Today marked the 100th anniversary of the release of the Buster Keaton short Convict 13 (1920), co-directed by Eddie Cline.
Keaton’s second released short, Convict 13, picks up on a related thematic thread begun in One Week and continued through all the rest of his work….fatalism, futility, life as a never-ending chain of absurd pieces of luck, either good or bad, whichever is funniest at the time. Keaton means it as a joke but his sense of humor is unintentionally symbolic.
In Convict 13, Buster is minding his own business playing golf when he is mistaken for an escaped prisoner, caught and hauled “back” to a prison from which he’d never escaped. In the penitentiary, as he awaits his impending execution (he still hasn’t done anything wrong) he manages to steal a guard’s uniform. Unfortunately, he does so just when there is a prison riot and a rogue convict is knocking out all the guards. Buster then quells the riot and is made assistant warden of the prison. I remind you, all he was doing originally was playing golf.
To learn more about comedy film history including Buster Keaton classics like “Convict 13”, please check out my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube