Buster Keaton and various (director)
06 November 2017 (released)
06 November 2017
Buster Keaton fans rejoice: Eureka just released three of the much-loved comic’s best films on Blu-ray and in a fabulous 4K restoration! The lavish and limited edition hardbound box-set contains Sherlock Jr. / The General and Steamboat Bill, Jr.
Dubbed ‘Stone Face’ thanks to his constantly deadpan and stoic look, Buster Keaton made up for his lack in facial expressions with the most outrageous and daring stunts of the time! Although the later years of his life were overshadowed by a decline in success which in turn led to depression and alcoholism, Keaton’s earlier works are comedic masterpieces of the silent movie era. This set contains three of his most popular works and as was usual the case with Keaton, not only is he the star but more often than not was also responsible for directing, producing and also penning his own scripts!
In SHERLOCK JR. (1924) Keaton plays a humble film projectionist and janitor who loves dabbling in a little amateur detective work, though mainly by reading detective novels. He also loves a very pretty girl (Kathryn McGuire) but knowing that he has a rival in the shape of a ‘local sheik’ (Ward Crane) our day-dreaming projectionist is forced to outsmart any competition if he wants to get the girl. When he sweeps the auditorium after a screening he finds a few dollar notes but is forced to return them to the punters who noticed that they dropped some notes. When the farce is over Buster is left with only a 1$ bill which he spends on a measly ring for her and a box of chocolates though he changes the price label before he presents his gifts to the girl. The gemstone in the ring is so tiny the girl needs a magnifying glass even to make out what stone it is, nonetheless she seems happy about Buster’s well-intended gift. Not for long though as rival sheik arrives in the girl’s house and cunningly steals her father’s pocket watch which he then pawns for 4$ dollars, out of which he buys a box of chocolates for $3 dollars for the girl… Even more cunningly, the sheik slips the pawn ticket for the watch into Buster’s jacket pocket and just as he tries to solve the theft using his impressive amateur detective skills he suddenly finds himself accused of being the thief and is banished from the girl’s home. Heartbroken, he goes about his job in the projection room while some crime caper about the theft of a pearl necklace is screened. With nothing to do until the film is finished, Buster falls asleep and dreams that he enters the actual movie action as famous detective Sherlock Jr. – with the actors being replaced by Buster’s real-life acquaintances. Thanks to the dream, Buster is finally able to pinpoint the real culprit of the pocket watch after he’s woken up again and yes, our hero finally gets the girl!
THE GENERAL (1926) is widely claimed to be Keaton’s masterpiece though upon its initial release the film wasn’t received too well by critics nor by audiences! Many felt that making a comedy about the American Civil War was in poor taste and that in many aspects the film wasn’t as light-hearted or as funny as his other films but these opinions clearly changed over the decades as nowadays, The General is hailed as the Buster Keaton film per se! Western & Atlantic Railroad train engineer Johnnie Gray (B. Keaton) lives and works in the town of Marietta in Georgia where he shares the two great loves of his life: he loves his locomotive (called ‘The General’) and he loves his fiancée Annabelle Lee (Marion Mack) and who knows, his life may have remained simple and happy were it not for the sudden outbreak of the Civil War. Encouraged by Annabelle and her father he tries to enlist in the Confederate Army but unbeknownst to him he is rejected because the army officers reckon that Johnnie is of bigger use as a train engineer than as a soldier. After several attempts more he is forcibly ejected from the army quarters, leading Annabelle to believe that he is a coward who doesn’t want to enlist. She coolly informs him that she won’t be speaking to him again unless he shows up in uniform! The film then leaps one year and Annabelle learns that her father has been wounded in the on-going conflict between North and South. She travels on The General as a passenger to see her father but during a quick stop Union spies, who are led by Captain Anderson (Glen Cavender), steal the train and plan to burn all the railroad bridges after they’ve passed them in order to prevent any supply to the enemy Confederates. By freak coincidence, Annabelle happens to be on the train as it gets snatched by the Unionists and it goes without saying that Johnny gives chase to rescue Annabelle and the train – all leading up to some truly audacious stunts (courtesy of Buster) as one mighty thrill-ride is about to ensue…
As always, Keaton’s comedic timing remains unparralled and the same can be said for the often dangerous stunts which – carried out by him – look ever so easy but are anything but! What is perhaps the real surprise here is that in the movie, Keaton’s character fights for the Confederate Army and well, the Southerners really were the baddies in that nasty Civil War… though perhaps political outlooks were still different when the movie was made.
The third offering is the superb STEAMBOAT BILL, JR. (1928) – an absolute gem that has it all: subtle comedic touches, action a-plenty, a love story and of course a never-ending array of dare-devil stunts! The film begins with the introduction of William ‘Steamboat Bill’ Canfield Sr. (Ernest Torrence), the burly owner and captain of a paddle steamer whose glory days float in the past. Things aren’t made easier by Will’s rival John James King (Tom McGuire) and his spanking new luxurious riverboat, bound to steal Bill’s few remaining customers away. Bill Senior anticipates the arrival of his son Bill Junior (Keaton) whom he hasn’t seen since school days! Bill Senior hopes that with the help of his son business might begin to flourish again but what disappointment when Junior turns out to be a half-weight, dapper dressed student sporting a pencil moustache, a beret and playing a ukulele. To make matters worse, Junior bumps into Kitty King (Marion Byron) – John King’s attractive daughter who has known Junior since school. The two are instantly attracted to each other but it goes without saying that their prospective fathers, business rivals as they are, won’t have any of this nonsense. After ensuring that his son receives a bit of an ‘image change’ (some hilarious scenes coming up here) Senior puts his son through the ropes and teaches him the tricks of the trade but Junior is more interested in courting Kitty. After Senior’s paddle steamer is deemed ‘unsafe’ he suspects that John King is behind it all and a fight breaks out which lands Senior is jail. What follows is another hilarious sequence during which Bill Junior tries to free his dad via the aid of some tools hidden in a loaf of bread… shame he is found out and after a kerfuffle with the sheriff he ends up hospitalized. Just as it looks as if Bill Senior is going to stay in jail for a while longer and Bill Junior will be sent back to Boston after his hospital release a cyclone strikes that changes everything. Keaton wanders through collapsing houses etc seemingly effortless, even hanging on to a tree which is whirled through the air. Will there be a happy ending? Well… you should know by now that Buster always ends up the hero…
The discs all come with some enticing Bonus Material including a new documentary on Keaton and a 60-page booklet!