Ah, yes, Buster Keaton. One of the great comedy legends of the silent era, and of all eras for that matter. Although I’m more of a Chaplin guy myself, there’s no denying that Buster Keaton and his films are in a world of their own, filled with danger, stuns and laugh out loud situations. He was also a more technical filmmaker than Chaplin, and in many ways was more innovative. Some people prefer him because of this, also for the fact that he’s not as sentimental or romantic as Chaplin. Well anyway, I’m not going to get into this fight. I watched three of his most famous shorts, and here are my thoughts on them.
First up, it’s The Blacksmith. Buster plays an idiotic blacksmith assistant that gets into more trouble than does actual work. After an incident with a magnet gets his boss into jail, Buster works at the business by basically destroying everything that belongs to the clients, from smudging a beautiful white horse with petrol, selling a woman a hokey “horse shock absorber” seat, and completely wrecking an expensive car (without really realizing it). In the end, he gets away and marries the owner of the white horse. I have to say that this is one of my least favorite Buster shorts. It’s not very engaging, and the comedy falls flat a bit. The only sequence I remember that really made me laugh was when he hits the horse carriage and gets dragged away by the horse, sans carriage. For completeists only.
Next up, we have The Baloonatic. The best scene in this short comes at the beginning, with Buster inside what looks to be a haunted house. A skeleton, a ghost, and a dragon threaten him, until a trap door opens and down Buster goes, revealing he was inside a carnival ghost house where he falls down a long slide and into the pavement. This, and the sequence that follows where a fat woman does the same thing and lands on him, is comedy gold. Sadly the rest of the movie never picks up as well, but it’s still got pretty good moments. Basically Buster gets involved with a girl, but winning her heart means getting slapped in the love ride, getting stranded in a hot air balloon and proving he’s the worst fisherman in the world. In the end he’s forced to save the girl, first from a bull, then from a duo of bears. So as I said, the best part comes at the beginning, but it’s very entertaining anyway.
Last but not least, we have what I consider to be his best short, period, Cops. Buster is anxious to marry a young rich woman (played by Margaret Fox, future wife of 20th Century Fox mogul Darryl F. Zanuck), but she won’t marry him until he becomes a successful businessman. So off he goes in search of making his fortune, and in the process he ends up accidentally dropping a bomb in the middle of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade and being labeled an anti-American anarchist, and being chased by every single cop in New York City. This movie features a lot of great stunts, has a lot of energy and is ridiculously funny. The sequences where he feeds a horse some energy extraction from a goat, and the horse goes nuts, is pure gold. The ladder chair is also memorable. The ending is funny yet somewhat dark, with the last image being that of a tombstone with Buster’s hat on it, but it’s all in good fun. I have seen this short many times and I don’t get sick of it, so it comes highly recommended. And if you have a brain in your head, you’ll search for everything Buster Keaton, because he is the man.