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The Playhouse (film)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Playhouse
Lobby card for the film
Directed by
Written by
Produced byJoseph M. Schenck
CinematographyElgin Lessley
Distributed byFirst National Pictures Inc.
Release date
  • October 6, 1921 (1921-10-06)
Running time
22 minutes
CountryUnited States
LanguageSilent (English intertitles)

The Playhouse is a 1921 American two-reel silent comedy film written by, directed by, and starring Buster Keaton. It runs for 22 minutes, and is most famous for an opening sequence where Keaton plays every role.


The film is set up as a series of humorous tricks on the audience, with constant doubling, and in which things are rarely what they at first seem to be. It opens with Keaton attending a variety show. Keaton plays the conductor and every member of the orchestra, the actors, dancers, stagehands, minstrels, and every member of the audience, male and female. As an audience member, Keaton turns to the "woman" sitting beside him and remarks, "This fellow Keaton seems to be the whole show". This was a jibe at one of Keaton's contemporaries, Thomas Ince, who credited himself generously in his film productions.[1][2] In interviews with Kevin Brownlow, Keaton claims he gave the director's credit to Cline mainly because he did not want to appear too Ince-like himself: "Having kidded things like that, I hesitated to put my own name on as a director and writer".[3]

This elaborate trick-photography sequence turns out to be only a dream when Joe Roberts rouses Keaton from bed. The bedroom then turns out to be not a bedroom, but a set on a stage.

The second half of the film finds Keaton's character falling for a girl who happens to be a twin. He has difficulty telling the twin who likes him from the one who does not. An uncredited Virginia Fox plays one of the twins. Edward F. Cline co-wrote the production and appears, uncredited, as a monkey trainer, whose monkey Keaton impersonates onstage after accidentally letting the animal escape.


  • Buster Keaton as Audience / Orchestra / Mr. Brown - First Minstrel / Second Minstrel / Interlocutors / Stagehand
  • Edward F. Cline as Orangutan trainer (uncredited)
  • Virginia Fox as Twin (uncredited)
  • Joe Roberts as Actor-Stage Manager (uncredited)
  • Monte Collins as Civil War Veteran (uncredited)
  • Joe Murphy as One of the Zouaves (uncredited)
  • Jess Weldon as One of the Zouaves (uncredited)
  • Ford West as Stage Hand (uncredited)



Keaton had fractured his ankle in the film he worked on before this one, so The Playhouse relied more on cinematic techniques and sight gags than stunt work.[2] It references gags from Keaton's vaudeville career with The Three Keatons, and also draws themes from the performances of Annette Kellermann, who employed 100 mirrors to create the illusion that there was more than one of her.[2] While Keaton played all the parts in the first scene of the play, he had considered playing all the parts in the entire film. But he refrained from doing so out of the concern that "audiences might tire of the joke or think he made it as a demonstration of his acting virtuosity". He later regretted not having acted all the parts throughout.[2]


Keaton's portrayal of nine members of a minstrel show required the use of a special matte box in front of the camera lens. It had nine exactingly-machined strips of metal which could be moved up and down independently of each other. Elgin Lessley, Keaton's cameraman, shot the far-left Keaton with the first shutter up, and the others down. He then rewound the film, opened the second segment, and re-filmed the next Keaton in sequence. This procedure was repeated seven more times. The camera was hand-wound, so Lessley's hand had to be absolutely steady during filming to avoid any variation in speed. Keaton synchronized his movements for each character's dance to the music of a banjo player who was playing along with a metronome – not a problem in a silent film. It was decades before Keaton, who masterminded this, revealed his technique to other filmmakers.[2][4]


The Playhouse was released on October 6, 1921 and distributed by First National Pictures Inc..[5]

See also


  1. ^ Knopf, Robert (2018). The Theater and Cinema of Buster Keaton. Princeton University Press. p. 27. ISBN 9780691188461.
  2. ^ a b c d e Keaton, Eleanor (2001). Buster Keaton Remembered. H. N. Abrams. pp. 82–3. ISBN 9780810942271 – via Internet Archive.
  3. ^ Brownlow, Kevin (1968). The Parade's Gone By. London: Secker & Warburg. pp. 491–492.
  4. ^ Blesh, Rudi (1966). Keaton. New York: The Macmillan Company. pp. 167–168. ISBN 978-0025115705.
  5. ^ Keaton, Eleanor (2001), p. 220.

External links

This page was last edited on 20 September 2021, at 21:42
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