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The Electric House

Release date: October 1922
Length: Two reels
Presented by: Buster Keaton Productions, Inc.
Distribution: Associated-First National
Producer: Joseph M. Schenck
Director/Script: Buster Keaton and Eddie Cline
Photography: Elgin Lessley
Technical Director: Fred Gabourie

Cast:
Buster Keaton: The Boy
Virginia Fox: The Girl
Joe Roberts: Homeowner

 

The Electric House, like The Scarecrow and One Week, is a gadget comedy. It begins with Keaton sitting amongst a group of graduates at the People's University's commencement. As a newly-minted electrical engineer upbraids him, Keaton, a botanist, studies the flower that the beautician next to him wears. They pick their diplomas up off of the floor. A rich man (Joe Roberts) comes seeking an electrical engineer. The engineer goes up and hands him his diploma. However, Roberts isn't impressed by the manicurist credential and he sends him back. Back on the bench, the girl has moved to get away from Keaton. The engineer shoves Keaton and he trips up to Roberts, who seizes 'his' engineering diploma. He offers him the job. Keaton looks at Roberts' daughter (Virginia Fox) and decides to take it. The engineer looks at the diploma in his hand, and the beautician takes it back and gives him Keaton's botany degree. But it's too late: Keaton has been driven away.
The car pulls up at the house to be electrified. Roberts tells him to get to work and surprise him when he comes back from vacation. Before they leave, Fox gives him a book: Electricity Made Easy. Keaton sits on the curb to read it.

The family returns and begins their tour. The butler demonstrates the new escalator to the girl and her mother, while Keaton presents a book delivery system to Roberts in the library. In the bedroom, the bathtub rolls in and the bed folds into the wall at the touch of a button. The study doors open and close electronically. But when Roberts rides the escalator, it goes too fast and ejects him out the window and into the pool. Keaton tries to shut it off, but he slips on the stairs and lands in the pool too. He helps Roberts out and shows him another device: the pool can drain and refill with the movement of a lever.

Next, Keaton exhibits the electric pool table. As he shoots balls into the pockets, they go on a track back to the wall rack. After he clears the table, he lowers a triangle and the balls slide down a chute to be re-racked. Roberts breaks, then Keaton mangles his cue on a tough shot. He crumples it more and uses it like a golf club.

The butler announces dinner. Keaton offers his arm to the daughter, but the mother takes it, and they go in. They stand in front of their chairs. Keaton presses a button, the chairs move to the table, and they sit. The cook ladles out soup in the kitchen while Keaton lowers a track from the wall. An electric train brings the soup out. The electric lazy Susan delivers condiments. The train comes back to pick up the dirty bowls; in the kitchen the cook puts them on a conveyer belt into the dishwasher. They return on an upper belt and she puts them away. Back in the dining room, the family stands to congratulate Keaton. He inadvertently moves the chairs back and they all sit down on the floor. As they get re-settled, Keaton mistakenly moves the train track and when the meat and potatoes come out, they land in the wife's lap.

The next day several friends come over to look at the electric house. The real electrical engineer also arrives, bent on revenge. First he frightens the cook, and she hides in a trunk, then he goes to the central wiring closet and begins to switch wires.

Keaton decides to leave before he's thrown out, so he tries to collect his trunk. With the cook in it, it's a struggle. Finally he wrestles it to the escalator. As Keaton climbs, the engineer switches the stairs to move down, so Keaton makes no progress. Meanwhile, in the library, the book delivery rod smacks an argumentative guest. With the escalator off, Keaton finally gets to the top. He leaves the trunk on the stairway and the engineer turns it back on so the trunk goes back down. Keaton sees it but the stairway reverses and the box goes out the window and into the pool. Keaton slides down the banister, goes out to the pool, and sees a hand reaching out and undoing the latches to the floating trunk. Frightened, he runs back in. The cook gets out and wraps herself in a big white towel. Scared by the ghost, Keaton runs up the back stairway.

Keaton watches as the hall lights go on and off. Then the ghost comes through and he's driven into Fox's room. As he tells her about it, the tub comes out and knocks him over. Then the bed, with Fox on it, folds into the wall. He pulls it down, then runs out of the haunted room.

He runs on the up escalator like a treadmill until it reverses, then he goes through the dining room where the ladies are eating. In the kitchen he's startled on to the dishwasher conveyer belt. He hops off and tries the off switch, but it doesn't work. Meanwhile, the dining room chairs move backwards and forwards, frightening the women. The dishwasher hurls plates at Keaton, so he leaps through the train tunnel into the dining room and runs to the library. He tells them about the poltergeist, describing the hand in the trunk, when he sees a hand presses against a frosted window (it's the butler on a break). The chalk caddy rises, elevating Keaton. He falls off, knocking down a guest. He goes to the other side of the room, where the book delivery system socks another guest. He thinks it was Keaton, so he punches him. The pool triangle lowers and shoots balls at Keaton. He crawls out and the doors close around his neck. They open and he staggers out.

Keaton goes to the electrical closet, finds the locked door, then climbs up to see over the transom. He spies on the engineer. He goes to the kitchen, collects some metal pots, and throws them in, giving the villain multiple shocks and proving that electrical engineering is one of his talents. The engineer bursts out of the room and chases Keaton to the dining room, where the train ramp first hits Keaton, then him. Keaton runs up the stairway and dares the engineer to follow. He does, and Keaton turns on the stairway. The engineer flies out the window and into the pool. Keaton slides down the banister and rides back up, but Roberts gets in his way and they both land in the pool. Fox comes out as they both get out of the pool. Keaton tries to explain about the evildoer (who has disappeared) but Roberts won't buy it. He returns the diploma and tells him to get out. Keaton, dejected, ties one end of a rope around a rock and the other around his neck and leaps into the pool. Fox presses the lever to drain it, but Roberts fills it back up and takes her inside. She sneaks out and drains it, but Keaton is gone. He gets spit out a sewer drainpipe, right next to the engineer.

Keaton originally tried to film The Electric House in the spring of 1921. On the second day of shooting he got his shoe caught in the escalator and broke his ankle. He was in a cast for seven weeks and couldn't do heavy work for five months. He abandoned this project until the summer of 1922. — Lisle Foote