Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Buster Keaton: Part 2.

Keaton, first met Roscoe Arbuckle, at the Talmadge Studios, in New York City and during his first meeting with Arbuckle, he asked to borrow one of the cameras. He took the camera back to his hotel room, dismantled and reassembled it. When he returned the next day, he was hired as a co-star and gag man, making his first film performance in ....

The Butcher Boy (1917). A short comedy film which Arbuckle, makes a living as the butcher boy in a little country store. He falls in love with the cashier, who is the daughter of the store owner. He later follows her, disguised as her female cousin, to an all-girl school.

Keaton and Arbuckle became close life long friends after performing on the film, The Butcher Boy .

The Saphead(1920). Was Keaton's, first starring role in a full-length film, a story about, Nicholas Van Alstyne, the richest man in New York, who is worried about his un- employed son, Bertie, who stays out all night gambling and partying. The only thing Bertie wants to do is to marry his adopted sister, Agnes.

Bertie's sister, Rose, is married to Mark a unsuccessful lawyer, who has a mistress named Henrietta and they have a child together. When Henrietta dies, a letter is sent to inform Mark, who says the letter belonged to Bertie, breaking Agnes' heart.

When Van Alstyne, goes away on business he leaves Mark, in charge of the family's business. Mark sells all their shares of stock. Bertie, buys back all of the stock without realizing that he is saving the families money. When Van Alstyne, finds out what has happened he allows Bertie to marry Agnes. Mark, dies of a heart attack when he finds out that his plot has failed.

It was not long before Schenck, gave him his own production company, Buster Keaton Comedies. He made a series of two-reel comedies, including:

One Week (1920). The short story is about two newlyweds, Keaton and Seely, who receive a build-it-yourself house as a wedding gift. The house can supposedly be can be built in, "one week." A ex- boyfriend secretly re-numbers the packing crates. Keaton, has a lot of trouble putting together the house. Keaton, also finds he has built his house on the wrong property and has to move it. The house becomes stuck on railroad tracks. Keaton and Seely, try to move it out the way of an oncoming train, which as luck would have it passes on the neighboring track. As the couple think that their troubles are behind them, the house is hit by another train going the other way. Keaton, places a "For Sale" sign on his "home sweet home".

Video: 1 of 2.

The Playhouse (1921). The movie is most famous because Keaton plays all the roles. The film uses many wonderful film tricks, like doubling, and things are not what they at first seem to be. It opens with Keaton attending a variety show. In this first scene, Keaton plays the conductor of the orchestra, every member of the orchestra, the actors, the dancers, the stagehands, the minstrels, and every member of the audience, male and female. This trick photography sequence turns out to be a dream.

The second half of the film Keaton's character falls in love with a girl who has a twin sister, and he has trouble remembering which is which. The film stars, uncredited, Virginia Fox as one of the twins and Joe Roberts as another actor and stage manager. Edward F. Cline co-wrote the production and appears, uncredited, as a monkey trainer, whose monkey Keaton impersonates after letting him escape.

Cops (1922). A short silent film, written and directed by Edward F. Cline and Keaton.

Even though the Keaton's character's intentions are good, he can not stay out of trouble with police. Eventually, he throws a bomb into a police parade and is chased by the cops all over town.

At the end of the film, Keaton's character locks up the cops in the police station. The girl he is in love with gives him the cold shoulder. He unlocks the police station and is immediately pulled in by the cops. The film ends with the title "The End" written on a tombstone with Keaton's hat resting on top of his grave.

The Electric House (1922). A short comedy film directed by and starring Buster Keaton. The known version today is the second version filmed. During the original shoot in 1920, Keaton broke his leg filming a scene with the electric staircase. The project was put on hold, and re-filmed. No copies of the original footage are known to exist.

Keaton's other films include:

Our Hospitality (1923). A silent comedy directed, produced, written by and starring Buster Keaton. The movie uses slapstick comedy to tell the story of Willie McKay, a city slicker who gets caught in the middle of the infamous Canfield and McKay feud, a satire of the real-life Hatfield-McCoy feud.

Some exteriors were shot near Truckee, California, and in Oregon. The famous waterfall rescue scene was shot using a special set at Keaton's Hollywood studio.

Keaton set the film in the 1830s, so he could have a working model of Stephenson's Rocket, an early train. The traveling shots of this film were also used for the film, The General (1926).

