Fernando Pena may just be the Indiana Jones of silent films. In 2008, the film collector and historian made the landmark discovery of a more complete version of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis than had ever been discovered previously. He has now followed that up with the reveal of an alternate cut of the Buster Keaton two-reel comedy The Blacksmith.
Pena made the discovery in a lot of 9.5mm film prints purchased on eBay in 2008 by friend and fellow collector Fabio Manes. (The 9.5mm format was a popular one for home-viewing in Europe, similar to the way the 8mm format was here in the US.) Since the print contains French intertitles, there is the possibility that all 9.5mm prints of The Blacksmith released in Europe were this same alternate version and no one noticed the difference until now. It also begs the question as to how many other silent films have alternate edits hiding in plain sight like this?
Silent film historian Kevin Brownlow, in an email to Pena, stated “I have not seen European releases of American films which differ in any more than the odd shot, extra title or varying camera angle. Half a reel is unprecedented.”
Variety described the differences in the new version of the short as such –
[H]alf of the film’s first reel (approximately 5-6 minutes of screen time) consists of entirely different, never-before-seen Keaton gags, while the ending of the film also differs slightly… Most notably, the extended gag sequence in which Keaton accidentally sprays oil all over one side of a beautiful white mare is missing from the Pena/Manes print, replaced by a sequence of Keaton leaving the smithy and driving through town, where he runs over his harried boss (frequent Keaton foil Joe Roberts), followed by a madcap pursuit. Also included is a brief additional interlude between Keaton and leading lady Virginia Fox.
So what accounts for the differences in the two versions? Watching the version of The Blacksmith that has been available in the US reveals that there are some scenes that appear to have been filmed several months after the initial production. (Buildings suddenly appearing in the background of some shots that hadn’t been seen previously.) Since a majority of the Keaton films available are ultimately sourced from the actor’s private collection, it is possible that this new version is in actuality the original version and Keaton went back and filmed new material based on feedback from early audiences.
Pena is hoping to get this new version of The Blacksmith restored and made available to audiences. In the meantime, here is a rough video of some of the new footage.