Buster Keaton and The Three Stooges – Round 6

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Click to enlarge.  The extant Olympic Auditorium appearing in Keaton’s Battling Butler and in the Three Stooges’ Punch Drunks (1934).  This is my sixth post about filming connections between Buster and the Stooges.

In his 1926 self-directed feature comedy Battling Butler, Buster plays an effete millionaire who seeks to impress a girl by allowing her to mistakenly believe he is a champion boxer sharing the same name.  As might be guessed, the movie ends when amateur Buster, spurred by love and honor, defeats the pro boxer in a fight and wins the girl’s heart.

Box 1Key scenes took place in the newly opened Olympic Auditorium, still standing at 18th and Grand in downtown Los Angeles.  Construction began on January 10, 1925, with world champion fighter Jack Dempsey on hand for the ceremonies, breaking ground with a steam shovel.  Dempsey returned when the completed arena opened August 5, 1925, and was presented with a solid gold lifetime ticket, the size of a calling card, good for all future events at the venue.  The so-called “Punch Palace” was built in preparation for the 1932 Los Angeles Olympic Games, and was the largest arena of its kind west of New York City, reportedly seating up to 15,300.  The boxing and wrestling hall could be converted to host other programs, and the California Grand Opera Company performed there during October 1925.

Buster and his valet, played by Snitz Edwards, sit stunned in Olympic Auditorium, after the formerly obscure boxer who shares Keaton’s name has unexpectedly become champion.

Buster and his valet, played by Snitz Edwards, sit stunned after witnessing a formerly obscure boxer who shares Keaton’s name unexpectedly win a championship bout.

The marquee in Punch Drunks

The marquee as it appears in Punch Drunks

Because Buster started working on Battling Butler only months after the arena first opened, its role in the movie could be its debut appearance on film.  Aside from appearing with the Three Stooges in Punch Drunks, the arena has been used as a location for classic films such as Rocky (1976) and Million Dollar Baby (2004).  You can find my five other posts about Buster and the Stooges HERE.

Remarkably, the William Holden film noir drama The Turning Point (1952) has strong connections to all three leading silent comedy stars.  The movie not only makes great use of the arena where Buster filmed (see below), it also shares noir locations on Bunker Hill with Harold Lloyd’s 1924 feature Hot Water, and in the gas tank district with Charlie Chaplin’s 1936 comedy Modern Times.

Four views of the Olympic Auditorium from The Turning Point

Four views of the Olympic Auditorium from The Turning Point

As I reported a while back in my column for The Keaton Chronicle, the film concludes with Buster, decked out in boxing shorts and a silk top hat, strolling down a city boulevard at night with his girl on his arm, oblivious to the curious onlookers surrounding them.

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Click to enlarge.  The Biltmore Hotel, designed by Schultze & Weaver in 1922, is located on Olive Street facing Pershing Square.  Keaton strolled from the corner of 5th and Olive, with the San Carlos Hotel across 5th Street, which bears a “STEAMSHIP TICKETS” sign (oval) in each image.  UCLA Libraries – Digital Collection.

Unlike Buster’s contemporary Harold Lloyd, Keaton seldom filmed in the downtown Los Angeles Historic Core, and locating this concluding shot eluded me for years.  But once I determined that Harold had used the Olive Street entrance of the classic Los Angeles Biltmore Hotel for scenes from For Heaven’s Sake, I realized Keaton had filmed here too.  The Biltmore has appeared in dozens of films.

bb 18Although usually ranked among Keaton’s lesser works, I’ve always found Battling Butler to be quite charming.  The film contains many thoughtfully composed scenes, such as Buster’s fiancé framed bb 75through the rear window of his limousine, receding into the distance as Buster drives away, and a tracking shot of Buster and Snitz, lost in thought, sitting on the steps of a moving passenger train.

Some other interesting visual framing devices from Battling Butler

Some other interesting visual framing devices from Battling Butler

bb 31 cIn closing, Battling Butler also contains a clear image of Buster’s injured right index finger during a scene where he registers at a hotel.  Buster trapped his finger in a clothes mangler as a young child, and had to have the tip amputated. bb 09 This shot to the right, of “Buster” holding an engagement ring, was filmed using a hand double.  It is a strange coincidence that both Buster and Harold Lloyd had injured right hands.

Battling Butler (C) 1926 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corporation. (C) renewed 1954 Loew’s, Inc. Punch Drunks copyright Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc.  The Turning Point (C) Paramount Pictures Corporation.

Today the Olympic Auditorium is home to a church.

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6 Responses to Buster Keaton and The Three Stooges – Round 6

  1. Skip says:

    Good trick to spot the San Carlos. One of many downtown LA buildings that had an extensive exterior remodel. There’s a nice night shot of from the 1970s in a Rockford Files episode, worse for the wear but still there after the ground floor was modified even further (seen during the daytime in this postcard: http://www.cardcow.com/222794/san-carlos-hotel-angeles-california/ ).

    Interesting the mix of streetlights in the UCLA image looking up Olive, they left the globe fixtures in Pershing Square, but changed the others. I’ll have to watch the Stooges short again. I remember much of the auditorium being a rear projection arrangement, which made me wonder if the footage they used was recycled from something else. Thanks again John!

  2. Hi “Skip” – thanks for the link to the San Carlos. I too had noticed how different the street lamps were in the UCLA image, which is dated 1927, just a year after the movie. For some reason that must have been a time when they decided to replace the lampposts.

    • Skip says:

      I noticed while using LA portions of “Speedy” to look for hints to “Safety Last” that the streetlights appeared to have been changed at the center of downtown, but not just to the south. I had hoped that some LA-centered urbanist would have a better idea of when and where the city made the changes, since it would be so helpful in situations like these, but never found anything like that (on the web at least). I guess it’s good to have this example as a reference.

  3. Vassilis says:

    Just wanted to say thank you for your wonderful blog! Finding out so much about these films in a such detailed manner is wonderful! Thank you!

  4. Chris Bungo says:

    Nice work once again!

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