Thursday, November 10, 2011

Our Hospitality (Keaton. Blystone. 1923)

"He'll never forget our hospitality.."

Here we have yet another funny and enjoyable film made by one of the funniest men in Hollywood history, Buster Keaton. If you follow this blog, you already know that my relationship with Keaton did not start off very hot. I very much did not like my first Keaton experience,Sherlock, Jr., but every film I have seen since has been gradually better. That trend stops here with Our Hospitality. Though the movie is not bad at all, it is not Seven Chances or The General. After viewing those two movies, it is difficult to ever accept anything less than extraordinary from Buster.

Our Hospitality follows the same formula that most Keaton movies follow. There is a misunderstanding or outrageous event that is followed by some hilarious slapstick - all to be wrapped up after a stunt-filled chase scene. The story of a Keaton film can sometimes be lost in the miraculous stunts and breathtaking prat-falls, but here the story seems to be the focal point.

"The Canfield and McKay families have been feuding for so long, no one remembers the reason the feud got started in the first place". The movie starts with a rainy day gunfight between the patriarchs of the families. John McKay is killed in the battle. His infant son, played by Buster Keaton's actual son, is then sent to live with his aunt in New York. He is to be raised without any knowledge of the feud. Twenty years later that young man, Willie McKay, received a letter asking him to return home and claim his family estate. Played by Keaton, Willie instantly begins to visualize a lavish mansion in the countryside. His mental vision literally explodes after he realizes how his family lived.

But the story really begins during Willie's train ride back to his home town. While on the train, he meets a beautiful young woman and they instantly hit it off. Without ever asking his name, she invites him over to her estate for dinner. The situation about to unfold is painfully obvious to the audience. She is Canfield. He is a McKay. They love each other. That wont work.

Once they arrive home, Willie realizes that his new sweetheart's brothers are trying to shoot him. In fact, they are not even trying to hide it. His only hope is that the brothers will not shoot him while he is a guest in their home. So, Willie attempts to become a permanent guest. Eventually he is forced out of the house and the chase scene is on...

And it is another classic stunt-filled chase scene that shows Keaton doing what he does best. In Our Hospitality, Keaton earns his "human cartoon character" nickname by jumping from moving trains onto moving horses, stumbling and rolling at top speeds and, most impressively, swinging from a branch by a rope to avoid falling over a waterfall. I know, all of this seems to have come out of nowhere. That is exactly what makes Keaton funny. You know something wild is going to happen, but you never expect it when it finally does. As always, the stunts are performed mainly be Keaton with very little rehearsal. They are visually and conceptually ambitious and astounding.

On an interesting note, it later becomes obvious that Buster Keaton is obsessed with trains. He purposely set the film in the 1830s so he could build a full working replica of Stephenson's Rocket - an early incarnation of the locomotive. Watching the train work was pretty neat on a surface level, and you can see how some of the moving train camera angles may have influenced his later work on The General.

Our Hospitality is a pretty good movie. Like most of Keaton's work, it is silent. But the action is intense and the story is somewhat interesting. Again, this is nowhere near as exciting as The General. It is nowhere near as funny as Seven Chances. It is somewhere in the middle. And that is pretty good....

Our Hospitality: B

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