Wednesday, August 3, 2011
A Big Prop
A scene in A Southern Yankee (1948) features a wheel-like contraption that chases Red Skelton down a hill. Wooden blades in the wheel make it look like a giant lawn mower. The scene is set on an old Southern plantation and one could reasonably assume this type of wheel was something used in farming. I am the last person in the world to identify the item as I grew up in the city and I do not know a harrow from a cultivator. I sent screen captures out to Sue Cochran, who is an expert on antique farm equipment. She consulted reference books, forwarded the screen captures to colleagues, and showed printouts of the screen captures at an antique exhibit. This was not an apparatus that anyone was able to identify. Some people speculated that it could be something the military devised to repel men and horses. I am left to believe, though, that this was a prop specifically designed for the film and it has no practical purpose in the real world. This belief is strongly supported by the fact that the likely author of the routine, Buster Keaton, was known for his imaginative props. A good clown is not bound to reality when it comes to creating a funny prop. That's how we got the rubber chicken and the squirting flower.