What we learned: we still love the Marx Brothers. Groucho is still the most quotable bastard in movie history. Chico is still our favourite pianist. Harpo is still creepily likable. Zeppo is still oddly replaceable…
In this rollercoaster ride, the exquisite Buster Keaton portrays a slightly creepy hair-sniffing tintype photographer who falls instantly in love with a charming young lady played by the beautiful Marceline Day. He finds out that she works for MGM News Reel and promptly decides to get a job there as a cameraman. Which is kind of stalkery, but he is so nonthreatening that he gets away with it. He is also adorably uncoordinated with the camera, and slapstick ensues.
The characters are very likable. Probably for the first time (in terms of films we’ve watched for this project), the hero has fallen for a lady worth making good for. Sally is sweet and kind, and she tries to help him and give him advice when he accidentally double exposes all of his footage. She does not seem to care that he has very little money, and she appears to genuinely enjoy his company. No wonder, considering all the other douches creeping on her. At least Buster can do magic tricks!
The physical comedy is this film is wonderful. There’s an amazing one-man baseball scene, a hilarious stair-running bit, a brilliant scene on a bus and a very enjoyable running gag with a police officer. As well as a delightful scene in a dressing room, which I’m sure we would have enjoyed even if he didn’t get undressed…
Among its many merits, The Camerman has a shoot out scene which rivals that of Spaced (1999-2001), and there’s a bit with a monkey. It is considered by many Keaton’s last masterpiece as he lost creative control of his movies around this time and eventually descended into alcoholism. Which is not funny. But the film is. So if, like us, you have developed a major crush on Buster Keaton, this is a definite must-see.
Only the second Buster Keaton film and we’re already in love. He is so incredibly physically gifted, and when you combine that with his stony face you cannot avoid falling for him.
The plot is not overly complicated, but it works. A boat captain, Steamboat Bill, is being forced out of the business by a mogul named King(!). Simultaneously, the captain’s estranged son, the eponymous hero, is coming to see him for the first time since he was a baby (the son that is – not the father). Bill, Jr. is nothing like his father pictured or wanted which leads to one of the best make-over scenes in history.
Bill Jr.’s relationship with King’s daughter is also a source of discord between father and son. They have a kind of Romeo and Juliet-thing going on except with more slapstick and less murder and suicide.
If you ever need an excuse to watch Buster Keaton being awesome this is it (not that anyone needs an excuse). The main part of the film is just him doing spectacular stunts and showing off his (pre-B-Boy) power moves. It’s hilarious and awe-inspiring, and you can watch the whole thing here. It’s also educational; among other things we have now learned that coconut shells were the legos of the 1920s (in terms of damage to bare feet). If you need further prompting, Steamboat Bill, Jr. includes one of Keaton’s most memorable moments; the house falling-scene.
After the soulshattering experience of watching a penniless prospector becoming a multi-millionaire and getting together with the woman he loves in The Gold Rush, we needed something heartwarming to lift our spirits. What better then, than a comedy about a train engineer working against the odds to become a lieutenant in the Confederate Army during the American Civil War!
Buster Keaton plays Johnnie Gray, a train engineer who tries to join the Confederate Army during the Civil War but is rejected. His girlfriend, whose brother and father both enlist, believes him a coward and breaks up with him. A year later he gets the chance to prove himself when Union soldiers highjack a train and inadvertently kidnap Gray’s now ex-girlfriend. He follows them, finds out about the Union Army’s plans, rescues his girl and highjacks another train to get back and warn of the oncoming attack.
The stunts and train sequences in this film are spectacular, and the main character is likeable. Even the girlfriend isn’t completely useless, which was a nice departure from some of the other films we’ve watched so far. Also Buster Keaton has the best face ever in show business.
The General is funny, beautifully shot in places (such as when he sits on the side of the train and it starts running), and it has some amazing comedic and dramatic scenes on the moving train. Never has rooting for the Confederate Army been more fun!
Safety Last! was a new one for us, although the above image of Harold Lloyd dangling from the clock was familiar. This is a classic silent comedy with some laugh-out-loud moments and some very real suspense. There are visual gags, hilarious jokes, neck-breaking stunts (though thankfully not literally), and some good instances of misdirection.
The plot is simple enough. A young man travels to the big city to “make good” before he can marry his girlfriend. He proceeds to fuck everyone over while lying to his delusional girlfriend about his success. OK, that may have been a bit harsh, but let’s look at his actions:
He tells his girlfriend he’s successful and makes lots of money
He steals(!) his best friend’s phonograph and pawns it to buy a necklace for said girlfriend
He doesn’t pay his rent because all his money goes to buying her pretty, pretty pressies
He gets his best friend in trouble with the law
He constantly brags (mostly about things that are not true)
He marries his girlfriend under false pretenses (still keeping up the charade that he is rich and successful)
That being said, he is strangely likeable at times. He is very good at thinking on his feet and getting out of scrapes, and like Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, Lloyd was a gifted physical comedian which is the source of many of the funniest moments in the film. The slapstick and minor stunts are often hilarious and compelling to watch. In fact, here’s a song in praise of Harold Lloyd (sung to the tune of Gaston):
Noooo oooone crawls like Harold,
no one squats like Harold,
no one puts on a coat and hangs up like Harold! (watch the movie to see what I mean)
As for the girlfriend, she is completely delusional and actually believes all his insane claims despite all the evidence to the contrary. It is also sad that he feels the need to lie to her and “buy” her love, but it is unclear whether this is her doing or his.
Still, the plot is secondary to the stunts – particularly the extremely suspenseful climb scene towards the end. In fact, when the protagonist climbed the building, my sister could not even bear to watch most of it. It was a very tense moment in our living room, I tell you!
It’s a comedy, so of course there’s a happy ending. They go off to be married, in true Shakespearean-comedy-tradition. Huzzah!