Tag Archives: Buster Keaton

Hard Luck (1921, Edward F. Kline and Buster Keaton)

Hard Luck starts as a… failed suicide attempt comedy. Nothing morbid, just absurd and slapstick. And a little dumb. Star, director, and writer Keaton always has dangerous ideas for ending his life, but never particularly good ones. There’s a lot of physical humor from Keaton during this section; situational physical comedy. Most of it is smaller scale, behavior gags. Keaton’s got some amazing stunts in the short, but they’re for little things the narrative requires to keep the situational comedy going. The way he jumps out of the way and whatnot. Hard Luck is micro-physical comedy. At least for the average Keaton. Rare grandiosity. Usually, Keaton and co-writer and co-director Cline keep it pared down. The first act has a lot of Keaton interacting with other actors, a lot with other actors reacting to him.

Keaton’s great at the little comedy moves. He’s charming and sympathetic while still seeming a bit dumb.

And then when he’s not actively trying to kill himself, he stills gets into quite a bit of trouble, leading to a somewhat different feel for the gags. They do get bigger, but with Keaton and Cline very subtly pacing them out. They percolate then explode.

Virginia Fox plays the society girl who catches Keaton’s eye before going on to catch the eye of outlaw Joe Roberts. Roberts’s pursuit of Fox is downright terrifying; Roberts comes into the short late and has no character motivation other than to attack Fox (his men are busy robbing her friends in the other room). Keaton’s showdown with Roberts is smaller scale gags again, but a (literal) explosion by the end.

Besides the solo slapstick and measured physical gags, there are also many involving animals (great and small). Hard Luck is full of big laughs, little laughs, big smiles, little smiles. Despite the dark opening, it’s pleasant once it gets going. Keaton and Cline are meticulous in their direction and assured in the film’s production. The short isn’t pompous or anything and it never self-aggrandizes, but if it wanted to do either, it could easily get away with it. Because Hard Luck is hilarious.

Keaton’s also very willing to embrace the absurd. It helps remind at the beginning we’re not watching a suicidal young man, rather Keaton in a slapstick comedy about a suicidal young man. The narrative distance feels instinctive, with Keaton and Cline staying relatively close but also skewed enough they can get away with Keaton’s plight being for laughs. It does, of course, help they’ve got so much great stuff in store for the rest of the short. Its energy can’t afford to fizzle.

And it doesn’t, not even at the very end, when Hard Luck takes a few breaths before delivering its final punchline.

Keaton’s great, Fox’s fine, Roberts’s hilarious (but still dangerous). There’s not much character for Fox or Roberts, but it doesn’t matter—Hard Luck doesn’t leverage everything off Keaton (but could). He delivers lots on his own, but even more as he fits into the somewhat rigid framework of the story. The short is brimming with energy and potential.

It’s a great success.

3/3Highly Recommended

CREDITS

Written and directed by Edward F. Cline and Buster Keaton; director of photography, Elgin Lessley; released by Metro Pictures Corporation.

Starring Buster Keaton (The Boy), Virginia Fox (The Girl), and Joe Roberts (Lizard Lip Luke).



THIS POST IS PART OF THE FIFTH ANNUAL BUSTER KEATON BLOGATHON HOSTED BY LEA OF SILENT-OLOGY.


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The Haunted House (1921, Edward F. Cline and Buster Keaton)

The Haunted House has some excellent gags. There’s a lot of set gags in the finale, when bank clerk Keaton ends up in the–well, the haunted house. His coworker–a delightfully evil Joe Roberts–is actually a counterfeiter who uses the haunted house to print money; the haunted bit is just a cover. Lots of great comedic set pieces, including the collapsing stairs.

Earlier, there’s even a nice bit with Keaton doing lower key physical comedy when he can’t get dollar bills off his hands (there was an incident with some glue). The Haunted House is a smooth experience, with lots of pay-off, at least in terms of the gags.

Keaton and co-director Cline are somewhat limited in their ambitions for House. The gags are good, but lengthy. There’s nowhere near enough story. House is funny stuff and extremely well executed, but it finishes up somewhat underweight.

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Written and directed by Edward F. Cline and Buster Keaton; director of photography, Elgin Lessley; produced by Joseph M. Schenck; released by Metro Pictures Corporation.

Starring Buster Keaton (Bank Clerk), Virginia Fox (Bank President’s Daughter) and Joe Roberts (Bank Cashier).


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Neighbors (1920, Edward F. Cline and Buster Keaton)

I’m not sure what the best thing is about Neighbors. There’s the comic pacing, there’s the comic acrobatics, there’s the story, there’s the acting. Co-directors Keaton and Cline quickly introduce this fantastic setup–Romeo and Juliet across a fence in an alley and then immediately get into two very complicated Keaton-fueled acrobatic mastery. It segues into a mistaken identity chase sequence, then resolves in a melodramatic plot development giving seven cast members (sadly, the bride and groom’s mothers are uncredited) each something to do, before wrapping up in another acrobatic chase sequence.

It’s the perfect slapstick comedy, but it’s also a great romantic comedy, a great comedy of errors. All in seventeen or so minutes. Keaton and Cline perfectly time every shot, every scene.

Neighbors is a perfect seventeen minutes of film. Keaton and Cline do a fantastic, masterful and totally understated job with the film. It’s magnificent.

3/3Highly Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Edward F. Cline and Buster Keaton; screenplay by Cline and Keaton, based on a story by Keaton; director of photography, Elgin Lessley; produced by Joseph M. Schenck; released by Metro Pictures Corporation.

Starring Buster Keaton (The Boy), Virginia Fox (The Girl), Joe Roberts (Her Father), Joe Keaton (His Father), Edward F. Cline (The Cop) and Jack Duffy (The Judge).


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The Scarecrow (1920, Edward F. Cline and Buster Keaton)

The Scarecrow opens with a lengthy practical effects sequence. Buster Keaton and Joe Roberts are roommates and they have an elaborately designed “concise” home. It’s like IKEA’s dream, only with manually pulled ropes instead of some kind of remote control.

(There’s also a gag Chaplin had, a year later, in The Kid).

Turns out the roommates are in love with the same girl (Sybil Seeley, who’s appealing with nothing to do). Somehow, this love triangle results in Keaton getting chased by Seeley’s possibly rabid dog while both he and Roberts run afoul of her father (played by Joe Keaton).

The automated home alone would be enough of a gag for an entire short, the dog chase would be enough for an entire short, but then directors Keaton and Cline turn it all into a runaway romance and chase picture. The Scarecrow’s a breathtaking achievement of technique, practically and narratively.

3/3Highly Recommended

CREDITS

Written and directed by Edward F. Cline and Buster Keaton; director of photography, Elgin Lesley; released by Metro Pictures Corporation.

Starring Buster Keaton (Farmhand), Joe Roberts (Farmhand), Sybil Seely (Farmer’s Daughter) and Joe Keaton (Farmer).


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