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