Today is the anniversary of the Keystone ensemble comedy Court House Crooks (1915), directed by and starring by Ford Sterling.
This little comedy has a number of interesting features, not the least of which is that it contains one of the very few screen appearances made by Harold Lloyd in a Keystone picture. He hasn’t yet established his glasses character; he comes across as a very nice, if undistinguished young man.
Here’s the plot: Minta Durfee plays a judge’s wife. The judge (Charles Arling) has forgotten her anniversary so she makes him go buy her a gift, so he goes and gets a jeweled necklace. Meantime she also has something going with D.A. Ford Sterling. She arranges to meet Ford at the soda fountain. The Judge accidentally drops the box with the necklace, which Ford just happens to find. He keeps the necklace and gives it to the Judge’s wife, throwing away the box, which a young loafer (Harold Lloyd) happens to find. Harold is pursued by police when he is discovered with the box. He runs home to his mother and little sister and hides in the closet.
The cops catch him, put him in jail. He escapes and climbs a ladder into what turns out to be the Judge’s house! He hides, once again, in a closet, but this tme it happens to be one in which Ford Sterling happens to be hiding. Ford tricks Harold into surrendering, claiming that he will get him off the hook. Then Ford slips out …does a tightrope walk on clotheslines! Coincidentally (there are quite a few coincidences in this movie) the house next door is where Lloyd’s mother and sister live. Ford promises to free the boy.
Climax: the big courtroom scene. (Um, as though they would allow a Judge to try a case in which he is also the victim). Ford renegs on his promise and vigorously argues the case to prosecute Harold. Harold’s little sister (she’s only about 7 or 8) gets an idea: she writes a message on a mirror then shines it into the court. Jury and Judge see the message. Ford hides under the Judge’s desk and Minta comes into the court wearing the necklace. Ford is bonked on the head and put in jail.
For more on silent and slapstick comedy, including films like Court House Crooks, don’t miss my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc