The Iron Mule (1925) Poster


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St. John Makes Pretty Good Use of His Leading Role
Snow Leopard23 March 2004
In this short comedy, Al St. John makes pretty good use of a rare chance to play the lead role. It's also good to see the train from Keaton's "Our Hospitality" get a chance to be used in another 'role'. It was a wonderful prop, and though "The Iron Mule" is not quite up to the standard of Keaton's own features, it's good entertainment in its own right.

The story is simple, with "The Iron Mule" encountering a series of obstacles and disruptions along the way, but some of the gags and gadgets are pretty creative (such as the river crossing segment). It moves at a good pace, and although they could have gotten more mileage out of some of the material, it's entertaining and certainly worth watching.
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Buster Keaton loans his train, and plays an Indian chief!
imogensara_smith2 May 2006
Buster Keaton did everything he could to help his cinematic mentor and best friend Roscoe Arbuckle after he was banned from the screen in 1922 due to the scandal surrounding his trial (at which he was ultimately exonerated) on false charges of rape and manslaughter. In this case, Buster's generosity extended to letting Arbuckle, then directing under the name William Goodrich, use the train Keaton's team had built for his 1923 feature Our Hospitality: a working model of Stephenson's "Rocket," the first locomotive. The Iron Mule, built around the train, also features appearances by the Gentleman's Hobbyhorse, a model of the first (pedal-less) bicycle, which Buster had built based on an old print, the costumes (or at least replicas of them) from Our Hospitality—and Buster himself as an Indian chief! The version of The Iron Mule that is usually seen is only one reel and does not include Buster's cameo, but I was lucky enough to see the complete two-reel version at the Museum of Modern Art's Roscoe Arbuckle retrospective. I have to admit I would never have recognized Buster, who is heavily war-painted and never appears in close-up, if his role hadn't been pointed out by the program's introducer. He does do one or two distinctive falls, but obviously he was just joining in for a lark and with no intention of being recognized.

The Iron Mule stars Arbuckle's nephew Al St. John as the train's engineer. Usually the embodiment of low comedy with his frantic mugging, splashy falls and vulgar antics, St. John was aiming at class here. In fact, it's hard not to say he was trying to be Buster Keaton, his erstwhile colleague in Arbuckle's Comique Company, who in 1925 was at the peak of his success as a major star. Keaton had long since abandoned his Keystone-style roots for dramatic stories shot with dazzling authenticity, and adopted his uniquely straight performing style. The trouble is, Al St. John playing it straight merely becomes nondescript. He keeps standing there striking the Napoleon hand-in-the-coat pose without making much impact. He's adequate, but he does not dominate the film, which has an ensemble cast of train passengers and attacking Indians. The film is beautifully shot with sweeping landscapes, though it fails to amount to much as a narrative. Many of the gags resemble those in Our Hospitality, with the train running into obstacles including livestock and low tunnels; and the gag in which an Indian attempts to scalp a man with a toupee (which got the biggest laugh from the audience I saw it with) was identical to one Keaton used in The Paleface in 1921. Still, all in all, this is a charming and graceful film, and a touching example of the loyalty and friendship between Keaton, Arbuckle and St. John.
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The Iron Mule
kindlydr10 February 2016
ALTERNATE TITLES: The Iron Mule, Fatty's Iron Mule. Of the film's pun loaded captions, the title card reads, "The Twenty Cent Limited". The first "joke" card on screen says, "The Iron Mule has made the trip twice before – once on time, and once on the track." Last card of the film reads, "To less romantic hearts, The Iron Mule seemed a soulless monster but these brave people found her tender." Versions available for internet viewing vary in length from 10 to 19 minutes. Low mentality sounds (voices, music) are added in some versions, together with burlesque comic drum punctuations for most of the pratfalls. An excellent quality Blue Ray edition of "Our Hospitality" with "The Iron Mule" as an extra is available. One film version (which edits out the introductory footage, leaving out the boarding station name - a real hoot) starts with Keaton's replica of Stephenson's Rocket being loaded, conductor punching a ticket, then falling off the last car when the train jerks forward on starting. With no limit to the pratfalls, the trip starts from a sparsely settled rural area. Approaching a tunnel, the engineer pulls off the smoke pipe, and runs up the hill with it, as the smoke pipe slot feature of the tunnel from "Our Hospitality" (train and tunnel on loan) has been (badly) hidden with fake-looking grass. The engineer's daring do (his hair color changes from blond to dark, sort of like Keaton's) is notable as he dashes downhill with the heavy smoke pipe, and manages miraculously to hop back aboard and put the pipe back on. This film's water challenge is next.The passengers and crew cleverly manage to float the entire train - - smoke and steam billowing off the engine, and it heads downriver. The clever train moves powerfully across the river, rowed solely by the engineer, steered back onto the tracks again by the conductor at the back end. At her first stop returning to dry land, a major to-do causes plenty of hub-bub and consternation. A new passenger tied his horse onto the last car, and the horse balks. Celebrity note: "Buster and Natalie" (Keaton and Talmadge) seem to still be sitting in that car, too. Lots of new pratfalls, following which the train "escapes" from the distracted passengers and crew. A Mack Sennettesque chase sequence follows, loaded with pratfalls and more homages to "Our Hospitality". A band of troublesome native-Americans build a barricade on the track ahead. The train colliding with it is yet another opportunity for – what else – pratfalls. The climactic battle between Indians and train people is a boundless feast of terrific slapstick and some great sight gags. The scalping scene is right out of Mel Brooks. Ends with a truly unexpected – and unlikely – patriotic tableau. Summary: Mack Sennett meets the team of Arbuckle and Keaton.
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Run With The Train
DKosty12321 September 2010
Warning: Spoilers
Al St John is the Engineer of the 20 Cent Special otherwise known as the Iron Mule. The film is a comic trip across the country from here to there. The town names mean little. It is the train & engineer that are the real center of the film.

There is one clever sequence where the train goes into a tunnel but first the engineer removes the smoke stack & carries it over the hill the tunnel is in to meet the train on the other side. All the technology is crude & the engine appears to be less than 1 horse power as a horse stops the trip.

This film being 1925 on the Kino Version I watched was Keaton as an Indian. There was also a musical background & at times the special effects like the train whistle blowing can be heard by the viewer. This film is entirely in black & white & is pretty much a pleasant train trip in the afternoon.

There is not a lot of gags though the highlight is a man running from an Indian during the attack. As the Indian closes in he decides to remove his toupee & throw it back at the Indian. Turns out the toupee & possibly the Indian Costumes were made by- Sears Roebuck
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fun to watch, but not particularly funny either
MartinHafer20 May 2006
This is an Al St. John silent comedy short. Although he is completely unknown today, he starred in a few movies with Buster Keaton--and it was from Buster he obtained the very, very old fashioned train for this film. In the Keaton film, OUR HOSPITALITY (by the way, it's one of the greatest films he ever did), the train was also featured just a few months earlier. Here in this short, the train is pulled out of mothballs and is featured.

This movie is a very leisurely paced film about one of the earliest railway lines in America. It shows the train slowly departing and follows it through the journey. The scenes are cute and interesting, but no real belly laughs or excitement either.

FYI--late in the film a group of Indians attack the train. Supposedly one of them is Buster Keaton in a cameo. I watched for this but couldn't clearly tell if this is true--the only adequate quality of the print didn't help.
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