First off, throw me in the camp where I don't believe Keaton co-directed this one. Way too early for that kind of control on Keaton's part. I can believe the later collaborations, like THE GARAGE, maybe being co-directed by Keaton because there it feels almost like a team effort. THE ROUGH HOUSE? Arbuckle at this point was a film veteran, Keaton was on his second film, not likely.
Basic analysis of THE ROUGH HOUSE - an unpretentious slapstick film. When it tries to throw in a bit of plot, like the jewels being stolen and the gun chase happening, it feels forced, unfocused, and unfunny. The chase at the end, again, is the weak point and THE ROUGH HOUSE is much better when focusing on skit like slapstick comedy scenes. Arbuckle uses chases for their own sake the way Sennett did in the teens, and the chase is something that was perfected much better in the twenties by Keaton, Lloyd, and even to a lesser extent, Sennett himself, as the focus and reason of the chase was better developed, as was the editing, which felt less frantic and again, more focused.
Still some funny stuff here. One really great gag I like is Arbuckle taking whole potatoes and making them mashed through a fan. A very funny and clever bit of business. The gag where a fire starts and the comedian goes back and forth between room trying to put it out with a coffee cup full of water has been done so many times I can't even remember what films I've seen it in, it just blends together. I'm pretty sure this gag showed up in AFRICA SCREAMS, though it's been years since I've seen it, and perhaps a Besser solo? Did this gag show up in a Stooge short? I can't even remember, I just I've seen this gag before, one of those slapstick staples that has transcended any film or comedian that's done it in my eyes. I do appreciate Arbuckle's nonchalant nature here.
As for Keaton, along with Al St. John, both are simply awesome stunt men here. Really the basic physical aspect of Keaton is on display, as his screen character and dead pan humor have not developed on screen yet. Yes, there's that dead pan thing. When Keaton flirts with the girl, when Keaton fights, he grimaces, and he smiles! Keaton solo, the great stone face, never smiled in any of his films and only did it on screen with Arbuckle. Keaton claims he got his dead pan stone face from working on stage with his Dad, so either Keaton is mis remembering this or Arbuckle is simply directing Keaton to smile against Keaton's normal working methods. Whatever the reason, these Arbuckle films are the only places you'll ever see Keaton laugh or smile, and THE ROUGH HOUSE is the first example.