Buster Keaton in “The Frozen North”

Keaton gets off the subway at the Keaton gets off the subway at the “Frozen North” stop

Today is the anniversary of the release date of Buster Keaton’s short The Frozen North (1922), co-directed by Eddie Cline.

The film is a parody of westerns, specifically those of William S. Hart — Keaton tweaks Hart in several specific moments in the film. Stories about the Frozen North were big in the early twentieth century: storied and novels by Jack London, poems by Robert W. Service, and films like The Spoilers (1914), which was to be remade no less than four times.

SPOILER: this is one of the many silent film comedies where the narrative turns out to have been a dream, presaging Keaton’s own Sherlock Jr. in that respect. Thus Keaton’s cruelty in the film, which the first time I watched it seemed quite unforgiveable. For example, his wife gets knocked unconscious and he uses it as an opportunity to go steal another man’s wife.  Lots of clever gags.  An enormous igloo for a house. Guitars for snow shoes. Keaton disarms everyone in casino so he can rob them…by sticking a gun-toting movie villain poster (actually, Hart) outside the window.

I think its fairly unthinkable that Keaton’s The Frozen North didn’t influence and/or partially inspire Chaplin’s The Gold Rush, released just three years later.

To learn more about silent and slapstick film history, including Buster Keaton comedies like The Frozen North, please check out my book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Mediaalso available from amazon.com etc

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