Through a series of mistaken identities Buster winds up with a load of furniture in the middle of parade of policemen. An anarchist's bomb lands in his carriage. After lighting his cigarette with it, he tosses it into the ranks of police. When it explodes the police chase him all over town.
Buster Keaton ... The Young Man
Joe Roberts ... Police Chief
Virginia Fox ... Mayor's Daughter
Edward F. Cline ... Hobo
This seems to be Buster Keaton's most popular short film. I prefer his films with more cinematically based comedy, such as in 'The Playhouse,' 'The Frozen North' and 'Sherlock, Jr.,' but 'Cops' is a very entertaining little film. It features a large comedic chase--chases, especially involving policemen, being one of the most regularly reoccurring devices in Keaton's oeuvre, especially in his two-reelers. Cops chased Keaton in 'Convict 13,' 'Neighbors,' 'Hard Luck,' 'The Goat' and--in an escalated chase very similar to that in 'Cops'--'Daydreams.' My favourite Keaton chase, by the way, is the chase of the brides in 'Seven Chances.'
The comedic chase has a long cinéma tradition, perhaps dating back to James Williamson's 'Stop Thief!' (1901) or 'Chinese Laundry Scene' (1895), the latter of which was based on a vaudeville act. Then, there were the Pathé comedies and those of Mack Sennett's Keystone, which were greatly derived from them. Keaton came from vaudeville and worked under one of the premiere early comedians, Roscoe 'Fatty' Arbuckle, to begin his on screen career, so he was fully immersed in this tradition.
In 'Cops,' there are some good visual jokes that rely on film technique, such as following a close shot of Keaton behind bars with a reverse long shot that clarifies the opening scene. Keaton's mechanical inventiveness is demonstrated during the horse carriage sequence. And, there's plenty of physical comedy during the great chase finale. Keaton's sense of matured, restrained comedy is also important here, which is perhaps best characterized by his retained stoic expression throughout any chaotic misadventure. 'Cops' is rather representative of Keaton's refined sense of what's funny and of his advanced understanding of film-making.
What struck me most about this famous Buster Keaton short was not the overall entertainment value or the big chase scene at the end, but Keaton's amazing strength and physical prowess! This guy was incredible. He must have been an extremely strong, little man, an athlete with muscles like an Olympic gymnast. His feats on the ladder in this film show what I'm talking about here. He didn't use doubles in his films; this guy had not only comedic talent but astonishing physical strength and coordination.
As for the film overall, it was okay but not as super as I had hoped after reading a number of reviews saying this could be Keaton's best. Up to the last quarter of the film, nothing much happened. Virginia Fox, who I like, got second billing but her role was very minor in here.
The last five minutes of this two-reeler involve the famous chase scene where up to 100 cops wind up pursuing our hero. It was that kind of a day for "The Young Man" (Buster) when nothing, but nothing, went right for him!
When one meets up with the Police, it usually is not an occasion of relaxation. There are only a very few situations that would require one to deal with 'the Law'. One is either a victim, a perpetrator (aka an offender) or just be involved in what is none of your fault or for that matter, no one's fault-commonly called accident.
The perception of 'the Fuzz' would vary greatly, and depend largely on the personality and behaviour pattern of each person. Hence, the attitudes at the time of an incident would range from Contempt, Critical, Moderately Critical, Bewildered, Respectful, Contempative, In Awe and Totally Pollyanna.
The trouble today is all of the WRONG PEOPLE are afraid of the Police. That is ,all of the good, decent, hard working, Law Abiding solid citizens. Yeah, they are the ones, instead of the burglars, the stick-up men, the muggers, the dope-pushers and rapists.
They're not respectful or fearful of the Cops, for they know all too well their chances are good of getting away with their foul practices. Between the City Administrations (Mayors) and the Courts they are in a crooked game, one that favors them.
It surely was not the case in the 1920's, when Buster Keaton made COPS (1922).
Keaton wanted to take an occurrence of worst Worst Case Scenarios, and carry it to the Nth Degree. He took the juxtaposition of one, spirited, young eager beaver of a go getter. After all, if he's to "Get the Girl" in the end of the story, he would have to show a promising acumen in the World of Business. He knows he can do it! He'll succeed; after all didn't someone once say, "The Business of America is Business!" Things start out bad for the unsuspecting Buster, and they don't get any better. He leaves the company of his heart-throb, and has a confrontation with a big, burly guy (Joe Roberts) over a Taxi Cab. Buster winds up with the guy's money. The Cab driving off, the angry, muttering man as revealed as being a plainclothes Detective, Badge being pinned on his vest.
Buster vows to make good with the new found windfall. He first buys a horse & wagon that's not for sale, from a guy, who doesn't own it, for a price of $5.00,which is the price of a used sport jacket, sleeve and price tag hanging over the parked equine and wagon.
He then manages to "buy" a whole household's worth of furniture, from a grifter, who puts on a heavy serving of crocodile tears in order to convince the ever trusting, Buster that he (the con-man)had been evicted and needed money badly. Buster "buys" the furniture for all of the cash, except one bill, left in his hand by his "costumer".
The kids and Mother and Father (the real owners of the load of furniture(, appear, and help him load the wagon. Thinking Buster to be their express man for their moving, the Father hands Keaton a card with the written address," 4 Flushing Place", on it.
All of the above was just the opening, setting-up the story. In the ensuing sequences, Buster finds all of his problems confounded by whomever he crosses paths. And just about everybody he tangles with turns out to be another Cop! Furthermore, we now find out that his Girl is now on the Reviewing Stand of the Annual Polioemen's Parade. She is seated in company of her father the Mayor and the Polioce Chief.
Driving the wagon and losing a sense of direction, Buster, horse and the wagon all enter the street of the line of march. Then a bomb throwing anarchist, unseen from a roof top, pitches a lit,black powder bomb down at the parade procession of hundreds of police. But the explosive lands softly on a pillow right next to Keaton, sitting on the driver's seat of the wagon.
Of course, no one sees the real culprit, but all witness Buster lighting a cigarette with its flaming wick. It is tossed away, but leaves a few rows of uniformed cops in ruined, charred uniforms. In a flash, literally hundreds of policemen are running after Buster.
(Whew, this is head-spinning experience, even if you're only describing it on the keyboard!) What happens next is a series of continually escalating incidents, always involving more and more cops, all out to get Buster. All reaches a crescendo with seemingly the entire Police Department joining in on the chase.
Keaton closes out the 2 reeler with his little character looking as if he is triumphant, only to get snubbed by the Girl again. He then commits perhaps the first case of "Suicide by Cop"* on the screen. (No, you aren't getting a description of it here.) The talents displayed by Mr. Keaton as a physical comic are generally pretty well known to us. Certainly no one in the Annals of Movie Comedy was a greater exponent of the falls, the jumps, tumbles, etc., than was he. Just get a look at the stunts that he, himself performed in these 2 reels.
What is not as widely known is that he had a fondness for spoken word gags as well. For example, calling his yacht "Damfino" in THE BOAT. Like wise in COPS we have the card with the written address, remember? It was '4 Flushing Place'. But it is pronounced the same as 'Fourflushing' place. Well, think about it.
If you haven't viewed COPS, well, where have you been? Now go and watch the film even if you have to beg, borrow, rent or buy it.