This Film Is 100 Years Old

The Playhouse (1921)

In The Playhouse, Buster Keaton is trapped in a theatre and must perform for us all, forever (until the end, where he gets married for some reason).

Apparently Buster Keaton made this one with a broken ankle, so relies more on his vaudeville background than any particularly elaborate stunts, with the majority of the film having the feel of an episode of The Muppets, with Buster’s various acts going increasingly wrong to the consternation of the cast and crew and the amusement of the audience.

A lot of this is very similar to the previous Buster Keaton/Fatty Arbuckle film, Back Stage, which is also set in a theatre and has an incredibly similar back stage set. But Fatty Arbuckle never sets his fake beard on fire, so I think this one’s probably better overall.



1. I watched this on blu-ray again. The screenshots come from this youtube version.

2. The bit at the end of this, where an obvious mannequin comes flying out of the shattered mermaid tank, is strangely reminiscent, in a sort fo reversed way, of the bit at the end of A Nightmare On Elm Street, where an obvious mannequin gets pulled backwards though a window.

3. The first section of this, in which Buster Keaton plays ever actor on stage, every musician in the orchestra, and every single person in the audience, is pretty astonishing.

4. The multiple exposure stuff is flawless, and technically amazing considering that they still used manually hand-cranked film cameras at the time.

5. It sort of makes my head hurt thinking about how painstakingly accurate they must have been to make it work this well.

6. But also there’s some black face in this bit, I’m afraid.

7. But it’s not too egregiously monstrous, fortunately.

8. Weirdly though the entire section where he’s playing a monkey (orangutan) playing a human genuinely horrified me in ways beyond even the misidentification of the orangutan (an orangutan) as a monkey (not an orangutan).

9. Possibly the mild illness delirium I watched this through is to blame.

10. I do not know.


Film Information

Title: The Playhouse
Directors: Buster Keaton and Edward F. Cline
Year: 1921
Duration: 22 minutes
Watch: youtube