The simple-minded son of a rich financier must find his own way in the world.


(original play "The Henrietta"), (play) | 2 more credits »

Watch Now

From $2.99 (SD) on Amazon Video

1 nomination. See more awards »
Learn more

People who liked this also liked... 

Go West (1925)
Comedy | Western
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.3/10 X  

With little luck at keeping a job in the city a New Yorker tries work in the country and eventually finds his way leading a herd of cattle to the West Coast.

Director: Buster Keaton
Stars: Buster Keaton, Howard Truesdale, Kathleen Myers
Three Ages (1923)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.2/10 X  

The misadventures of Buster in three separate historical periods.

Directors: Edward F. Cline, Buster Keaton
Stars: Buster Keaton, Margaret Leahy, Wallace Beery
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.2/10 X  

A love-struck weakling must pretend to be boxer in order to gain respect from the family of the girl he loves.

Director: Buster Keaton
Stars: Buster Keaton, Snitz Edwards, Sally O'Neil
College (1927)
Comedy | Drama | Sport
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.2/10 X  

To reconcile with his girlfriend, a bookish college student tries to become an athlete.

Directors: James W. Horne, Buster Keaton
Stars: Buster Keaton, Anne Cornwall, Flora Bramley
Convict 13 (1920)
Short | Comedy
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.1/10 X  

A young golfer is mugged by an escaped convict and finds himself in a prison where he foils a jailbreak.

Directors: Edward F. Cline, Buster Keaton
Stars: Buster Keaton, Sybil Seely, Joe Roberts
Short | Comedy
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.7/10 X  

A drifter at an amusement park finds himself both the bodyguard and hit man of a man targeted by a criminal gang.

Directors: Edward F. Cline, Buster Keaton
Stars: Buster Keaton, Bartine Burkett, Charles Dorety
Hard Luck (1921)
Short | Comedy
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.1/10 X  

Strange things ensue after a young man attempts to take his own life.

Directors: Edward F. Cline, Buster Keaton
Stars: Buster Keaton, Virginia Fox, Joe Roberts
Short | Comedy | Horror
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7/10 X  

A bank clerk ends up in a seemingly haunted house that is actually a thieves' hideout.

Directors: Edward F. Cline, Buster Keaton
Stars: Buster Keaton, Virginia Fox, Joe Roberts
The Navigator (1924)
Action | Comedy | Romance
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8/10 X  

Two spoiled rich people find themselves trapped on an empty passenger ship.

Directors: Donald Crisp, Buster Keaton
Stars: Buster Keaton, Kathryn McGuire, Frederick Vroom
Short | Comedy
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.3/10 X  

After being mistakenly certified as an electrical engineer, Buster is hired to wire a house.

Directors: Edward F. Cline, Buster Keaton
Stars: Buster Keaton, Virginia Fox, Joe Keaton
Short | Comedy | Fantasy
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.7/10 X  

After waking up from his wacky dream, a theater stage hand inadvertently causes havoc everywhere he works.

Directors: Edward F. Cline, Buster Keaton
Stars: Buster Keaton, Edward F. Cline, Monte Collins
Comedy | Romance | Thriller
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.9/10 X  

A man returns to his Appalachian homestead. On the trip, he falls for a young woman. The only problem is her family has vowed to kill every member of his family.

Directors: John G. Blystone, Buster Keaton
Stars: Buster Keaton, Natalie Talmadge, Joe Keaton


Complete credited cast:
Edward Jobson ...
Beulah Booker ...
Agnes Gates
Mr. Musgrave
Edward Alexander ...
Watson Flint
Mark Turner
Odette Taylor ...
Mrs. Cornelia Opdyke
Carol Holloway ...
Rose Turner
Dr. George Wainright
Nicholas Van Alstyne
Bertie Van Alstyne


Nick Van Alstyne owns the Henrietta silver mine and is very rich. His son Bertie is naive and spoiled. His daughter Rose is married to shady investor Mark. Mark wrecks Bertie's wedding plans by making him take the blame for Mark's illegitimate daughter. Mark also nearly ruins the family business by selling off Henrietta stock at too low a price. Bertie, of all people, must come to the rescue on the trading floor. Written by Ed Stephan <>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis




See all certifications »



Release Date:

September 1920 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

A mamlasz  »

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:



Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


Feature-film debut of Buster Keaton. See more »


When Bertie's car pulls up to the house after the aborted wedding, the front gate is closed, but when he gets out of the car it is wide open. See more »


Bertie: I'm good. I've tried my best to get over it - but I can't - and I still kneel down and say my prayers every morning - before I go to bed.
See more »


Follows The Mollycoddle (1920) See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

This FAQ is empty. Add the first question.

