The second part of my Buster Keaton double feature from the other day– and the intentional part — was the 1924 film Sherlock, Jr. It’s one of Keaton’s better-known films, and one of the more critically acclaimed ones. Like many of Keaton’s works, it not only stars the comic actor, it was directed by him as well. Unlike many of those works, in this case the director credit is given to Keaton outright and is not shared with another director.
Keaton plays a theatre projectionist who fantasizes about being a private detective. He gets his chance when a watch belonging to his girlfriend’s father (Joe Keaton) is stolen. Unfortunately for the would-be hero, his rival (Ward Crane) has framed him for the crime. Continue reading →
I didn’t actually watch Our Hospitality intentionally, at least not at first. I hadn’t even been aware of this 1923 Buster Keaton film (directed by Keaton himself with John G. Blystone) until I was about 20 minutes into it. This is, I’ll grant, a bit of an odd situation for movie viewing, but it’s simple enough. I had intended to watch Sherlock Jr., one of Keaton’s more acclaimed films that I’d been wanting to see for some time. But when I selected it, the streaming service I was using had it as the second feature following Our Hospitality; this wasn’t mentioned on the Sherlock Jr. icon, and I was looking away from the screen at the time the title card came up. So it took a little while before I realized that what I was watching wasn’t merely different from what I expected from Sherlock Jr. but was rather a different film altogether.
And so instead of a relatively short feature, I wound up watching a moderately long Buster Keaton double feature. Well, there are certainly worse ways to spend an evening, and worse films to stumble onto accidentally than Our Hospitality. Continue reading →
It’s been almost two months since I last checked out a Buster Keaton film, and I decided that my next one should be one of his major films — Steamboat Bill, Jr.. Directed by Charles Reisner, this silent film was released in 1928, and like a lot of Keaton’s works was unofficially co-directed by Keaton himself.
The film’s star, other than Keaton, is Ernest Torrence, who plays William “Steamboat Bill” Canfield. Steamboat Bill runs a riverboat business, and is facing hard competition from J. J. King (Tom McGuire), a rich man who owns many of the local businesses and has just opened his own steamboat operation. Steamboat Bill is concerned that he may soon not have any business, but his spirits are raised when he learns his son — who he hasn’t seen since he was an infant — is coming to pay him a visit. Unfortunately, he finds that his son (Keaton) is awkward, gangly, and has all the nautical knowledge of a man who just spent four years in college studying the arts. Continue reading →
Released in 1925, Wolf Blood is a notable film for a couple of reasons. First, it’s the sole directorial effort (assisted by co-director Bruce M. Mitchell) of prolific silent film actor George Chesebro. But that’s not what really makes it of interest to a modern viewer. No, the really interesting thing about it is that it is the oldest known surviving film about a werewolf — at least, a werewolf of a sort. It doesn’t feature any on-screen transformations or fur and fangs, but it draws some on the old tales of the loup-garou, a wolf in human form.
Chesebro stars as Dick Bannister, field boss of logging company in Canada. He’s been having some trouble with the head of a rival company, Jules Deveroux, played by Roy Watson. Deveroux has been attempting to sabotage Bannister’s operations. He’s about to have even greater problems. Continue reading →
Hard Luck is a short silent film written, directed, and starring Buster Keaton (Edward F. Cline co-wrote and co-directed the short). Although I was unaware of the fact when I began watching it, the film has apparently had some hard luck of its own, and copies available today are in less-than-optimal condition. Most extant copies are missing a few small scenes here and there (the Kino restoration adds some title cards to explain them), and copies may not be in the best visual quality (the Internet Archive edition I watched had some bad print damage in the second segment.)
Buster Keaton is one of the most celebrated stars of the silent film era. I watched his short film Collegea few months back and found it to be rather unsatisfactory, but I had a suspicion it was atypical of his work in that respect. So tonight I gave Keaton another chance… in film aptly titled Seven Chances. Luckily, it won’t wind up taking that many tries to entertain me.
In Seven Chances, Keaton (who also directed the film) stars as Jimmie Shannon, junior partner in an investment firm with Billy Meekin (T. Roy Barnes). His life seems to be a classic case of good news, bad news. The good news is, his firm is well known and established. The bad news is, being swindled into a bad deal means he and Billy are about to be flat broke and jailed unless they can come up with the money to make good on their clients’ investments. (The nature of the bad deal is never explained, but it’s pretty clear they wound up taking part in a scam of some sort.) The good news is, a lawyer (played by Snitz Edwards) arrives with news that Jimmie’s estranged grandfather has passed away, and left him a fortune of seven million dollars — more than enough to make good on his company’s debts. The bad news is, it’s conditional on Jimmie being a married man by seven o’clock on his 27th birthday — and today just happens to be Jimmie’s birthday. Good news? Jimmie already has a sweetheart, Mary (Ruth Dwyer), whom he would dearly love to marry anyway. Bad news? Jimmie seriously puts his foot in it when explaining the situation to her. And so, unceremoniously dumped by Mary, Jimmie now has to find a bride, any bride, by the end of the evening or he’ll be destitute and imprisoned. Continue reading →
Having watched a handful of Charlie Chaplin silent films, I thought I’d take a look at one of the other renowned actors of the silent film era, Buster Keaton. So I queued up the 1927 film College, supposedly directed by James W. Horne (but really by Keaton himself unofficially), and settled in for what I hoped would be a funny hour of entertainment.
Unfortunately, I was left with a sense that I probably should have picked a different film for my introduction to Keaton’s work. College is a bit directionless, a bit tepid, and a bit uncomfortable. Continue reading →
There have been several films titled The Thief of Bagdad or some variation thereof (some of them inserting the “h” of the modern spelling), but there are only two to have garnered any significant critical acclaim. As it happens, the ones receiving the acclaim were the first two adaptations. The first, released in 1924, stars Douglas Fairbanks and is a monochromatic (yet not strictly black-and-white) silent film; the second, in 1940, is a technicolor talkie featuring Conrad Veidt as the villain. The 1924 film has been inducted into the National Film Registry, and is #9 on the AFI’s top 10 fantasy films. The 1940 film won three Oscars for its art direction, cinematography, and special effects.
Both films are roughly adapted from stories in 1001 Arabian Nights. So how do these cinematic classics stack up against each other? How are they similar, and what are the differences? And, of course, we have to ask: Which one is more enjoyable for the modern audience? Continue reading →
The Kid, released in 1921, was Charlie Chaplin’s first feature-length film (albeit only lasting about an hour itself). As with his earlier short works, Chaplin wrote, directed, scored, and starred in the silent film. It is, of course, the first full-length film to feature his classic character, the Little Tramp.
The film starts off with Edna Purviance, playing an unwed mother who reluctantly comes to the conclusion that she cannot support her newborn son. Attaching a note to please take care of him, she abandons the child in a fancy car outside a stately manor… and as soon as she turns the corner, a couple of criminals steal the car. Anybody who thinks dark comedy is a recent invention may stand corrected, as there are several hilarious yet awful moments in the whole sequence leading up to the final home of the infant. Continue reading →
I’m certain that comedic short films are a difficult medium to create for, and they definitely present different challenges than a long-form movie. There isn’t much time to develop characters, construct an intricate plot, or to set up gags that will pay off later on. When it’s an older film, such as Pay Day, with the constraints of a silent film, it has to be particularly difficult.
Pay Day was Charlie Chaplin’s final short; after this, he only created feature-length films. He wrote, directed, produced, and scored the short film, as well as starring in it. Supposedly it was one of his favorites of his short films. But watching it, I have to admit I didn’t find it as impressive or as funny as his feature, The Circus. Continue reading →