Monday, January 16, 2012

Sherlock Jr. (1924)


DB here

Today we start a week of films by the great comedian Buster Keaton. I know you’re thinking, why devote a week of reviews to someone we already know? Simple odds are most of you haven’t seen any of his films. Seriously, have you seen any of his films, or if you have have you seen more than one or two? I didn’t think so.

Keaton was prolific, and while he is best known as a silent comic his career stretched all the way to his death some 35 after the end of silents.

Even if you think you know his work, odds are you haven’t really seen all there is to Keaton. I know in putting what is now the first of several weeks together we here at Unseen realized that there were gaps in all our knowledge. There simply are too many films from silent shorts and features, sound features and shorts, TV appearances, commercials and Samuel Beckett projects for any of us to have taken it all in.

The plan is that this week we’re going to give you several of his better known films and one or two that aren’t. These are largely the classics. These are some of the films you should give a try to get yourself acclimated to the joys of Keaton. Then some time in the early spring we’ll be diving in to some of his other work, some of the lesser known films and TV appearances. We’d have done them in rapid succession except that we didn’t realize how much we had to cover until we were putting the finishing touches on this week and found we had all these other films we wanted to talk about. A second, and maybe third, week was an absolute necessity.

Those additional films are coming down the road as soon as we map those out. For now sit back, relax and give yourself over to Mr C, John, Bully and myself as we begin to look at all things Buster Keaton.

Director: Buster Keaton
Stars: Buster Keaton, Kathryn Mcguire, Joe Keaton
Genre: silent films, comedy

This film is another fine example of Buster Keaton’s brilliance with combining really neat special effects, stunts, comedy, mystery, & romance all rolled into one entertaining juggernaut of a story!

Keaton plays a “boy” who is a movie projectionist and is studying on the finer points of “how to be a detective”. He also fancies a young lady as he tries to woo her with a box of candy and a ring. He is not alone as his rival also fancies the same girl and has the same idea of getting her an even bigger box of confectionery by stealing a watch & pawning it for cash to buy it. Keaton gets framed by the rival for the theft of the watch and gets abolished from the woman’s home.This will begin the tales of Sherlock Jr! When he’s not running away from his adversaries, Keaton “shadows his man closely”! This will include an amazing stunt of him getting bumped between two ends of a train when one of the railroad cars tries to hitch on to the other. Buster also walked on top of the moving train as he grabbed onto a spout of a water tank but unfortunately he would get flushed down furiously onto the tracks by the force of the water flowing out. Keaton got KO’d performing this stunt and supposedly broke some bones in his neck which he didn’t find out till much later.

Dejected and defeated, the boy heads back to work at the theater to show a film called "Hearts & Pearls, or The Lounge Lizard's Lost Love--in Five Acts". As he dozes off after projecting the movie, the 2nd half of the SHERLOCK JR adventures would begin as a dream. Keaton would walk onto the stage and hops into the realm of the film that he is showing which boasts a similar story to his but with stolen pearls. The special effects of him literally jumping into the film with the scenes ever changing and then getting thrown back into the audience by the antagonist was amazing! Still in a dream and in the story of another story, Buster Keaton the “Crime crushing criminologist” will solve the stolen pearl mystery and save the kidnapped girl before waking up to realize his own situation in the projection booth.

Some other really cool special effects executed by Keaton was him jumping through an open window into a thin cylindrical shaped paper drum containing a female shawl and instantly changing to this outfit upon rolling onto the ground outside to disguise himself! Another camera trick included him jumping through a clown selling suit ties allowing him to escape to the other side of a revolving wooden fence behind the mock salesman! Buster also had this stunning sequence while on the roof of a building, he grabbed onto one of those crossing guard rails/arms that you would see at the railroad tracks to help him gracefully descend right into a moving convertible car from the roof using it like a seesaw/teeter-totter! A combination of crazy stunt with special effects involved Keaton riding on the handlebars of a motorcycle with a supposed rider handling the bike to eventually finding out towards the end that he got thrown off the bike some time ago! He would ride through a sea of cars, through a stream, across dirt paths, over a disconnected wooden bridge with 2 moving box trucks conveniently connecting to the other side, through a stag party, over railroad tracks with a running train to eventually crashing through a house, executing a Jackie Chan like heel kick vs the bad guy by accident! It was a real funny and epic scene! You can see Jackie Chan's version of this stunt in bicycle form in his 1983 movie, 'Project A' paying homage to the great Buster Keaton!

The billiards sequence was just as hilarious! I didn’t know that Buster can play a mean game of pool even with the chance of an exploding #13 ball!

When said and done, Sherlock Jr contained a pretty neat story supported with ball breaking stunts by the master himself, special effects that still amazes, signature self deprecating Buster Keaton stone face-stoic comedy, & in the end, he still gets the girl! Thumbs up! What are you waiting for?! Go see the works of the greatest entertainer of all time!


1 comment:

  1. The technical intricacies of Keaton's gags are all the more amazing when you take into consideration that he had very little formal education. I like the (possibly apocryphal) story of how Buster took a movie camera apart on his bed and spent hours looking at the pieces.