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Buster Keaton





Joseph M. Schenck Productions, 1921. Directed by Malcolm St. Clair, Buster Keaton. Camera:  Elgin Lessley.  With Buster Keaton, Virginia Fox, Joe Roberts, Malcolm St. Clair, Edward F. Kline, Jean C. Havez, Joe Keaton, Louise Keaton, Myra Keaton.

Filled with complex and inventive gags, The Goat is one of Buster's cleverest two-reel comedies.  The film opens with Buster standing in a bread line, waiting for a handout he never gets.  He next stops and stares through the barred window of a police station as a photographer prepares to take a mug shot of the murderer Dead Shot Dan (played by Mal St. Clair, who co-directed the film with Buster).  The crafty Dan, seeing Buster, bends down out of camera range and triggers the camera, photographing Buster behind bars.  Later, when Dan escapes, the "Wanted" posters put up by the police and the newspaper photos show Buster as the escaped criminal.

The rest of The Goat revolves around Buster being mistaken for Dead Shot Dan.  One of the film's best scenes has Buster, on the run in a park, hiding under the tarpaulin covering a sculptor's full-size model of a statue that is about to be unveiled.  When the statue is revealed in a public ceremony, Buster is seen posing on the back of a full-scale clay horse.  The horse gradually sags at the knees under Buster's weight, but Buster continues to hold his pose.

The Goat also features one of Buster's most memorable moments with a train.  Pursued by the police, Buster jumps a train and in some complicated and very funny maneuvers managed to make his escape.  The film then irises out and in again.  In an extreme long shot the train is coming toward the camera.  As it comes into a close-up, we see Buster sitting on the front of the engine looking straight into the camera.  It is a wonderful moment—slow, simple, and effective—unlike anything else in the otherwise complex, fast-paced comedy.  Buster had a lifelong love affair with trains.  He loved trains so much that he would often try to work one into his comedies just to make something different from what anyone else might do with a train in motion pictures.

Buster Keaton Remembered,
by Eleanor Keaton and Jeffrey Vance
Harry N. Abrams (April 2001)