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.)
Despite those issues, the film still has some fun moments.
Buster Keaton plays a despondent young man on the brink of starvation. He has been unable to find work, and so has been unable to buy food. It’s a situation that would have been very relatable to people in the Depression-era 1920s, and unfortunately remains rather relatable today. Keaton’s character becomes so despondent over his situation, he decides to commit suicide, and the film gets a lot of dark humor out of the situations he puts himself in, and the slapstick that results.
Later, he bluffs his way into a hunting club, where he becomes smitten with a young woman (Virginia Fox). On the hunt, the slapstick continues thanks to a smart-aleck horse (horse people will know calling a horse a smart-aleck is a redundancy, but I’m doing so for the sake of the city folk). Keaton’s attempts to get on and stay on the horse are great, but the horse nearly steals the show from him. Keaton gets the show back in the final sequence, where he faces off against a bandit (Joe Roberts) who attempts to rob the hunting lodge.
The film is a bit disjointed, quite probably from the missing footage, but although the narrative winds up being fairly thin even by short film standards, it’s still reasonably entertaining. Keaton creates a lot of laughs through his slapstick, which is expertly timed, and there’s even some verbal humor in the title cards. Hard Luck isn’t a must-see for silent film fans, but I don’t think most who check it out will be disappointed in it, either.