This is the only film to feature three generations of Keatons. Buster's father plays a train engineer, Buster's infant son plays a baby version of Buster. Keaton's wife Natalie, was pregnant with their second child during filming, and she had to be filmed in a way to hide her pregnancy.

The Canfield and McKay families have been feuding for so long, no one remembers the reason the feud got started in the first place.

One stormy night in 1810, after John McKay, is killed during the feud, his wife Mrs. McKay, decides her son, Willie McKay, will not suffer the same fate. She moves to New York to live with her sister, who takes care of him after his mother's passing and does not tell him about the feud.

Twenty-one years later, Willie receives a letter telling him that his father's estate is now in his name. His aunt now tells him about the feud, but he decides to return to his birthplace anyway.

While traveling by train, he meets, Virginia, and she invites him to dinner at her house. They are greeted by her family, the Canfields, who already know that he is coming to town. They promise McKay, will not be harmed in their home.

Meanwhile, McKay is oblivious to the danger he is in and manages to dodge bullets without really meaning to. The McKay estate turns out to be unlivable.

Its not long before McKay, learns that as long as he stays in the Canfields' house that they will not kill him. A parson comes to visit. After a while, the parson is getting ready to leave, but there is a huge storm. The Canfield family, insists the parson stay the night. McKay, invites himself to stay the night also.

The next morning, McKay does his best to stay inside the house. After the father catches McKay kissing his daughter, McKay thinks it is time to leave, pretending to be a woman.

He's able to keep from the Canfield's all the way to the mountain and the waterfalls. After Willie trips and falls into the rapids, Virginia goes after him in a rowboat, she ends up at the edge of the waterfall. McKay swings on a rope, saving her just in time. (One of the most thrilling rescues in movie history).

Back home the Canfield's, find the gun cabinet empty, and in another room they see Willie and Virginia in each others arms and her father rushes into the room with gun in hand, he finds the parson completing nuptials for Willie and Virginia. Will her father bless the union and call off the feud?

Video: First of 2.

The Navigator (1924). A Comedy directed by and starring Buster Keaton. The film was written by Clyde Bruckman and co-directed by Donald Crisp.

Wealthy Rollo Treadway proposes to his neighbor, Betsy O'Brien, and sends his servant to make arrangements for a honeymoon sea cruise to Honolulu. When Betsy rejects his proposal, he decides to go on the trip anyway. Because the pier number is partially covered, he ends up on the wrong ship, the Navigator, which Betsy's father has just sold to a small country at war.

Agents, from the small country decide to set the ship adrift. When Betsy's father checks up on the ship, he is captured and tied up. Betsy hears his cry for help and boards the ship to look for him.

The Navigator drifts out into the Pacific Ocean. It is not long before a navy ship passes and they raise a brightly-colored flag, not realizing it signals that the ship is under quarantine, so the navy ship turns away.

They hit a tropical island and the boat springs a leak. While Rollo finds a deep sea diving suit and uses it to patch the hole, the natives kidnap Betsy. When Rollo surfaces, the natives are so scared that he is able to rescue Betsy and take her back to the ship. The natives return and board the ship. Rollo and Betsy try to escape in a small dinghy. It starts to sink, and the natives capture them in their canoes. Will the navy come back and save them in time?

Video : First of 4.

Sherlock Jr. (1924). A comedy silent film starring and directed by Buster Keaton and written by Clyde Bruckman, Jean Havez and Joseph A. Mitchell. It features Kathryn McGuire, Joe Keaton and Ward Crane.

A movie house projectionist and janitor who is studying to become a detective, is in love with a girl, and he decides to give her engagement ring. Unfortunately, there is another man who is in love with the same girl.

After, he is accused of stealing his girlfriend's father's watch. He falls asleep on the job and dreams that he is a Sherlock Holmes, solving the case of stolen pearl necklace.

Seven Chances (1925). Comedy silent film directed by and starring Buster Keaton, based on a play written by Roi Cooper Megrue, produced in 1916 by David Belasco. Cast: T. Roy Barnes, Snitz Edwards, Ruth Dwyer and Jean Arthur.

Jimmy Shannon, is a partner in a financial brokerage firm that is on the brink of going under when he reads his grandfather's will, which says he will receive seven million dollars on the condition that he marry by 7:00 p.m. on his 27th birthday, which happens to be the same day he learns of the terms. Shannon, with the help of his partner and a lawyer, must find him a bride.

