Keystone Cops

The Keystone Cops in a typical pose in In the Clutches of the Gang (1914). The desk officer using the telephone is Ford Sterling. The policeman directly behind Sterling (in extreme background, left) is Edgar Kennedy. The young cop to Kennedy's left is Robert Cox. The hefty policeman at extreme right is Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle. The young constable with bulging eyes, fourth from right, is Arbuckle's nephew Al St. John. The casting of the Keystone police force changed from one film to the next; many of the individual members were per diem actors who remain unidentifiable.

The Keystone Cops (often spelled "Keystone Kops") were fictional incompetent policemen, featured in silent film comedies in the early 20th century. The movies were produced by Mack Sennett for his Keystone Film Company between 1912 and 1917. The idea came from Hank Mann who also played police chief Tehiezel in the first film before being replaced by Ford Sterling. Their first film was Hoffmeyer's Legacy (1912) but their popularity stemmed from the 1913 short The Bangville Police starring Mabel Normand.

As early as 1914, Sennet shifted the Keystone Cops from starring roles to background ensemble, in support of comedians like Charlie Chaplin and Fatty Arbuckle. The Keystone Cops serve as supporting players for Marie Dressler, Mabel Normand, and Chaplin in the first full-length Sennett comedy feature, Tillie's Punctured Romance (1914), as well as in Mabel's New Hero (1913) with Normand and Arbuckle; Making a Living (1914) with Chaplin in his first screen appearance (pre-Tramp); In the Clutches of the Gang (1914) with Normand, Arbuckle, and Al St. John; and Wished on Mabel (1915) with Arbuckle and Normand, among others. Comedian/actors Chester Conklin, Jimmy Finlayson, Ford Sterling and director Del Lord were also Keystone Cops.[citation needed]

In 2010, the previously lost short A Thief Catcher was rediscovered at an antique sale in Michigan. The short, filmed in 1914, stars Ford Sterling, Mack Swain, Edgar Kennedy, and Al St. John and includes a previously unknown appearance of Charlie Chaplin as a Keystone Kop.[1]



  • There is always a chase.
  • Filmed at slow speed so that the action would appear faster than normal in playback.
  • The cops never ran in a straight line, but rather in a zig-zag pattern as if bouncing off invisible walls.
  • Although there are collisions and disasters aplenty, nobody is ever truly hurt.
  • One of every four frames of film was removed to provide a sort of jerky motion.[2][page needed]

Original lineup

The original Keystone Cops numbered only seven: George Jeske, Bobby Dunn, Mack Riley, Charles Avery, Slim Summerville, Edgar Kennedy, Hank Mann.[3]


Mack Sennett continued to use the Keystone Cops intermittently through the 1920s. By the time sound movies arrived, the Keystone Cops' popularity had waned. In 1935, director Ralph Staub staged a revival of the Sennett gang for his Warner Brothers short subject Keystone Hotel, featuring a re-creation of the Kops clutching at their hats, leaping in the air in surprise, running energetically in any direction, and taking extreme pratfalls. This footage has been used countless times in later productions purporting to use silent-era material.[citation needed][vague]

The Staub version of the Keystone Cops became a template for later re-creations. 20th Century Fox's 1939 feature Hollywood Cavalcade had Buster Keaton in a Keystone chase scene. However, during his own silent film career, the nearest Keaton had appeared in a "police comedy" was The Goat (1921) and Cops (1922). Abbott and Costello Meet the Keystone Kops (1955) included a lengthy chase scene, showcasing a group of stuntmen dressed as Sennett's squad. (Two original Keystone Cops in this movie were Heinie Conklin as an elderly studio guard; and Hank Mann as a prop man. Sennett also starred in a cameo role-as himself.) Mel Brooks directed a car chase scene in the Keystone Cops' style in his comedy film Silent Movie.

