Silent Star Saturday—5 Great Films by the Great Stone Face, Buster Keaton


Happy Saturday, everyone!  It’s time for another edition of Silent Star Saturday.  Believe it or not, this is my favorite day to post on the Daily Hottentots because I just love yapping about old Hollywood and silent pictures.

This series is turning out to be a big hit!  I was delighted when the Clara Bow Archive shared my post on Clara Bow, and last week’s piece on Olive Thomas was very well received.  I am glad that everyone is enjoying these posts, and please keep those likes, comments, and shares coming!  And do not hesitate to contact me and let me know if you have a favorite star you want to see featured on Silent Star Saturday.

This week I am going to do something a wee bit different.  Instead of writing out a mini bio and highlighting one motion picture, I am going to share my top five favorite Buster Keaton films with you.

Buster Keaton's Eyes

Buster Keaton’s eyes peeping at Marceline Day from behind an old Pathé camera in 1928’s The Cameraman.  *sigh*

Buster was born Joseph Keaton on October 4, 1895 and raised on the Vaudeville stage.  Bill “Bojangles” Robinson taught him to dance, Harry Houdini (who was also Joe Keaton’s business partner in am medicine show) taught him some magic tricks, and his family’s act, The Three Keatons, taught him about comedy and how to take a fall, which lead him to becoming the world’s greatest physical comedian as an adult.  The following five films are great examples of his athletic and comedic abilities.

1.  Go West (1925)

Buster Keaton Go West

Promotional Still for Go West (1925)

This is one of Buster Keaton’s  feature films that you just don’t hear a lot about, and when you do hear or see something about it, it’s usually not good.   Pah.  Don’t read or listen to reviews before seeing a picture for yourself, my babies.  Go West is a captivating picture about a poor young man named Friendless who has rotten luck finding a job in his hometown and in New York City, so he goes west to find his fortune.  Hungry and penniless, the little guy winds up on a ranch and gets a job as a cowboy and makes friends with a cow named Brown Eyes.

Go West has everything a good Western should have:  a family feud, a shootout, and Buster Keaton throwing on a red devil costume to round-up 100 head of cattle that are wreaking havoc in the streets of Los Angeles.

2.  The Cameraman (1928)

Buster Keaton The Cameraman

With animal actress Josephine in The Cameraman (1928)

Buster starts out playing a fellow who makes and sells tintype photographs, but when he falls in love at first sight with the pretty office girl for MGM Newsreels, he decides to trade in his tintype machine for an old Pathé camera.  He wants to impress the girl by getting a gig as a cameraman, but his first attempt was downright humiliating.  The girl takes pity on him and agrees to go out on a date with him, which leads to an uncomfortable situation in a public pool’s dressing room and unintended skinny-dipping.   Buster eventually gets his girl, and everything else he asks for, with a little help from a monkey.

3.  Our Hospitality (1923)

Buster Keaton Our Hospitality

Buster keeping one eye open in Our Hospitality (1923)

This is a spoof of the famous Hatfield and McCoy family feud.  Buster plays young Willie McKay who went from a comfortable life in New York to the Appalachians  to claim his estate (which winds up being a run-down shack).  On the bizarre train ride back to the old homestead, Willie becomes smitten with a female passenger…who happens to be Virginia Canfield, the daughter of the man who vowed to kill every member of Willie’s family.

Our Hospitality is a real family affair.  Buster’s father, Joe Keaton, plays the part of the conductor.  Natalie Talmadge, Buster’s first wife, plays Virginia Canfield, and Buster’s first-born son plays baby Willie.

4.  The Bell Boy (1918)

Buster Keaton Bell Boy

Buster with his dad Joe Keaton in The Bell Boy (1918)

I can’t do a list of Buster films without including this early short he did with Roscoe Arbuckle.  The name is self explanatory—Buster and Roscoe play bell boys at the Elk’s Head Hotel where they get involved in all sorts of typical slapstick hijinks with guests, other employees, and bank robbers.

Be on the lookout for Joe Keaton as the swarthy guest in a top hat who plays patty cakes with Roscoe at the front desk.  (That’s my favorite scene in the picture!)

5.  The High Sign (1921)

The High Sign

Buster doing the High Sign with the Blinking Buzzards (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This short was allegedly one of Keaton’s least favorites.  Don’t listen to Buster—go ahead and watch it because it is classic slapstick comedy from beginning to end.  Buster plays a drifter called Our Hero who answers a help wanted ad for a position at a shooting gallery.  He gets the job after he rigs the target’s bell to ring and make it look like he is a great shot.  What Our Hero doesn’t realize is that he has just conned his way into a mob called the Blinking Buzzards.  And his skill with a gun makes him the perfect man to take out the town miser,  August Nickelnurser.  Oops….

Now you are probably looking at the above list and thinking, “OMG, she did NOT include The General!  How COULD she??”  Well, I could…and I did.   The General is too obvious a choice for a top Buster Keaton film list.   It’s a great picture when you watch it on the big screen, but it loses something when you put it on television or a computer.  It’s something that demands to be watched under certain conditions.  Does that make sense?

Are you a Buster Keaton fan?  If so, which of his films are in your top 5? (Let me guess…one of them is The General! :P)  Let me know by leaving your comment below!

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11 Comments

  1. Great choices all. I adore Keaton. He was a true creative genius. He choreographed all his own stunts and was creative and unique with his ideas. It was sad when he got older and was pretty much ignored by the business that he did so well. I raise a metaphorical glass to his memory and toast his genius. Great post!

    Reply
    • Yep, and he was Hollywood’s first legitimate stuntman. He even did stunts for other actors in his films. One of the best known examples is standing in for the cop on the motorcycle in Sherlock, Jr.

      And did you know that Hollywood studios used the dressing room scene from The Cameraman as a sort of comedy training video for actors? I don’t know if they still do it or not, but I know that they did for quite a long time.

      Reply
  2. I love watching old movies! Go West sounds wonderful. Popped in from SITS!

    Reply
    • It is a wonderful film! 😀 One scene has Buster sat at a table playing poker with two cowboys. He wants to win enough money to buy the cow, Brown Eyes. And there was a moment when one of the cowboys demanded that he smile.

      Buster was known as “The Great Stone Face” because his little onscreen character was known for not smiling. So when the cowboy asked him to smile, Buster looked around the room, took his fingers to his lips, and raised each corner into a “smile”. 😀

      Reply
  3. Yes, he was a great entertainer, thanks for your post Angie, very interesting.

    Reply
  4. Brought back good memories of Friday night movies on the BBC years ago, when we’d always rush home from wherever we were to catch Keaton or the Marx Brothers or Chaplin. What a shame it’s so rare to catch these great classics on TV any more.

    Reply
    • Yep, that’s sort of how I was introduced to all the classic comedians…watching them on late night television at the weekend. And my granddad had a huge collection of film prints that he got from theatres and mail order. The real old school home movies, you know.

      Makes me nostalgic thinking about these things!

      Reply
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