Video: First of 4.

The Cameraman (1928). A Silent comedy directed by Edward Sedgwick and an uncredited Buster Keaton. The picture stars Buster Keaton, Marceline Day, Harold Goodwin.

The film begins when Buster, working as a photographer, is in love with Sally, a secretary who works for the MGM's newsreel department. Hoping to impress her, he purchases an out-of-date movie camera and tries to get a job as a cameraman. Harold, the current cameraman also has designs on Sally, stands in his way..

Sally suggests that Buster film anything and everything, but Buster's footage has been ruined and can not bee used. Later, the couple meet and Buster gets into lots of trouble.

The next day, Buster's luck has not changed, but Sally gives him a tip that something big is going to happen in Chinatown and he should film it. On his way, he accidentally runs into an organ grinder and thinks he accidentally kills the his monkey. A nearby cop makes Buster pay for the monkey and he takes its little body with him. The monkey turns out only to be dazed and joins Buster on his adventures.

Once in Chinatown, Buster witnesses a "Tong War" and escapes death while filming the events. He is eventually is arrested, but escapes with his camera.

Returning to MGM, Buster and the boss are disappointed to find that he had no film loaded in his camera. Buster is thrown out once and Sally finds herself in trouble for giving Buster the tip.

Despite losing Sally, Buster, makes plans to film an afternoon on the river. He discovers that his Tong footage is still in one piece, because the monkey has switched the reels. While Sally and Harold, on the river, their boat to spirals out of control. Sally is saved by Buster, when Buster rushes to get medical supplies, Harold takes credit for the rescue. The two go off, and the broken-hearted Buster is left at a river bank. As luck would have it, his monkey has the rescue on film.

Buster decides to send his Tong footage to MGM free of charge, and the Boss says that it is the best camerawork he had seen in years. At the end of the reel is the footage of Buster's rescue of Sally, exposing Harold as a fraud.

The General (1927). Is set during the American Civil War, which combined comedy with Keaton's love of trains, including an amazing locomotive chase and beautiful locations. The film's storyline reenacted an actual wartime incident. It was too dramatic for some film goers expecting a lightweight comedy, and reviewers questioned Keaton's judgment in making a comedic film about the Civil War.

Video : First of 9.

It was a huge flop, and Keaton was never trusted with control over his films again. United Artists, insisted on a production manager who monitored expenses. Keaton, performed in two more films, and then looked for employment at Hollywood's biggest studio, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Keaton's loss of independence as a filmmaker happened during the coming of sound films and his personal problems, his career took a set back..

To be continued..


  1. Thumbs up for your contribution to the ongoing Buster love! Isn't is wacky to think that The General (The General, for pete's sake!) was a "flop" that deprived Keaton of control over his own films? What a tragedy for all of us!

  2. I LOVE Our Hospitality! Hopefully your wonderful article will inspire people to rediscover how great Keaton was!

  3. Dawn, another fascinating installment in your series on Buster Keaton. The background information on The Electric House is especially intriguing; I did not know Keaton had begun filming prior to an injury on the project. We can only hope for the discovery of this lost footage as the scenes from Metropolis were uncovered by diligent archivists.

  4. Dawn,
    What a great tribute to Buster! Even still photos of him crack me up! I have to say One Week was simply wonderful...If I were to pick just one of the shorts you chose.

    Buster would be pleased, he might even manage to crack a quick smile.

  5. Dawn, I really enjoyed your capsule reviews in your ambitious and enjoyable Buster Keaton series. Keep up the great work! It's why so many film buffs make Noir and Chick Flicks a must-read blog.

  6. Pettycleverfilms.com. Thank you. I know... I think The General, is one of Buster Keaton's best films and it is not even a comedy, it is really is a action film, with a side order of romance and comedy tossed in, because it is.. Buster Keaton.

  7. Gilby, Thank you. After watching the Buster Keaton film, The Playhouse, is when I became a huge fan of Buster's.

    whistlingypsy, Thank you. My next installment will be on the 7th. I'm participating in the, Carole Lombard blogathon.

    Page, Thank you. One Week, is also one of my favorite Buster Keaton films.

    Rick, Thank you and thank you for stopping by.


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