Sunday, November 11, 2012

Sherlock Jr.

I've briefly mentioned the movie Sherlock Jr. in a number of blog posts about the work of Buster Keaton. It's airing on TCM overnight tonight at 1:30 AM as the second film in tnoight's Silent Sunday Nights lineup, so now is a good time for a fuller-length post about the movie.

Buster Keaton stars as the main character, a film projectionist who would really rather be a detective. He's in love with The Girl (Kathryn McGuire), but he's not the only one in love with her, and as a lowly projectionist, there's no way he can compete financially with the wealthier guy (Ward Crane) who wants her affections. Unfortunately, Buster's character is inept at everything: films, love, and detective work. Crane frames Keaton over the theft of McGuire's father's watch, and the chase is on. Keaton eventually winds up on a train, getting off by holding on to the waterspout along the side of the tracks that provided water to trains back in those days. (Unfortunately, in real life, Keaton fractured a vertebra in his neck doing this stunt.)

If Keaton can't be successful in real life, at least he can be successful in his dreams. Back at the movie theater, Keaton sets up the next film to be shown to the audience, and falls asleep while its running. (This ought to be a problem, since projection reels only ran about 20 minutes before they had to be changed.) In his dream, Keaton enters the movie that's being shown, and here he's finally able to be Sherlock, Jr., elegant and solving mysteries while he's at it, avoiding danger along the way.

Sherlock Jr. is a relatively short film, running about 45 minutes. But as with a lot of Keaton's work, it's filled with inventive sight gags and stunts that Keaton himself did, as with the ones on the train I mentioned earlier. TCM ran it a few summers back as part of its Essentials Jr. summer series, and I think they were quite right to do so. Not only is it an excellent film; it's the sort of film that can appeal to younger people with the sight gags, and doesn't run too long. I'd think it's a great way to introduce kids to silent film.

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