Thursday, March 29, 2012

"Steamboat Bill, Jr." the last of an era

TITLE: "Steamboat Bill, Jr."
DIRECTOR: Chas. F. Reisner
STARS: Buster Keaton, Ernest Torrence, Marion Byron
EDITOR: Sherman Kell
RUN TIME: 70 min.
VIEWING FORMAT: 35 mm film print

When a young, and slightly effeminate, William Canfield Jr. (Keaton), is reunited with his father, steamboat captain William Canfield Sr. (Torrence), he does his best to live up to his father's expectations. Add to that a rival steamboat captain, and a cyclone, and Jr. has a lot to tackle.

This film is, arguably, not the best work that Keaton ever did, but what makes it special is that it was the last piece under his independent label. Following this, he signed with MGM, and disappeared into relative obscurity for the rest of his life. This piece, which received no credit for co-directing, has risen in recent years as a forgotten classic. While it received some mixed reviews upon initial release, it now holds a 100% on review aggregate Rotten Tomatoes, and has become relatively popular fare.

What also helps this film to stand out is Keaton's stunt work. His trademark stunts and slapstick comedy have helped his reputation to last for generations, but this film actually has one stunt that could have killed him. A now infamous gag, where the wall of a house falls onto Jr., with his placement being exactly where an open window lands, involved a full weight wall. Half of the crew walked off the set, and refused to participate in the stunt due to its danger, but Keaton did not care. His own company was being shut down, and he apparently did not care if he lived through the stunt or not.

Perhaps other pieces by Mr. Keaton are better. Perhaps some audiences prefer Charlie Chaplin or Harold Lloyd. Keaton's onscreen persona cannot be denied, though. "The Great Stone Face" had his moment during the silent comedy era, and this goodbye was a phenomenal one.

It stays fast throughout, and the momentous slapstick comedy translates through the years. This fan thinks that this was perhaps the best unofficial goodbye Keaton could have given. While he worked for a few more years, this was the last piece that was ultimately "his." It is funny, heartfelt, a little edgy, and all-together good. Check this one out, and luckily for you, it is on youtube!

MY IMDb RATING:  8 out of 10

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