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Lydia De Roberti,
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A squat, muscular dog steals a leg of lamb or mutton from a butcher shop, and the local constabulary, armed with truncheons, gives chase. Man's best friend, keeping a firm-jowled grip on the meat, leads the town's finest down streets, across boulevards, through a cellar and up the side of the building to a steep roof, then down again, and to his doghouse. The cops gingerly surround the place, then out bursts the canine and chases the entire force back to their station. Written by
'The Run of the Village Constables' is very funny in its own right, and also historically significant as the earliest known example of the 'chase' comedy, later developed at Mack Sennett's Keystone studio. The fact that the pursuers in this film are small-town constables (anticipating Sennett's Keystone Cops) makes it extremely likely that Sennett, or at least someone in his employ, was directly influenced by this movie. Buster Keaton's short film 'Cops' also appears to have been influenced by this very funny film.
Essentially, 'The Run of the Village Constables' is a Keystone Cops movie, made in France before Mack Sennett's earliest known film credit. Because this is a French movie, instead of the constable helmets worn by Keystone's cops, these French "flics" wear the sort of cylindrical visored cap known as a kepi.
A mongrel dog rushes into a butcher's shop and emerges with a pork chop in his jaws. Two gendarmes, who evidently have run out of murderers and rapists to pursue, rush after the dog. More cops join in. (Must be a slow day for the French crime rate.) There are some interesting exterior shots as the cops chase the dog along a cobblestoned street, across a tram line, and through some obviously staged set-ups (such as through a man's bedroom).
There's a highly imaginative trick shot, in which the cops chase the dog up the side of a building. From our more cinematically sophisticated viewpoint, it's obvious that the wall of the house is really a canvas 'flat' laid out on the studio floor, and the cops and the dog are actually running across a horizontal plane instead of up a vertical one. But for audiences in 1907, this trick shot probably produced a very startling 'How'd they do that?' effect. And it's still funny in its outright audacity.
Eventually the cops chase the dog back into its kennel ... whereupon the dog emerges to chase the gendarmes along a different route (some more interesting exteriors) and back into their own cop-shop. VOICI LE SPOILEUR: The last shot shows the dog gnashing the chop while wearing a policeman's kepi! This shot reminds me of the gag end-title in Keaton's 'Cops': after Buster is pulled into the police station by a hoard of policemen, the end-title shows Keaton's distinctive porkpie hat perched on a gravestone.
Since I've mentioned the Keystone Cops, this is a good place to settle the spelling once for all. The comedy constables at Keystone were Cops, not Kops. I own copies of several Keystone trade adverts and press releases which contain phrases such as 'another Cop comedy', with this word spelt correctly. I challenge anyone to locate the 'Kop' misspelling in any document or film footage issued by Keystone. Mack Sennett was very sensitive about his lack of education; I seriously doubt that he would have sanctioned any deliberate misspelling, for fear he'd be accused that he didn't know the proper spelling.
'The Run of the Village Constables' is an hilarious glimpse of the early French cinema, historically fascinating as well as uproarious. I rate this movie 10 in 10.
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