User Reviews

A Sort Of Beginning
21 November 2009 | by (Greenwich, CT United States) – See all my reviews

He's rich, he's a bit lazy, he gets the girl in the first half-hour, he even smiles a bit. It's not the Buster Keaton you expect. But he's still Keaton, and even if his first feature film creaks a good deal, he keeps you entertained.

"The Saphead" presents the story of Bertie Van Alstyne (Keaton), son of Wall Street tycoon Nicholas Van Alstyne (William H. Crane). Bertie lives a life of Manhattan luxury but secretly pines for the beautiful Agnes (Beulah Booker), who secretly pines for Bertie in turn. Happiness appears at hand until a strange turn of events shatters their union.

A 1920 production of a hit stage play, "The Saphead" was designed to fit audience conventions of the day, not showcase Keaton's still-emerging comic persona. Sentiment and improbable coincidences run rampant here. Given that, it's impressive how well the Keaton we would come to know is presented. He is given many chances to present his clownish athleticism, as well as that expressionless-yet-not-emotionless manner that has beguiled film lovers for decades.

Was Herbert Blaché, the credited director, preternaturally wise to Keaton's style? Or did Keaton just know how to get his way even before he enjoyed full control of his features?

The problem with "The Saphead" is not Keaton, but its construction. In the first ten minutes, we are introduced to everyone in the film except Bertie, and given background about an adulterous affair that is then dropped for the Bertie story. Forty-five minutes in the two story lines come together, and in such a convoluted way as to beggar belief. Bertie is somehow pressed into taking the blame for the affair, even though it's obvious his brother-in-law is the guilty party.

Cue violins. A lot of "The Saphead" works toward this kind of sentimental dithering, even the Keaton parts, which get a bit strange. Bertie confesses his love to Agnes accidentally, when he tells his sister Rose about it. (Since Nicholas Van Alstyne adopted Agnes, doesn't that make her Bertie's sister, too?) Agnes is standing right there, though, and gives Bertie a bit of a shock before he recovers and takes her hand. This is strictly Buster for the old ladies.

The best way of watching "The Saphead" is as a couple of clever Keaton shorts with workmanlike connecting material. The first short would be Bertie's attempt to live a wastrel life, not because his heart is in it, but because he believes the modern woman "prefers sports to saints". To this end, in a great bit of physical comedy, Bertie tries to get arrested when his speakeasy is raided even though he successfully bribed a detective without knowing it. Every time he tries to enter the paddy wagon, someone pushes him back out.

The second short would be Bertie making his way on Wall Street in the last 20 minutes, overdressed in top hat, frock coat, and spats, being razzed by the other brokers. This culminates in a scene of wild physical comedy where Keaton runs around the trading floor, jumping on people and unknowingly buying up shares in his father's precious mine.

The Kino DVD I saw this on also has two shorts Keaton made at the same time, "The High Sign" and "One Week", which display Keaton as both director and star, and in much sharper form. "The Saphead" lacks the inventiveness of those shorts, but it works off-and-on as period entertainment thanks to Keaton and a good supporting cast. Booker is a typically shy Keaton-film beauty who delivers her scenes with grace. Crane has a fine comic moment sending his disgraced son off with a check for one million dollars "and not a penny more!"

It's not great cinema, but it's the start of great cinema, showing some the conventions of the time Keaton would do his part to break, and other conventions he would observe, en route to glory.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

Message Boards

Recent Posts
A wonderful moment Chrissie
He runs so gracefully... Chrissie
Discuss The Saphead (1920) on the IMDb message boards »

Contribute to This Page

Create a character page for: