Tag Archives: Elgin Lesley

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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Convict 13 (1920, Edward F. Cline and Buster Keaton)

Convict 13 has some undeniably funny stuff in it, but directors Keaton and Cline rely almost entirely on physical comedy. By physical, I mean actors doing choreographed comedy. Sometimes it’s Keaton, both for the smaller sequences and the larger, or Joe Roberts as a gigantic, revolting prisoner.

Both senses of revolting.

Oh, right. Real quick–Convict is about Keaton, a klutz (which is one of the problems with the short), mistakenly going to jail. He’s not the jail type; his girlfriend, played by Sybil Seely, tries to help him out. That description is maybe the first two-thirds, with the remainder being a whole different, jail and mistaken identity setup.

That emphasis on the choreographed comedy shows skill from Keaton and Cline as directors, but it’s kind of boring. There’s nothing exciting about Convict 13; it’s fine, but also a missed opportunity. The absurdist plotting can’t stand on its own.

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 (Golfer), Sybil Seely (Socialite), Edward F. Cline (Hangman) and Joe Roberts (The Crazed Prisoner).


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One Week (1920, Edward F. Cline and Buster Keaton)

One Week is pretty much perfect. Directors Cline and Keaton structure the short beautifully. It takes place over a week, the passage of days torn off calendar pages, as newlyweds Keaton and Sybil Seely set up their home. Literally, set up; they’re constructing their own pre-fab and things go wrong.

The tone of the comedy at this point is more traditional slapstick than what Week becomes. It’s also where the film establishes Keaton and Seely’s relationship. They’re a lovely couple, with Seely getting some rather good moments. Even towards the end, when it becomes a disaster picture–but a light-hearted one–and Keaton is more front and center, Seely still gets attention. Keaton and Cline put as much into the story as they do the filmmaking.

Well, maybe not as much; they literally spin a house around, but an excellent amount.

Gorgeous Elgin Lessley photography. Week’s a masterpiece.

3/3Highly Recommended

CREDITS

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

Starring Buster Keaton (The Groom) and Sybil Seely (The Bride).


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The ‘High Sign’ (1921, Edward F. Cline and Buster Keaton)

The ‘High Sign’ starts innocuously enough. Leading man Buster Keaton is out of work and answers a want ad to be a clerk at a shooting range. Maybe the tone of the short can be determined from Keaton stealing a cop’s gun to practice, because things don’t stay innocuous for long.

In addition to the range–which affords directors Keaton and Cline two different sequences (one with Keaton acting, one with Keaton reacting)–there’s eventually an elaborate home invasion sequence, with Keaton fighting off the bad guys to protect Bartine Burkett and her father.

Of course, the bad guys hired Keaton to assassinate the father. It’s a lot of brisk storytelling.

There are a handful of lovely cinematic flourishes, but mostly it’s just a good slapstick outing for Keaton. He’s got a wonderful nemesis in the giant Ingram B. Pickett.

Small or (relatively) large, all Keaton and Cline’s gags work.

3/3Highly Recommended

CREDITS

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

Starring Buster Keaton (Our Hero), Bartine Burkett (Miss Nickelnurser) and Ingram B. Pickett (Tiny Tim).


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