The Sunday Intertitle: Flying Exit

Working on a Keaton project. Also on my chronic insomnia. This time, the thought popping into my head and preventing sleep concerned this impossible gag in COPS ~

Still images don’t do it justice, of course. Audiences gasp and wince at the same time, since it seems certain Buster’s arm must have left its socket.

Keaton was asked how he did it. He said he just did it. No extra undercranking? Nope. No wires? Nope. His body flies up in the air like a rag doll with the force of the jolt he receives. I thought maybe he was throwing his feet up to exaggerate the sense of velocity but frame-by-frame analysis shows this is not the case.

But just as I was feeling sleepy, I had an idea. If Keaton had a hook cupped in his palm, and was attaching this to a suitable part of the car, possibly an extra feature welded on for just this purpose… and if the hook connected to a cord running up his sleeve… and if the cord connected to a harness fastened round his whole torso… then the violent yank would not be felt by his arm at all but would be distributed around his body.

It’s a good theory, but that’s not what he did. Again, frame-by-frame study of the Blu-ray (buy the Masters of Cinema set, you get a video essay by me and Timo Langer) makes it quite clear that Keaton has nothing in his hand. He could have done it my way. He chose not to.

Further question — how did Keaton detach himself from the car?

When he arrives in the next shot, he’s still hanging on by one hand, but now has a heel on the bumper, which seems possible but isn’t, like a lot of Keaton. If he was hanging off the back like we last saw him, he couldn’t really have gotten into this position (or could he? Keaton seems uninterested in my estimations of what’s physically achievable).

If that car, eixiting the previous shot, had simply decelerated, Buster would have been dragged along the asphalt in a horribly destructive way until it halted. If he had let go, he’d have hit the road at high speed. I guess they positioned a crash mat for him to land on?

Then again, Buster being Buster, maybe he just landed on his chin, dusted himself off, and walked away.

4 Responses to “The Sunday Intertitle: Flying Exit”

  1. Offhand I can’t remember him doing this stunt anywhere else, so maybe he did sustain damage — or at least, major discomfort — that discouraged him from adding it to his permanent collection of all-occasion gags.

  2. revelator60 Says:

    Ben Model has a very interesting video breakdown of undercranking in Cops:

  3. Is he on the bumper/fender or on the spare wheel ?? And would that change anything ??

  4. Model suggests Buster is throwing himself into a semi-cartwheel to get his feet off the ground, but if so, he’s disguising it completely from my eyes.

    He didn’t repeat any exact gags in his shorts, but obviously in later years most of what he did was reconstruction of old glories. By which time this would have been unthinkable.

    I think he’s on the spare wheel for jumping off, but that’s not what he grabbed when exiting frame. It’s possibly they’ve welded a special handle onto the car. Again, that’s what I would have done, so Buster probably didn’t…

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