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Buster Keaton  




Metro Pictures Corp., 1921.  Directed by Edward F. Kline, Buster Keaton.  Camera:  Elgin Lessley.  With Buster Keaton, Virginia Fox, Joe Roberts, Bull Montana

Hard Luck was Buster's personal favorite of his own silent shorts, not because he thought it better than the rest but because the film contained the greatest laugh-getting sequence of any of his pictures.  The film itself was considered lost for more than sixty years until it was partially reconstructed from extant footage acquired by Raymond Rohauer and assembled by Kevin Brownlow and David Gill in 1987.

In the film, Buster loses his job and his girl.  Down on his luck, he tries to commit suicide.  All of his inept attempts to do away with himself meet with failure.  These hilarious suicide-attempt gags are similar to those Harold Lloyd did in his comedy shorts Haunted Spooks (1920) and Never Weaken (1921).  The second half of the film finds buster hired by the local zoo to capture the one animal they do not have:  an armadillo.  Needless to say, he fails, and he is also unsuccessful as a fisherman and horseman.

The aforementioned hilarious sequence comes at the end:  rejected by Virginia Fox, Buster climbs up to the high-diving platform of an open-air swimming pool.  On the platform he poses and struts for the benefit of the girls lounging around the pool.  He then performs a great swan dive and misses the pool completely.  Landing on the cement walk next to the pool, he leaves a large hole in the pavement.  The scene fades and is followed by a title, "Years later."  The scene fades back to the abandoned pool, the hole still visible.  buster emerges from it, dressed in Oriental clothes, followed by his Chinese wife and two children.  Unfortunately, this sequence was not among the footage uncovered for the film's reconstruction, and only still photographs from the scene are known to exist.

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