Saturday, September 19, 2015

Steamboat Bill, Jr. (1928)

Town rich guy has a new steamboat that outclasses the old Stonewall Jackson. The Stonewall's captain, Steamboat Bill, learns that his son (Buster Keaton) is coming to visit. When Bill Jr turns out to be a "dandy", the father tries to toughen him up and teach him the ropes.

Buster Keaton stories are very formulaic, but Keaton's genius is all about his comedic bits and stunts. That's always the love interest, frequently tied to his adversary, that he must prove his worthiness to. He's always the misfit who triumphs in the end (oh, spoiler alert. Sorry about that.) And it's always entertaining because the visual storytelling is excellent.

The stunts more than anything carry Steamboat Bill, Jr. The big one being where the brick facade falls on Buster, positioned perfectly for him to pass unharmed through a second floor window. Real, full weight bricks were used and had he been out of position there would be no second take. Half the crew stayed away not wanting to witness his possible death.

The General still outranks all other Keaton films, but Bill Jr was quite enjoyable. It was the last he did for United Artists, having sold away his soul and creative control for the security of a regular MGM paycheck. That, a worsening alcohol problem, and the radical change brought by sound cinema ended his dominance in Hollywood.

Fun, amusing, and well filmed. AMRU 3.5.
"There's not a jury that would convict you."

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