Maria Gambarelli by Carlo Leonetti, c. 1920
Marguerite Clark by Apeda, early 1920s
Convict 13 (1920) was the second of Buster’s shorts to reach theaters, but the third he made — he was dissatisfied with The High Sign (1921) and shelved it for a later release, once his reputation was more firmly established and its defects would be of reduced consequence.
That we can enjoy Convict 13 today is something of a minor miracle—the ravages of time had eaten away at available copies until only fragments remained. Then, in the 1970s, Raymond Rohauer pieced together copies unearthed around the world to reassemble a nearly complete reconstruction.
There are grim jokes aplenty in this short —one key sequence involves the intended execution of Buster Keaton. It takes an especially dark comic imagination to seek laughs in the hanging of an innocent man. Buster Keaton, though, finds a way to make that hangman’s noose his ally.
Nino Constantini, Six et demi onze (Jean Epstein, 1927). Images restaurées par la Cinémathèque française.