If you are intent on becoming a Keystone Film Company afficionado, as most people are, am I right, an essential film to have under your belt is the cute and charming split-reeler Bangville Police (1913).
This might be the film that you most often hear associated with the Keystone Kops, even though it was made relatively early in Keystone’s history. In 1913, Sennett’s company was still getting its footing, although its popularity was beginning to skyrocket.
The plot is relatively simple: Country girl Mabel, on a farm that’s presumably in a quaint village called Bangville, is shown giving the family’s cow some hay. “If only we had a little calf, daddy!” she wistfully tells her father. (Hmm, this may be important to the plot.)
Later on she overhears two farmhands talking in the barn and mistakes them for intruders. Panicking, she shuts herself in the house, grabs the candlestick phone and calls the police.
Her call wakes up the police chief, played by Fred Mace, who’s still snoozing in bed (as far as we know, it’s the middle of the day). He lazily shoots his pistol into the air to alert his bumbling cops, who rush over with such top-of-the-line weapons as shovels in hand (watch as one fellow runs out of a saloon).
Mace leaves the police station in his mighty cop car: an ancient, modified jalopy with a big number “13” hand painted on the hood, an oilcan on the front seat and a makeshift siren in the form of a big bell stuck on the side.
With a rattle and several bangs he starts making his way to Mabel’s, picking up his deputy as the cops race ahead on foot.
Meanwhile, the very tense Mabel mistakes a friendly neighbor for a burglar, slams the door in her face, and locks herself in a closet with the telephone. The neighbor thinks Mabel must be in peril and fetches the father, who can’t get in because Mabel’s piled furniture in front of the door.
Mace’s wheezing old jalopy finally explodes (no kidding!), and he and the deputy have to hoof it to the farmhouse. When all the cops finally arrive, Mabel at first assumes that they’re the intruders trying to break into the house.
Everyone investigates the cause of the alarm. As it turns out, the reason the farmhands were in the barn in the first place was to discuss the arrival of (spoilers?) a darling new calf.
Bangville Police is a charming little gem, and not a bad one to introduce to little kids. Mabel is adorable, deftly satirizing the mannerisms of those endangered heroines you might associate with Biograph films. She was apparently was born with the ability to give a funny performance without losing an ounce of grace. Round-headed Fred Mace is perfectly cast–he seems like he stepped out of a comic strip.
Interestingly, the split-reeler has the “idea” of the Keystone Kops down pat before the Kops were really lodged the public’s subconscious. (Or spelled “Kops,” for that matter.) Sennett shorts were already becoming known for its “police,” but the Kops still had a ways to go before becoming icons. Bangville Police was one of the rare times in the studio’s run when the bumbling force was a major part of the film.
Then again, you’ll notice that even in Bangville Police the attention is still centered on chief Fred Mace. The other police are lively but still reduced to background support, as they would be in countless Keystones thereafter. So maybe Bangville is a little less Kopcentric than it looks.
Bangville Police has the added charm of a clearly-defined rural world populated by yokels and innocent country girls, with the centerpiece being the makeshift cop car. This cartoony setting makes it a little unusual among other Keystone comedies (at least the ones that are available to us), which tend to be plunked down in whatever park or film set was handy and centered on the interactions between characters. The world of Bangville is something you’d probably see in a comic strip from the time (and who knows, comic strips could’ve been the inspiration). One wonders if Mace, who fits the short so comfortably, lent a creative hand. It’s hard to tell because of the obscurity of his other work (partly due to his early death in 1917).
This split-reeler will not only take less than ten minutes to enjoy, but it has charm, slapstick, country girls, rubes, cute farm animals, cops, and a car that blows up. What have you got to lose? Give Bangville Police a try–and feel free to share your own thoughts in the comments!
- According to some auto aficionados Mace’s jalopy is a 1903 Autocar Type VII.
- This film has frequently been mistitled The Bangville Police almost the second it was printed back in 1913.
- One of the cops includes Edgar Kennedy (he’s carrying the shovel).
- This is not the first film the cops appeared in as a unit (cops were used at Keystone as early as 1912’s Riley and Schulze), but it’s probably the most well-known “Kops” film today.