I recently finished watching Buster Keaton’s Our Hospitality (1923). It’s basically a humorous take on the famous Hatfield and McCoy feud, where families kill each other out of some ancient, long forgotten wrong.
One of the scenes again used hats as a humorous device. Basically, Buster Keaton’s character is riding in an open car train when a young lady sits next to him. He tries to put the top hat on to be more respectable but it won’t fit with the low ceiling of the car. He tries to sidle into it from below but various bumps frustrate that effort. Eventually, he ends up switching hats out of frustration. Perfection.
It was also curious to see the depiction of the train. The train was completely open. Allegedly, it’s based on trains from the 1830s. The engine car is allegedly modeled after one of Stephenson’s Rocket, which “Rocket established the basic architecture for the steam locomotive” and appears to have reached 29 miles per hour. In the movie, the train is so slow that Buster Keaton’s dog walks underneath the last car from NY to the Midwest. People fall off the train without harming themselves.
Moreover, the tracks aren’t fixed; people literally pick them up and move them where they please. For instance. a donkey hangs its head over the track so the engineer just picks up the tracks and moves it. It’s more like a roller coaster ride than what we know as railroads. It’s a different take on trains than in the later movie, the General. Here the train is really a delicate thing while the General’s trains are powerful, decisive forces.
So it’s got hats and early trains, what else can you ask for in life?