A series of mishaps manages to make a young man get chased by a big city's entire police force.
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In "Cops" Keaton's cinematic attractions are grounded within the conventions of the chase film. Here, Keaton's downtrodden everyman must become a success in business or else his girlfriend won't marry him. With that as his goal, Keaton, in a series of coincidences and unfortunate circumstances becomes linked to an anarchist bombing and a series of robberies. Chased through the streets, Keaton avoids the police, by climbing a ladder straddled over a fence. As the cops yank on one end, Keaton daringly flips to the other side of the ladder, creating a see-saw effect. Eventually he's flung from the ladder, and again takes to the streets, sliding head first under a burly cop's spread-eagled stance. Keaton avoids capture and winds up in the police precinct. The doors close, there's a momentary pause, and Keaton, now a triumphant trickster figure, emerges dressed in a cop uniform. His girl sees him, and unimpressed by his new found "success" rejects him. Keaton, with a quiet dignity and resignation, turns and reenters the precinct, where the police mob seizes and beats him.
"Cops" has a dark ideological undercurrent, suggesting either that the American success dream in unattainable or that to be successful implies one must act criminally--success is based on aggression. Two other short films, "Daydreams" and "Convict 13" also question some of America's ideologies.