The Case of the Keyhole

A Search for Evidence

Wallace McCutcheon (?), American Mutoscope & Biograph Co., USA, 1903

Whereas the cinema of attractions typically uses the “keyhole shot” to enhance a voyeuristic interlude, this more ambitious Biograph film about a woman’s search for a philandering husband lends it some narrative rationale. Throughout, the main characters—the wife and a hotel detective—are looking not only for something that’s both narratively specific and plausible, but something which is, by its very nature, intended to be hidden behind a closed door. Moreover, when they glimpse a scene that fails to yield any evidence, it’s usually of some gag designed to yield its own comic and visual pleasure—such as the sight of a country bumpkin trying to light an electric bulb with a match (left). The ultimate spectacle of the cheating husband and his mistress (right) not only satisfies the story’s voyeuristic promise but reconfirms the motivation that’s been governing the main characters’ actions from the outset.

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