This Film Is More Than 100 Years Old

The ‘High Sign’ (1920)

The ‘High Sign’ is a short Buster Keaton comedy, made in 1920 but not released until 1921, in which Buster inadvertently gets tasked with both saving the town’s richest man from being assassinated by a gang of criminals, while also being employed by that very same gang to assassinate him.

This was the first film Buster Keaton made without Fatty Arbuckle, although it wasn’t released initially because Buster Keaton was disappointed with it, saying it was too similar to his Fatty Arbuckle collaborations. So they cancelled it and released One Week instead. And then another five films after that, too, before they finally got around to showing this one anywhere.

(In the end The ‘High Sign’ only got released at all because Buster Keaton broke his ankle filming The Electric House in 1921 and couldn’t work for 4 months, and 4 months without releasing a film was impossible to contemplate in the 1920s, evidently, just in case everyone forgot you existed if there was any break in your release schedule. Presumably cinema goers back then were even more unforgiving of release schedule slackness than youtube’s algorithms are today.)

The weirdest thing about all that is that this is absolutely brilliant in pretty much every way. Buster’s at his most effortlessly charming; there’s loads of funny sight gags; there’s a dog, a cat, and a fairground; a woman playing a ukulele for no reason other than she looks like she’s having loads of fun playing a ukulele; some funny intertitle captions; and, best of all, there’s plenty of ingenious elaborate contraptions, culminating in a house full of trapdoors and secret passages for the inevitable ever escalating chase scene finale.

Also all of it happens without Fatty Arbuckle being absolutely repellent for 25% of the runtime. Which is nice.



1. I watched this on blu-ray, where it looked very nice indeed, and also had a good soundtrack.

2. I captured the screenshots from this version on youtube, which doesn’t look anywhere near as nice, and also has a much worse soundtrack.

3. Which is a shame.

4. Sorry.

5. There’s a dog in this but it’s not Luke the Dog.

6. And also there’s the world’s most distressed looking cat.

7. Poor thing.

8. If I could go back in time I would go back to Hollywood in 1920 and save it from it’s day of terror.

9. But I can’t so I haven’t

10. Yet


Film Information

Title: The ‘High Sign’
Directors: Buster Keaton, Edward F. Cline
Year: 1920
Runtime: 20 minutes
Watch: Youtube

This Film Is More Than 100 Years Old

Me And My Two Friends (1898)

Me And My Two Friends (1898) is the best four seconds of film ever filmed. It is 122 years old.



1. I watched this on the BFI Player


Film Information

Title: Me And My Two Friends
Director: William Kennedy Laurie Dickson
Year: 1898
Duration: 4 seconds
Watch: BFI Player

This Film Is 100 Years Old

The Scarecrow (1920)

The Scarecrow is a 20-minute Buster Keaton comedy (co-directed with Edward F. Cline) from 1920, in which Buster Keaton eats lunch, runs away from a dog, and also pretends to be a scarecrow for about 10 seconds.

The film is essentially two entirely separate parts. The first part, in which Buster Keaton and his flatmate have lunch in a tiny house filled with mechanical space-saving contraptions, is utterly brilliant (and very reminiscent of Wallace and Gromit’s elaborate living arrangements).

The second part, in which Buster Keaton and his flatmate pursue the farmer’s daughter’s hand in marriage, while her father, and also the farmer’s incredibly excellent dog, try to chase them away, isn’t quite as good, but it’s still pretty fun.



1. I watched this on youtube here

2. The utterly amazing dog in this is Luke, who is so wonderful he even has his own wikipedia page.

3. This was his last film

4. Although he lived for another 6 years in retirement.

5. So please don’t be too sad.

6. This is one of five Buster Keaton films from 1920, so hopefully I’ll watch all of them sometime soon.

7. Also thanks again to Vom Vorton for recommending this one to me.


Film Information

Title: The Scarecrow
Directors: Buster Keaton and Edward F. Cline
Year: 1920
Duration: 20 minutes
Watch: youtube

This Film Is 100 Years Old

Smashing Barriers (1919) / Auntie’s Portrait (1915)

Smashing Barriers was originally a 15-episode adventure serial, where a sawmill owner and her impossibly boring boyfriend try to escape the attentions of an outlaw and his band of ruffians.

Directed by and starring William Duncan in 1919, these episodes (the plotting of which was described at the time as “incomprehensibly convoluted”) were eventually condensed down to a single movie a few years later, and then even further into this short film in the 1930s, for sale as a home movie.

It’s this ultra-condensed version which survives, the originals all having been lost.

The surviving film is only ten minutes long. Yet there’s time enough for rescuing a damsel in distress from a burning building, out of control carts careering down a hill, an improvised zipwire escape, someone leaping off a cliff into the waters below, people randomly fire guns, and more. The picture above is basically straight out of Raiders Of The Lost Ark.

Even though this was presumably all deeply generic at the time (100 years ago!) it’s sort of wonderful how much of the action here is still used repeatedly in everything right now. And for another hundred years yet, too, I expect, unless there’s some sort of catastrophic outbreak of originality just round the corner.

And no one wants that. We’d all be terrified.

I then watched Auntie’s Portrait, a not-especially comedic farce filmed in 1915, and made by the same company as Smashing Barriers, The Vitagraph Company Of America.

This too is deeply generic in almost every way, so much so that I can’t really think of anything to say about it. I wouldn’t have bothered reviewing at all, really, but there’s a nice fourth-wall breaking dog at the start, so I’ve decided to include it here so I’ve got an excuse to post a picture of its cheeky little face.



1. I watched Smashing Barriers on amazon prime, where it appears to be one of about five silent movies in their entire catalogue

2. Although with amazon’s, let’s say, incomprehensibly convoluted search function, for all I know there’s actually billions.

3. I watched Auntie’s Portrait on the Harpodeon website, where it’s free for a week.

4. But usually costs two quid.


Film Information

Title: Smashing Barriers
Director: William Duncan
Year: 1919
Duration: 10 minutes

Title: Auntie’s Portrait
Director: George D. Baker
Year: 1915
Duration: 12 minutes