Buster bids goodbye to Virginia and all women, sailing away in his "Cupid." Later, without food or water, he is taken on board "The Love Nest" which has a very mean captain. A crewman who spills coffee on the captain's hand is thrown overboard. So is anyone else who bothers the captain. Written by
Ed Stephan <email@example.com>
Ever since the sixties, Buster Keaton has been championed by intellectuals, who like to place him with such 20th century masters as Kafka and Beckett. In claiming Keaton for high art, critics often exaggerate the strains of cynicism, pessimism, and irony in his work, while overlooking the sincere drama and laugh-out-loud comedy in the films, as well as the soulfulness and unflagging determination of Buster's characters. But if surrealism and black humor are what you want, The Love Nest is thoroughly dominated by both. It's not one of Keaton's most successful films, nor one of his funniest, yet I find it oddly compelling. If you want to see Buster at his nautical best, watch The Boat or The Navigator; but this is an interesting twist on the seafaring theme.
The last two-reel comedy Keaton made before embarking on full-length features, The Love Nest has several distinctions. It's the only one of his films for which Buster took sole writing and directing credit. And it's the only one that has no leading lady: a photo of Virginia Fox provides the only feminine presence. Having lost her, Buster sets out on a solitary ocean voyage in a tiny homemade boat (ironically called Cupid.) Days later, we see him adrift, weak, thirsty, and starvingand wearing a painted-on beard. He's rescued by a whaling ship (even more ironically called the Love Nest), which turns out to be captained by a sadistic tyrant (Big Joe Roberts), who punishes minor infractions by heaving sailors overboard and tossing memorial wreathes after them. The whaling ship is beautifully realized, with a grim, Melvillean raffishness; this section is remarkably similar to the later film The Sea Wolf in both look and theme. There are some wonderful moments. Buster gazes longingly at the view through a porthole, and then the captain comes up and takes the porthole away. Buster walks into the water with a gun over his shoulder and emerges with a fish he has shot. When he wants to escape in a lifeboat that's too heavy for him to launch alone, he goes below and smashes a hole in the whaling ship's hull, then sits in the lifeboat waiting for the larger boat to sink, calmly playing solitaire.
The beginning and end of the film are particularly weak, as though Buster wasn't sure how to justify the whaling ship sequence. (The very end appears to be missing, however, so who knows what the closing gag might have been.) I think at this point, Buster was eager to move on to feature films and weary of coming up with ideas for short films every other month. Many of his late two-reelers have odd structures, far-out premises, and a slightly tired, sour feeling. But The Love Nest is a strangely beautiful, dreamlike little film, and I like it because it's impossible to imagine anyone except Buster Keaton making it.
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