“It's said that Chaplin wanted you to like him, but Keaton didn't care. I think he cared, but was too proud to ask.”
Have you ever watched a cartoon on Saturday morning and wished that you could do the outlandish things you were seeing on television? If the answer is yes, then you and Buster Keaton share the same mentality. One of the first superstars of film, Keaton was a living, breathing and acting cartoon character. There was a point in Hollywood when the films of Buster Keaton would always be a sure-fire hit. The one exception would be the next film I watched from the 1077 Films to See Before You Die, Sherlock, Jr.
This film was not very popular upon its initial release for several reasons. At first, moviegoers thought the 44 minute runtime was too long for a comedy film. Another reason it was panned was because of the awful editing. The film seems to be thrown together and chopped apart by a scissors-wielding blind man. There are some shots that are really awfully put together and the camera work is so shaky that it becomes hard to watch the film in its entirety. Not only did Buster Keaton star in Sherlock, Jr, but he also directed the picture. The validity of his directorial merit has been debated for decades.
Sherlock, Jr may have been a flop in 1924, but it has since been re-evaluated and is now considered a comedic masterpiece. Keaton delivers an astounding performance as the aspiring detective, but that does not necessarily mean I think it is very funny. It is Keaton’s bravery that makes him great.
Buster Keaton was one of the most daring stars in all of early filmmaking. He was one of the first directors to use stunts in a film, and he was the first star to completely do his own stunts during filming. He displays his willingness to risk his body for comedy throughout all of Sherlock, Jr. In one infamous scene, Keaton jumps from a moving train onto a pipe that is hanging from a water tower. The pipe then bends and shoots out a blast of water that forces Keaton to the ground. Buster actually fractured his neck during the filming of this scene, but not even that could deter the earliest comedic pioneer. He continued the filming and only sparingly complained about some “sharp headaches.”
Daring and dangerous stunts aside, Sherlock, Jr is supposed to be a comedy. The problem with this is that it is not very funny. I had trouble even cracking a smile during the entire picture, but mainly because the comedy is worn. Watching Buster Keaton is like watching all of the comedy clichés being born. This LIVE ACTION film even features a grown man slipping on a banana peel. This is Buster’s style. It is all physical comedy and slapstick action. I understand that some people find that funny, but I am not a fan of the physical side of comedy.
I suppose one thing that you need to remember is the time period. In 1924, these comedic clichés hadn’t yet been born. I am sure the filmgoers of 1924 thought that Buster’s comedy was groundbreaking. To find Sherlock, Jr funny, you have to have the mindset that you have never seen another film before. If you cannot achieve this mindset, the whole act will seem extremely dated and unfunny.
Keaton impresses with his stunts but lulls you to sleep with his silent slapstick. I was disappointed after Sherlock, Jr. I expected Keaton to have me rolling. Instead, I found myself trying to stay interested. This is not a funny comedy and I cannot blame the people of 1924 for not liking it in the first place. I still recommend it because of its classic reputation, but do not be shocked if Sherlock, Jr lets you down. Not a film for me.
Sherlock, Jr: C-
My Next Film……Freaks (Browning. 1932)