30 November 2017

EUREKA ENTERTAINMENT PRESENTS: 3 FILMS BY BUSTER KEATON. REVIEWS BY SANDRA HARRIS.




THE GENERAL, SHERLOCK JR. AND STEAMBOAT BILL, JR: THREE UNFORGETTABLE FILMS BY BUSTER KEATON. REVIEWS BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

THE GENERAL (1926). INSPIRED BY TRUE EVENTS AND ADAPTED FROM THE MEMOIR 'THE GREAT LOCOMOTIVE CHASE' BY WILLIAM PITTENGER. CO-DIRECTED BY BUSTER KEATON AND CLYDE BRUCKMAN. STARRING BUSTER KEATON AND MARION MACK.

SHERLOCK JR. (1924) DIRECTED BY BUSTER KEATON. STARRING BUSTER KEATON AND KATHRYN MCGUIRE.

STEAMBOAT BILL, JR. (1928) DIRECTED BY BUSTER KEATON AND CHARLES REISNER. STARRING BUSTER KEATON, ERNEST TORRENCE, TOM MCGUIRE AND MARION BYRON.

Ah, The Great Stone Face. So-called for the absolute deadpan quality to his pale, languid kisser, Buster Keaton is regarded by critics today as one of the most incredible film-makers of all time.
Film critic Roger Ebert has referred to Keaton's "extraordinary period from 1920 to 1929, [when] he worked without interruption on a series of films that make him, arguably, the greatest actor–director in the history of the movies." See? I told ye, didn't I?

Anyway, Roger Ebert's quote is an excellent little segueway into this review here, where we'll be looking at three of Buster Keaton's films from this exact period. It was a time when Keaton had autonomy and creative control over his movies and so he made them literally as he wanted them to be. How we viewers see them today is exactly how he wanted us to see 'em then, which is a nice thought.

He lost some of that creative control after a few of his films were loss-makers rather than financial success stories and he ended up having to go to MGM but, for now, let's concentrate on the three marvellous films in hand, shall we? To hell with the bad years...!

THE GENERAL is regarded by most film folks as Keaton's masterpiece, and it's certainly a movie made on a spectacular scale for the silent era. The titular 'General' refers, not to Keaton's character in it as you might assume, but to the great big love of his life, his locomotive.

That's right, Keaton plays Johnnie Gray, a railway engineer who tries to enlist for the Confederate Army when the American Civil War breaks out between the North and the South. The Army won't have him, however, saying he's more valuable to the war effort as a train engineer, leading Johnnie to say: 'If you lose this war, don't blame me....!'

Johnnie's girlfriend Annabelle Lee pouts and sulks and says she won't have anything to do with him whatsoever until he's wearing a uniform. Bitch, lol. As if that wasn't bad enough, Johnnie's beloved 'General' is nicked by the enemy with the whingy Annabelle on board. They intend to use it to sabotage the South's war effort, the dastardly devils.

Now, if Johnnie can manage to steal back his precious 'General,' save the uppity Annabelle into the bargain, then get back to the soldiers of the South and warn them what those naughty Northerners are planning to do, he might just get to legitimately wear that soldier's uniform with pride after all. But first, the locomotive race/chase of the century must take place...

Orson Welles, a fine actor in his own right, introduces the film on the disc, referring to Buster Keaton as 'the greatest of all the clowns in the history of the cinema' as he does so. That means that he prefers him to Charlie Chaplin, haha, but don't tell anyone.

The fabulous Gloria Swanson (Norma Desmond in SUNSET BOULEVARD, 1950) also provides an introduction to this film. In fact, Keaton had a small role in SUNSET BOULEVARD as one of Norma's card-playing cronies and she obviously felt a great affection for him.

Except for the fact that she's wearing trousers and not smoking a cigar in a funny olde-timey holder, she's still a dead ringer for Norma Desmond, the silent movie star who failed to successfully make the transition to the dreaded 'talkies.' (I AM big. It's the pictures that got small!) We hear ya, Norma dear. We hear ya.

THE GENERAL can't fail to make you think of GONE WITH THE WIND, that box-office smash from 1939 that made a star out of the gorgeous Vivian Leigh and taught me nearly everything I know about the American Civil War, haha.

I learned a bit more again from 'Eighties mini-series NORTH AND SOUTH starring Patrick Swayze, Leslie-Anne Down and David Carradine, then a little more still from Clint Eastwood's THE BEGUILED. Who dares to say that movies aren't educational...?

In SHERLOCK JR., Buster plays a film projectionist and a budding amateur detective on the side who gets accused of a theft while actually trying to solve it. He then falls asleep on the job at the cinema during a film about the theft of a pearl necklace.

In his bonkers dream, he enters the film as a detective, the titular 'Sherlock Jr.,' and solves the mystery of the stolen pearls and saves the beautiful girl from a gang of villains. Will he be as successful, romantically and career-wise, when he wakes to find himself back in reality...?

The ending of this one is really funny. Sherlock Jr. ends up taking tips from the screen actor in HEARTS & PEARLS on how to romance his girl in real life, and we get an interesting insight into whether or not the young would-be detective sees himself as the father of children any time soon. Here's a big clue. He doesn't...!

STEAMBOAT BILL, JR. is actually my favourite of the three films. Buster Keaton plays William Canfield Jr., a young man fresh from college, who's going to meet his father for the first time in years.

The father is a big, burly ultra-masculine steamboat operator. He is sorely disappointed with the dapper little man in the striped blazer, straw boater and pencil moustache who gets off the train. 'Any of you boys looking for a father?'

He orders that Willie Jr. 'shave the barnacle off his lip' and dress a bit more manly-like to work on the boat. There's work to be done to get ahead of John James King, Willie Sr.'s main rival in the steamboat business.

When Willie Sr. finds out that his rather effeminate weakling of a son is in love with King's tomboyish daughter Kitty, he's fit to be tied. When his steamboat is condemned to boot, he punches King, believing it to be King's fault, and ends up in the town jail for it.

Now, if Willie Jr. can spring his Pops out of chokey and somehow get him back his livelihood, while uniting the two warring families and getting his father's blessing on his relationship with Kitty, he'll be well on the way to tying things up neatly for himself.

He reckons without the hurricane, though, the hurricane that's going to tear a hole literally right through all of Willie Canfield Jr.'s best-laid plans...

The hurricane scene is one of Keaton's most iconic and the one that best shows off his staggering ability as a stuntman. He gets endlessly muddy and dirty as he rolls on the ground, flies through the air, gets dropped in the sea and watches, utterly deadpan as always, as buildings collapse neatly around him.

Not all of these wonderful films were released to rave reviews back in the day. Some of them were financial disappointments, even. Now, when Buster Keaton's films are finally receiving the attention and critical acclaim they've always deserved, it seems incredible that his work wasn't always appreciated by those before whom it was placed. Dare I say it, pearls before...? No, I won't say it. But you guys know what I mean, lol.

BUSTER KEATON: THE GENERAL, SHERLOCK JR. AND STEAMBOAT BILL, JR. are all available to buy now in a special 3-disc Blu-Ray box-set from EUREKA ENTERTAINMENT as part of their MASTERS OF CINEMA SERIES.

The box-set comes complete with some fantastic extra features, including a 60-page book featuring new writing, archival writings, a selection of Keaton family photographs generously supplied by friends of the Keaton family and a stunning array of archival imagery.

The 3 Blu-Ray discs plus 60-page book are all housed in a hardbound slipcase.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger and movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens' fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra's books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:


http://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com







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