Monday, September 9, 2013

Buster Keaton builds his dream house

This second week of The Story of Film on TCM looks more or less at the second half of the silent era. Tonight is going to look at some of the great silent comic filmmakers, while tomorrow sees some of the achievements in dramatic silent films. It all kicks off at 8:00 PM with Buster Keaton's One Week.

Keaton plays The Groom, a newly-married man, having just married The Bride (Sybil Seely). The Groom (otherwise unnamed) has received a present from his uncle: a pre-fabricated house kit. Just insert tab A into slot B, follow the rest of the numbered instructions like a paint-by-number painting, and at the end of the process, you've got a nice little house for a newlywed couple to live in.

Yeah, right. There's no way it could ever be this easy in real life, and of course we wouldn't even have a two-reel comic short if it were easy in the movie, too. Let's disregard the fact that the kit looks way, way too small to wind up as a pre-fab house; there are other problems with the kit, such as the various numbered directions having been mixed-up. But The Groom tries to build the house anyway.

Told in the form of vignettes over the course of one week, with pages of a calendar charting the progress of the week, One Week looks at The Groom's attempt to build that house, and everything that goes wrong. And even for a two-reel short, we can say that Cary Grant's Mr. Blandings would have been aghast at all the problems that this poor Groom has to face. It doesn't seem to help him that his Bride seems to want to live in the house as it's being built around her. Eventually, though, the house does get built, although let's say that it doesn't look like what the kit suggests it ought to look like.

After finally getting the house built, our poor Groom faces one more problem: apparently a 6 got turned upside-down for a 9, and Keaton has built the house on the wrong lot! It's enough to drive a man to the breaking point, but this allegedly being a "portable" house from a kit, Keaton simply tries to drive it to the correct lot attached to the back of his jalopy.

One Week, like a lot of Keaton comedies, is filled with inventive sight gags that will keep everybody laughing. Even children should have no difficulties getting the sight gags, and it's all as clean as the classic cartoons. A few of the stunts are a thing to behold too, since stuntwork wasn't as advanced in 1920 as it is today. As with the front of the house falling around Keaton in Steamboat Bill, Jr., or Lillian Gish on an ice floe in Way Down East which TCM aired last week, what looks like it has no safety mechanism around sometimes really doesn't.

TCM's online shop doesn't list One Week as being on DVD, but Amazon does, as in this disc of four two-reel silent comedies. At any rate, having been released in 1920, One Week is in the public domain, and you can see it on Youtube too.

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