By the 1950s surviving silent movie comedians could be pressed into service as Keystone Cops regardless of whether they appeared with the troupe authentically.[vague] In the This Is Your Life TV tribute to Mack Sennett, several Sennett alumni ran on stage dressed as Keystone Cops.[citation needed]

In popular culture

The name has since been used to criticize any group for its mistakes, particularly if the mistakes happened after a great deal of energy and activity, or for a lack of coordination among the members. For example, the June 2004 election campaign of the Liberal Party of Canada was compared with "the Keystone Kops running around" by one of its parliamentary members, Carolyn Parrish.[4] In criticizing the Department of Homeland Security's response to Hurricane Katrina, Senator Joseph Lieberman claimed that emergency workers under DHS chief Michael Chertoff "ran around like Keystone Kops, uncertain about what they were supposed to do or uncertain how to do it."[5] Another example is a statement by Peter Beattie, Premier of the Australian state of Queensland, on the counter-terrorism investigation into Gold Coast doctor Mohamed Haneef in July 2007. After the Australian Federal Police committed a series of blunders, the Premier likened their actions to those of the "Keystone Kops". A 2012 U.S. National Transportation Safety Board report which investigated the response of the Canadian energy company Enbridge to a July 2010 pipeline spill in Michigan where millions of litres of oil began to pour in and around the Kalamazoo River compared the company’s handling of the spill to the Keystone Cops.[6]

The Keystone Kops re-emerge every year in Cedar Springs, Michigan during their Red Flannel Festival, in Sitka, Alaska during the Alaska Day festival, and in Anchorage, Alaska during the Fur Rendezvous Festival.

In sport, the term has come into common usage by television commentators, particularly in the United Kingdom and Ireland. The rugby commentator Liam Toland uses the term to describe a team's incompetent performance on the pitch. The phrase "Keystone cops defending" has become a favorite catchphrase for describing a situation in an English football match where a defensive error or a series of defensive errors leads to a goal.[7]

In comic book Gotham Central, a storyline taking place partly in Keystone City is called "Keystone Kops."

According to Dave Filoni, supervising director of the animated television series Star Wars: The Clone Wars, the look of the Police 'droid is based on the appearance of the Keystone Kops.[8]

In the second season of the comedy short TV series Portlandia, in an episode called "Cops Redesign," the main characters describe and mimic the Keystone Cops, while considering how to "soften" the image of the Portland, Oregon police force.

In the Arrested Development episode "Queen B." (season 4, episode 10), Lucille 2 refers to the Bluths as being a "Keystone Cop family."

In the Reno 911! episode "Dangle's Wife Visits," the character Andrew (Jim Rash) briefly taunts two officers by drawing comparison to the Keystone Cops, saying: "The Keystone Cops called! They want their bit back!"

In The X-Files episode Syzygy, all channels on all televisions in a small town play Keystone Cops due to a paranormal astronomical alignment.

In The Killing episode Eminent Domain, head of Special Investigations James Skinner (Elias Koteas), angry at his team's stagnating case, yells: "Come on! What are we, the Keystone Kops?!"

In Orson Welles' Touch of Evil Capt. Hank Quinlan (portrayed by Welles) condescendingly refers to Miguel Vargas (portrayed by Charlton Heston) and the Mexican police as "Keystone Cops."

Video games

In 1983, a video game called Keystone Kapers was released for the Atari 2600, 5200, and later Colecovision. Playing as Keystone Kop Officer Kelly, the player's objective is to stop would-be robber Hooligan Harry from escaping Southwick's Mall. The game, which became a hit, was produced by Activision; a similar later game, whose title features similar alliteration, is Bonanza Bros. (1990). The Keystone Kops also appear in the computer game NetHack, usually when the player steals from one of the shops. They are more dangerous than their cinematic inspiration, however; they typically surround the player's character, so escape is impossible, and then mercilessly beat the player with rubber hoses from all directions, while temporarily blinding the player with cream pie.

The Keystone Cops can be seen on televisions in the 1998 game, The X-Files Game.

See also


  1. Trescott, Jaqueline (June 13, 2010). "The 'Thief' in festival's lineup is famous face, indeed: Chaplin's". Washington Post. p. E7.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Ackroyd, Peter (2014); Charlie Chaplin: a brief life, Disc 2, Track 9, audio book edition
  3. Lahue, Kalton (1971); Mack Sennett's Keystone: The man, the myth and the comedies; New York: Barnes; ISBN 978-0-498-07461-5; p. 194
  4. "CBC News Indepth: Canadian Government". Retrieved 2009-09-26.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. "Americas | Chertoff castigated over Katrina". BBC News. 2006-02-15. Retrieved 2009-09-26.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. "Ottawa maintains support for Enbridge and Northern Gateway". The Globe and Mail. 2012-07-19. Retrieved 2012-07-19.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. "The Angle of Post and Bar: The Art of Defending". 2007-03-26. Retrieved 2009-09-26.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. "Senate Murders Video Commentary".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

Further reading

External links