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Buster Keaton





First National Pictures, 1922.  Directed by Edward F. Cline, Buster Keaton.  Camera:  Elgin Lessley.  With Buster Keaton, Renée Adorée, Joe Roberts, Joe Keaton.

Keaton plays a hapless lover of a girl whose father sees him for the loser that he is and refuses his daughter's hand in marriage unless Buster can make a success of himself in the city.  Keaton heads off immediately and sends back to his girlfriend a number of ambiguously worded letters that enable her to imagine grand things for him when the reality of his exploits is something less glamorous.

This comedy short is only partially successful; a couple of standout set-pieces are distanced by longer periods of sometimes uninspired routines.  I suppose Keaton's legendary status has created unrealistic expectations amongst those who aren't too familiar with his work.  Every scene of every film is expected to be a mini-masterpiece.  Keaton was one of—if not the—best of the pantheon of silent comedy actors, but it's unfair to expect him to excel all the time.

The two standout sequences are the cop chase, which begins with one cop walking behind Keaton and increasing his pace to match Keaton's as the comedian progresses from stroll to walk to brisk walk to trot to run to dash to sprint.  The distance never varies between them during this sequence – it's a simple but breathtakingly effective shot that is wonderfully filmed.  A couple of minutes later Keaton has what seems to be the entire Los Angeles police force on his heels.  Losing them by hiding on the wheel of a steamboat, he finds himself trapped like a hamster in a wheel as the boat moves off and the wheel begins to rotate faster and faster.  When viewed objectively the story's a rather bleak one, and is perhaps an appropriate reflection of the man who co-wrote and directed it with Eddie Cline, his regular collaborator at the time.

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