Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Railrodder (1965)

Final directorial effort by Buster Keaton (though he wasn’t credited) has Keaton in London reading a paper where he sees an ad saying “See Canada”. Deciding it’s the thing to do he steps off a bridge and heads to Canada, where not long after walking out of the ocean he climbs on a motorized rail car and heads across the continent.

Amazing short film fills its 24 minutes with some great views of the Canadian wilderness, but also with some truly funny gags that harken back to Keaton’s prime.

To be honest watching the scenery whiz past at a good clip its hard to imagine anyone but Keaton being able to wander around the speeding car with anything other than a look of abject terror. That car really tools along and through most of it Keaton is doing something on top of it, from reading a paper, to eating or even cleaning it. It is inconceivable that anyone other than Keaton could have managed it, especially without the aid of tricks. A couple of things I read on the film said that Keaton frightened his co directors by insisting it was okay for him to do some of the stunts and gags in the film. His co-directors thought he was too old to pull them off but he was fine.

Truth be told I would love to know how they filmed this short since for much of the film the camera seems to be floating next to the rail car in areas where there doesn’t seem to be a second track for the camera to travel down. If any film needed a making of this is it since how it was done often seems to defy logical explanation. (Addendum- Since writing the film up I have found out that one of the more expensive versions of this film does indeed have a making of which runs twice as long as this film)

In a weird way this is one of my favorite Keaton films. Its atypical when you think of a Keaton film, color, sound, with an aging star, but at the same time it’s a beautiful distillation down of the finest Keaton shorts, a simple premise, some amazing stunts and numerous belly laughs. I don’t think there is a wasted moment anywhere in it. (Its only real Flaw is the obvious rear screen projection of London at the start of the film.) I have always said that while Chaplin was the king of the silent comedy set piece, I always thoughtKeaton was the master of the silent movie comedy in toto, meaning that Chaplin has great pieces and moments but Keaton made complete films. The Railrodder is a complete film that is also the perfect set piece.

If you can track down this film I suggest you do so, this is simply great filmmaking.

Highly recommended.

The film is currently available in several public domain comedy and train film collections not to mention some non public domain ones as well.

1 comment:

  1. "Buster Keaton Rides Again" is the name of "making-of" documentary for "The Railrodder".