May 3, 1913 [Bangville Police]

The Keystone company has a peculiar notion of what constitutes "police"—and for this I'm grateful: Their lawmen seem startled by their own existence, in a perpetual state of apoplexy, as though the pressures of law enforcement have unhinged their minds. It is, of course, the food of fools, pure applesauce and flapdoodle—but not aloof: They know we're watching. Characters goggle and peer at the camera in exasperation and shock, even suspicion, as though we are to blame for the false alarm that has so distempered Bangville.

The nervous girl (Mabel Normand, remarkably "natural" in these most unnatural circumstances) imagines "Burglars!"—resulting in immediate panic and reckless gunplay—the Chief fires his revolver in the air (from his bed!) as an alert—and the police flivver belches smoke, tosses the Chief like confetti to a reveling mob—while all the vertical leaps and hair-pulling and hand-wringing are to no avail, as the ignis fatuus dissipates—the only suspicious sound revealed as the bawling of a newborn calf—and at the end all stand before us in the barn, including the calf—and then the camera jumps forward, the Chief larger on the screen as he clearly mouths, "I'll be damned!" A startling bit of realism in an otherwise lunatic display of physical trajectory and psychic imbalance.

Along the way, small touches relieve the broad strokes, almost redeem the picture from its excesses: The Chief hurtles manfully toward a fence—but makes only a cursory attempt to vault it, daintily passing beneath instead. The girl barricades the door (her parents clamoring to enter, their calls somehow unrecognizable to the stricken girl), piling furniture and sundries—including a small piece of cloth, hilariously inconsequential. At the finale, she tugs playfully at the Chief's long goatee, attempting to tease him from his outrage.

While I could grumble that the Keystone attitude toward their audience is more than a little insulting (convinced that, to keep our attention, all they need do is pummel us with explosions and pulled faces), I confess those perversely wise rascals may be right.


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