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A Life in the Balance (1913)

The landlord of poor tenements rents rooms to three Italians. Not being impressed with their looks he spies upon them and discovers that they are making bombs. Securing a pistol he rushes ... See full summary »

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The Landlord
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The Landlord's Wife
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Lead Arsonist
Laura Oakley ...
Neighbor
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Storyline

The landlord of poor tenements rents rooms to three Italians. Not being impressed with their looks he spies upon them and discovers that they are making bombs. Securing a pistol he rushes into the room and chases them out. He then runs to the police station, but is kicked out by the cops who resent leaving their game of pinochle interfered with. The revengeful Italians enter the landlord's home while his wife has gone to the store and place their baby in a basket, which they attach to the end of a long spring, taken from an exerciser, and fasten the other end of the spring under the window so that when the window is raised it will permit the basket to fall four stories. The landlord is waylaid and tied to a fence, his gloating captors telling him of what they have done. He is in agony and tugs at his bonds, and manages to get the rope in his mouth, which he vainly tries to chew in two. His wife returns home and missing the baby, thinks he has taken it out. Alternate flashes are shown ... Written by Moving Picture World synopsis

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Comedy | Short

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14 April 1913 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Crashing Through  »

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1.33 : 1
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Class Warfare
7 September 2012 | by (New York City) – See all my reviews

Looking at this Keystone short a century after its original release, the viewer has little context to understand the whys and wherefores. Three shabbily dressed fellows rent a room and proceed to put together a bomb. When their landlord discovers this, they kidnap his son, dangle him out a window with another bomb, while he runs around trying to get the police to deal with the "aner-kists." Perhaps it looks like modern terrorists, but this is actually class warfare at work. Ford Sterling is the landlord, with his billy-goat beard and his obnoxious manner. Ford specialized in inept, nasty authority figures for Keystone, from the Keystone Kops' chief to the landlord here -- think real estate mogul. Raymond Hatton and cohort are the foreign anarchists and everyone is unlikeable, except perhaps Dot Farley as Sterling's wife and Coy Watson who plays the baby.

In the world of Keystone, everyone is deserving of a kick in the pants except babies and lovers. If the anarchists blow themselves up, it is no less than they deserve. If the Keystone Kops are too lazy to follow up Sterling's complaints, they still fall into the water. Certainly, Sterling deserves to be tied up to a tree. There ain't no justice -- but at least the obnoxious get published.

Take a look at the editing while Sterling is racing back home and the baby is bouncing outside the window, about to be blown up by bomb. The changing viewpoints with the cuts speeding up slightly is very sophisticated and still works. Sennett and his staff had learned from D.W. Griffith and Keystone probably had the best editing in the industry at this period.


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