Steamboat Bill, Jr. – 1928
Director – Charles Reisner
Starring – Buster Keaton, Tom McGuire, Ernest Torrence, and Marion Byron
A big debate amongst cinephiles is the merit of a film whose sole intent is entertainment, dispensing of deadweight such as message, stakes, and emotional heft. Today these types of films are called “Popcorn Films” or “Blockbusters”, and they are designed to appeal to the lowest common denominator, kids, elderly, men, women, people of all shapes, sizes, colors, and creeds. No one demographic is really ever left out of the mix when talking about the audience for a film like this, with the exception of one…film snobs. Does it have to be this way? Are the visual hijinks, daring physical feats, and very basic storyline of something like Steamboat Bill, Jr. enough to make watching it worth while? You bet!
This time around (just like most of the other times around) Buster Keaton finds himself the subject of scorn by an adult or an authority figure. Despite this treatment, he remains almost blissfully unaware, and instead focuses his attention on the pretty young girl who has caught his eye. Some sort of catastrophe occurs necessitating Keaton to spring into action, simultaneously proving the nay-sayers wrong and confirming the young girl’s belief in him. Keaton invariably does this by demonstrating his physical prowess in an impressive and hilarious way.
Okay, so the story line is pretty much the same in each of his movies, only the setting and some of the plot points change. One time it’s a train, the next it’s a steamboat. He want’s to be a detective in one and the next he wants to play the violin. This really isn’t all that different from other of Keaton’s peers, Chaplin, and the Marx Brothers for example, were basically the same characters in multiple different movies, but does that remove any of their value, or the value of the film?
I submit to you that this is the best of Keaton’s films that I’ve seen so far. I say this solely on the strength of the last 30 minutes of the film knowing full well that by then the story has almost completely finished. We watch Keaton twist and contort his body against the force of a hurricane. He has to dodge and weave, avoiding entire houses as they collapse around him, and in this flurry of activity I lost track of time and stared in wonder watching him go. Whereas, during the first 45 minutes I found myself feeling restless and a little board, by the end I was on the edge of my seat. The only disappointing part, was that the film wasn’t a full hour and fifteen minutes of that.
While I know what to expect from the storyline of a Keaton film, I will keep coming back and watching them because I also know what to expect from the sense of action and adventure from a Keaton film too. This is my favorite of his films so far, and I don’t say that lightly.
“Buster Keaton, the inventor of break dancing.” – Ashley