“Shot in the Excitement”
Cast: Al St John, Alice Howell, Rube Miller, and Joseph Swickard
Released October 26, 1914. Running time:
Often the consistent, frantic slapstick of Keystone comedies will confuse the modern day viewer whose frame of reference for film history is limited to “Gone With The Wind” and “The Wizard of Oz” (no, not the silent one). A film like “Shot in the Excitement,” beautifully restored by CineMuseum on the Mack Sennett blu ray collection, shows how carefully timed and expertly choreographed each slapstick endeavor is, and it stands out as one of the funniest and most brilliantly presented of all the Keystone comedies.
The premise is simple, and there is no real narrative. Just a series of gags surrounding the rivalry between Al St. John and Rube Miller over the affections of farm girl Alice Howell. Joseph Swickard plays her harried father.
The slapstick is relentless here. Rube looks through a hole in a fence and sees Al and Alice sharing candy. He drops a spider down to break it up. Rube looks through the fence hole again and Al pokes his eye. Rube tries to poke back, but Alice bites his finger. Al drops a rock on Rube over the fence. Rube tries to reciprocate, but the rock falls on Alice’s head. Rube hops the fence, Al swings to hit him, but Rube ducks and Alice gets punched.The timing and execution of the above series of slapstick encounters during the film’s opening scenes is the key to this movie’s brilliance. It is quintessential Keystone clowning at its funniest. There is a discernible comic rhythm to each gag, as they all carefully flow into one another. Far better seen than described, the above sequence is a real masterpiece of its kind.
After a series of similar situations, the film dabbles in a bit of surrealism when a dejected Rube discovers he is leaning against a cannon with some cannon balls nearby. He decides to load it up and shoot cannon balls at his rival, the girl who spurned him, and her irate father (who has found himself brought into the slapstick action at regular intervals). Rube shoots the cannon and his victims run, fleeing the cannon ball that chases them. Whatever technological abilities cinema had as early as 1914, the effect is as visually striking as it is wildly funny. Of course all ends well. Rube is hauled away by the cops, and the disgruntled father shoves Alice into Al’s arms as the movie fades after a very full 12 minutes of relentlessly brilliant slapstick. Because there is no director credited, a specific individual cannot be praised for the wonderful blocking of the actors, camera shots, and quick edits that maintain this movie’s rhythm.
“Shot in the Excitement” especially shows Al St. John and Alice Howell to great advantage. St. John’s star would continue to rise, and his talents would eventually extend to directing. Howell would continue to present herself as one of the most courageous and talented female comedians of the silent era. (For more on Alice Howell, check out this book). Musician Donald Sosin’s work accompanying “Shot in the Excitement,” is one of the key ingredients for helping this restoration reach its greatest entertainment potential. It is one of the top entries on the Mack Sennett Collection.