The Blacksmith (Failed Preview)

Shown to Public: October, 1921
Length: Two reels
Presented by: Comique Film Corp.
Distribution: First National
Producer: Joseph M. Schenck
Director/Script: Buster Keaton and Mal St. Clair
Photography: Elgin Lessley
Technical Director: Fred Gabourie

Buster Keaton: Assistant Blacksmith
Joe Roberts: Blacksmith
Virginia Fox: Girl with a White Horse
Onyx: White Horse


[Until 2013, the following synopsis was thought to be for Buster Keaton's The Blacksmith, or, more correctly, a print generally accepted for the previous 50 years to be the "released" film. However, with the Peña-Bromberg discoveries of a second version of The Blacksmith, and John Bengtson careful analysis of it has shown this second version of The Blacksmith is the true "release" print of the film. This synopsis, then, is of what is now considered the failed "preview" print of The Blacksmith, discovered by James Mason in 1955, that was mistakenly mislabled as the release print. For the record, there is also a third version of The Blacksmith, released by KINO in 2012, that was mistakenly devired from the "preview print" and the second half of the "release print." Buster Keaton would probably be amused that this "problem child" film — which Buster dismissed as "That Dud" — continues to cause problems.]

The Blacksmith is generally regarded as Keaton's weakest short. It begins with some lines from Longfellow's Village Blacksmith: "Under a spreading chestnut tree/The village smithy stands." Keaton leans on a tree. It's a palm tree. "And the muscles of his brawny arms/Are strong as iron bands." Keaton flexes his right bicep and it swells until he pops it with his tie pin. "And children coming home from school/Look in at the open door." Two kids watch as Keaton pumps the bellows and hammers a horseshoe. Then his boss (Joe Roberts) arrives at work, shoving the kids out of the way. He tells them to beat it.

Keaton fries a panful of eggs on his furnace as Roberts puts on his apron. Keaton plates them, salts them, then sees Roberts. He puts the plate on his anvil and smashes it with his hammer.

While Roberts looks over a wagon, Keaton shapes horseshoes. He compares a hot shoe to his own, burning his left foot. After sticking the injured foot in the cooling tub, he steps back onto the hot shoe with his right foot. He puts that into the tub. He falls down on the shoe and sits in the tub. Smoke rises.

As he works on a wheel, Roberts tells Keaton to bring over a hammer. Keaton does but the tool disappears. The magnet above the door has pulled it up. Roberts again asks for a hammer, so Keaton brings another. It gets similarly lifted. Roberts starts getting belligerent, and he goes in to get the tool himself. The magnet attracts the wheel. Keaton looks for it. When Roberts returns he gets angry and grabs Keaton by the neck. They argue.

The sheriff comes over and says that big guys shouldn't beat up little guys. His badge joins the rest of the metal on the magnet, so Roberts isn't impressed. The gun that the sheriff pulls out travels up, too. The lawman blows a whistle and four deputies come over; a fight begins. Keaton, who had walked away, notices the magnet. After Roberts knocks all five officers down, Keaton pushes everything off of the magnet. The stuff and Keaton land on Roberts, knocking him cold. The sheriff and his men handcuff Roberts; who wakes up and they haul him off to the jail.

Keaton returns to the forge. His watch has stopped, so he puts it into the furnace.

A rich woman (Virginia Fox) rides her white horse in, leaving it to be shod. Like a shoe salesman for humans, Keaton describes a style to the horse (she nods), pulls one out of a box (which the horse rejects) pulls out another (another rejection, with a look at the display), tries a sandal style on the horse, and, with a mirror, gets the horse's approval.

After he fits her with four sandals, he curries her, powders her nose, and ties her next to a car. He begins to work on the car. While he attends to it he gets several dirty handprints and squirts of oil on one side of the clean white horse. He doesn't see the mess because he's gotten oil all over his face, too. Fox comes to collect the horse and sees only the clean side.

A saddlesore woman drags her brown horse in. Keaton has a solution: a saddle shock absorber (it looks like a saddle atop two brackets < >). He installs it on her horse and helps her climb upon it with a ladder. So goes away happy.

Keaton takes his watch out of the fire. With a few taps of his hammer it works again.

The woman rides on her saddle shock absorber.

Keaton gets back to work on the car. A kid with a balloon wanders by. Keaton uses the balloon to hold up the car after he removes the wheel, but the kid pops it with a rock from his slingshot. The car crashes through the floor and the kid runs away. Keaton tries to pick up the ruined car but he can't.

The woman continues to ride on the shock absorber.

A man with a white car pulls into the shop. It has a broken bumper. The dandy gets upset when Keaton touches his car with a dirty hand. He leaves. The car suffers a similar fate to the white horse. It collects handprints, a crankcase full of oil slops in and around it, windows get broken, and a blowtorch scorches it. Finally, a motor suspended next to it swings into it several times.

The saddlesore woman storms up the road without her horse, carrying a stick.

The brown horse returns to the shop, still wearing the shock absorber. Keaton takes one look and trades his apron for his jacket and hat.

Roberts also comes back to the shop, rolling up his sleeves. At the sight of him, Keaton's hat flips over. He backs away, behind the white car. Roberts picks up a hammer and throws it at him. He misses, smashing the headlight. Another hammer goes through the side windows. Then Roberts picks up the motor and throw that, wreaking the grille. Finally Roberts removes the side door and tries to hit Keaton over the head, but Keaton goes through the hole where the window once was. Keaton uses the engine hoist to suspend Roberts from the ceiling. He calls the brown horse in, positions in beneath Roberts, and tries to cut the rope. However, Roberts has maneuvered himself over the car. When the rope finally gives, Roberts crashes through the roof.

The white car owner comes in and Keaton sees him. Then the shock-absorber woman, brandishing her stick, arrives. First Keaton hides behind the forge, then he runs out to a waiting horse and buggy. He grabs the reins and tells the horse to go, but the animal isn't attached to the vehicle, so Keaton gets dragged down the road and onto the railroad tracks. His foot gets stuck in the tracks.

Fox arrives home; her mother notices how dirty the horse is and faints. Fox ridesaway, past a manhole. An explosion beneath the street causes her horse to rear.

Keaton is still stuck. A train approaches. It stops right before it hits him. He's so busy trying to untie his shoe that he doesn't notice it until the two engineers join him. When he sees it, he runs in fright.

Fox has fainted and her horse runs with her limp body on its back. Keaton grabs her and they land in a haystack. She comes to and thinks that he saved her. She gives him some money, which he throws into the hay. After she's gone, he digs for the cash. He finds it and runs after her to give it back. He sees a ring on her right hand and he moves it to her left hand, third finger. She's thrilled.

The couple run to the train. Roberts, the white car owner, the shock absorber woman, and another man sneak up on them. While he pleads with Fox, he pulls down a waterspout, dousing the posse. The couple gets on the train and waves good-bye.

A title card reads "Many a honeymoon express has ended thusly." A train goes off of the tracks. Keaton comes over and fixes his toy train while Fox puts their baby to bed. Keaton closes the window shade, which reads "The End." — Lisle Foote