The best sequence in College is also the longest. Protagonist Buster Keaton, after failing at baseball (he’s a bookworm who needs to get athletic to impress a girl), goes out for track and field. Keaton observes other men succeed at the various events, tries them himself, fails miserably (and comically), keeps trying, presumably assuming he’ll eventually get something right.
And the viewer assumes it too. That sequence, which does eventually have a fantastic payoff, plays with the viewer’s expectations. Its length and thoroughness serves to fully vest the viewer in the film (the sequence is around the halfway point). Keaton’s success is more important to the viewer than it is to Keaton’s protagonist.
College is a little light on plot–after setting up Keaton as unable to afford college without working his way through and showcasing his misadventures at odd jobs, the film drops the subject. Ditto the girl–played by Anne Cornwall–and her problems with her jerk jock boyfriend, Harold Goodwin. The latter comes back into the film for the finale, but the college financing stuff doesn’t.
And Keaton doesn’t really have a story arc. He tries sports to get the girl. Either it’s going to work out or it isn’t. There’s just enough story to get the viewer interested and then Keaton’s attempts (and failures) are funny enough to keep it going. College has about enough story for a short, it just has long form comedic sequences.
The film always moves, always looks great. The finish rocks.
Directed by James W. Horne; written by Carl Harbaugh and Bryan Foy; director of photography, Bert Haines and Devereaux Jennings; edited by Sherman Kell; produced by Joseph M. Schenck; released by United Artists.
Starring Buster Keaton (Ronald), Anne Cornwall (Mary Haynes), Harold Goodwin (Jeff), Flora Bramley (Mary’s friend), Snitz Edwards (Dean Edwards) and Florence Turner (Ronald’s mother).