Monday, September 21, 2009

I don't think I've recommended Buster Keaton before

Surprisingly enough, in the 20 months that I've been blogging, I seem not have done a post specifically on any of the movies of Buster Keaton. TCM is showing two of his movies tonight, selected by "Guest Programmer" Richard Lewis: Sherlock Jr. at 8:00 PM ET, followed by Steamboat Bill, Jr. at 9:00 PM.

In Steamboat Bill, Jr., Keaton plays Bill, the college-educated and somewhat foppish son of a stereotypically masculine steamboat captain. Bill is returning home from college, to see his father for the first time in a long time, and to learn a bit about running a steamboat. Unfortunately, this isn't easy, as Bill Sr. is in the middle of a business war with the owner of a much fancier steamboat and is being driven out of business. Not only that, but Bill Jr. has fallen in love with a girl who just happens to be the daughter of his father's business rival. Last but not least, it doesn't help that the son is, in true Buster Keaton fashion, terribly incompetent at running any mechanical device.

Truth be told, the movie isn't just about a steamboat. Indeed, quite a lot of the action takes place on land, as Bill Sr.'s rival has him put in jail on trumped-up charges, forcing Bill Jr. to spring him. Then comes the big storm which threatens to destroy both steamboats. The storm, which forms the movie's climax, is the best part of the whole movie, as Keaton did his own inventive stunts, including one involving a house falling around him that he had to get right the first time, or it probably would have killed him. It's not a joke to say the stunt could have killed him, either. One of the stunts in Sherlock Jr. involves Keaton hanging from the water spout of a giant locomotive watering-can at a train depot. Keaton didn't realize it at the time, but when he did that stunt, he broke a bone in his neck.

Thankfully, much of Keaton's work, including both of tonight's movies, is available on DVD.

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