BUSTER KEATON

 

Cast: Buster Keaton, Joe Roberts, Virginia Fox
Running Time: 18 mins.
Vault: VARIETIES

Although Cops is one of the all-time great two-reelers, its creator, Buster Keaton, never thought much of it. He felt it was just a run-of-the-mill chase film, which suggests that perhaps Keaton was his own worst critic -- the chase is what gives the film its brilliance. The film's beginning is a portent of things to come: Keaton longingly looks at his girl Virginia Fox through what appear to be prison bars. In reality, it's the gate to the mansion where she lives. The girl sends Keaton away, telling him not to return until he is a success in business. Keaton attempts to do so, acquiring, through convoluted means, a horse, wagon, and a load of stolen furniture. Somehow he drives his wagon into the middle of a policeman's parade, where an anarchist's bomb falls in his lap. Carelessly, he lights his cigarette with it and throws it away. It explodes in the middle of the parade, and suddenly Keaton is pursued by every cop in the city. The surrealistic vision of Keaton, small and alone, evading these hundreds upon hundreds of policemen is unforgettable. The filmmaker was both athlete and comic, and here he makes maximum use of both talents, racing down streets, playing a balancing act on a ladder, and casually grabbing hold of a car as it flies past, all in an attempt to evade the cops. When it was first released, this comic short confused many people -- its subtle statements (including its blend of humor and politics) went over the head of the average filmgoer of the '20s. But those same qualities make Cops a classic today.

 

Cast: Buster Keaton, Renée Adorée, Joe Keaton, Joe Roberts, Edward F. Cline
Running Time: 18 mins.
Vault: VARIETIES

Buster Keaton is a boy who wants to marry his sweetheart (a pre-stardom Renee Adoree). But her practical father (Joe Keaton -- in real life, Buster's father) wants to know, "How will you support her?" Buster swears he will go to the city to make good, adding, "If I am not a success I'll come back and shoot myself." The father generously offers to loan him his gun, should that come to pass. And so Buster is off, writing letters home of his adventures. His girl reads that he is working at a hospital. She imagines him as a master surgeon. In reality, he is a veterinary assistant. Then he writes that he is cleaning up on wall street. But he not the tycoon that his girl believes he is -- as a sanitary engineer, Buster is literally "cleaning up." Next he is making his theatrical debut. His girl pictures him on stage as Hamlet. Instead, Buster is actually an extra who is so disruptive that the star haughtily walks off the show. He ends up being chased by the town's police force (in scenes similar in tone to Keaton's two-reeler, Cops, released six months earlier). Finally, a bruised and battered Buster is delivered, via mail, back home to his girl and her father. Obligingly, the father hands the boy a gun, and he and his daughter go into another room while he does the job. But Buster can't even do this right -- he misses. Several fragments of Daydreams are missing and replaced by stills shot while it was being filmed. But it is lucky that the two-reeler exists at all -- the only known copy of it was found in Czechoslovakia.

 

Cast: Buster Keaton, Sybil Seely, Edward F. Cline
Running Time: 27 mins.
Vault: VARIETIES

In what is perhaps Buster Keaton's most fatalistic short subject, the comedian portrays a husband who has been diligently building a boat in his basement. It's finally done, and he, his wife (Sybil Seely) and their two boys prepare to tow it to the harbor for its first run. The car slowly pulls the craft, which is too big to fit, through the basement doorway, and the house just as slowly collapses. But this is just the beginning — at the pier, the car sinks, the christening bottle dents the hull, and then the boat itself sinks, with Buster aboard. But as the title says: "You can't keep a good boat down." Finally the little boat is at sea (even if its life preserver sinks and anchor floats), and Buster and his family try valiantly to makes themselves at home as the waves toss them to and fro. Of course this can't go on forever; in the darkest part of the night, a storm fiercely blows and the boat begins to sink. Buster desperately radios for help, but when the telegraph operator (played by Keaton's co-director, Eddie Cline) asks for the boat's name, and Buster replies "Damfino" (which is, in fact, its name), the operator angrily replies, "Neither do I!" As Buster and his family cram into their makeshift lifeboat, the situation looks very bad, but somehow they wind up on land. "Where are we?" the wife wants to know. There's no need for a title card to record Buster's reply: "Damned if I know!" This is one of Keaton's best two-reelers, which was almost lost to the ravages of time and deterioration — when Keaton's work was first being restored, only one print of The Boat was found, and several scenes were nearly past the point of salvaging. But the picture squeaked through intact, and its indelible images have become a part of silent film's heritage.

 

Cast: Buster Keaton, Viginia Fox, Joe Roberts
Running Time: 23 mins.
Vault: VARIETIES

Madcap chases and hilarious displays of physical agility are the highlights of this frenetic Buster Keaton short. Dumb luck sets a menacing policeman on his trail -- after a series of innovative escapes, he gets mistaken for a murderer with a price on his head, which means the people that aren't chasing him are fleeing from him. Nonstop laughter!

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