. Pena’s version was the initial print completed in 1921 – quickly shipped overseas, and somehow never returned to the United States. But it now appears that the reverse may be true.
The version of The Blacksmith known in America today was discovered by James Mason in Keaton’s private vault (Mason was a subsequent owner of Keaton’s Italian Villa mansion in Beverly Hills). This “American” version appears to date from mid to late 1921, and does not contain any of the “Pena” scenes filmed in 1922. Thus, it is plausible Buster’s privately held 1921 vault print was not intended for wide distribution, and that the “Pena” version, containing numerous subsequently filmed gags, was the “official” version widely released in July 1922.
In my next post I show how Keaton filmed many outdoor scenes from The Blacksmith near the Pickford-Fairbanks Studio, and the Hollywood Metropolitan Studio (see top photo), and some more tantalizing distinctions between the different versions of the film.
All NEW FOOTAGE scenes provided courtesy of Mr. Fernando Pena, to whom I extend my congratulations and sincere appreciation for sharing his remarkable discovery. All other Keaton movie frame images licensed by Douris UK, Ltd.
The NW corner of Melrose and Highland today.