An unimpressive but well intending man is given the chance to marry a popular actress, of whom he has been a hopeless fan. But what he doesn't realize is that he is being used to make the actress' old flame jealous.
Buster Garnier is having a very bad day, even by his standards. First of all he manages to lose his job distributing flyers for a car company when he accidentally hands out packets of real notes instead of the false money-off vouchers; then he blunders into a stage performance at the theatre where his mother is prompt, and gets thrown out there too. Methodically, he drapes a black band across his own portrait, writes a last note to his mother, bids farewell to his pets one by one, switches on the gas tap, and composes himself calmly on the floor to await oblivion. But Life hasn't had its last laugh at his expense just yet... Meanwhile, across town, a scarred and ruthless gangster is preparing to break out of jail. Unknown to either man, the two of them are almost exactly alike; and when Buster finds himself on stage in the role of a jail-bird, fact and fiction are about to get extremely confused! Written by
Rarely screened publicly in U.S. (never distributed commercially); Los Angeles premiere on 3 June 2005 (UCLA). See more »
Buster Keaton did not speak French, so his dialog in this Paris-made talkie was dubbed by an actor whose vocal pitch was an incongruous tenor. In one scene with Colette Darfeuil (who played Simone) the dubbing engineer missed a line, and we can plainly hear Buster say "Go get me a drink" in English, in his distinctive gravelly voice. See more »
The "received opinion" of critics of the past concerning Keaton (including the great James Agee, who ought to have known better) was that sound films killed his career because his speaking voice was too dark and raspy to be funny. This was, and is, total nonsense. Keaton might actually have been *funnier* as a sound era actor, if he had been granted the material and the creative freedom to make the pictures he wanted. This film, made outside Hollywood and indeed outside the US, proved that - as hobbled by alcoholism and depression as he was - the Great Stone Face could still be great.
The funniest and most memorable gag in the film occurs early on when Buster, as a naively ambitious actor who has been hired to distribute advertising flyers for a bank disguised to look like French currency, accidentally gets his hands on the bank's *real* money and starts throwing it to passersby on the streets of Paris. His calm acceptance of the excitement of the crowd as they follow him around, scooping up the bank notes, is hysterical. (In one case, a man about to be married is given money by Keaton, and he runs away from his homely bride, shouting "Saved! Saved!") There is another great sight gag (this time influenced by Rene Clair) of the Board of Directors of the bank weeping and wailing in unison as they discover that Buster has literally tossed away the bank's fortune.
There is one other eye-popping sight gag that I'll never forget. In the gangster's lair, Buster is holding a glass of whiskey in his hand and one of the gangster's henchmen pats Buster on the back a little too roughly, so that the glass of whiskey jumps out of his glass and looks about to spill. Suddenly Buster reaches out and literally catches *every drop* of the precious alcohol in the glass before it hits the floor! Only Keaton could have dreamed up, much less pulled off, such an amazing gag. (The sting in the joke is that, as I have already mentioned, the great man had a serious drinking problem at the time.) Finally, I'd like to comment on his acting. In addition to playing the hapless actor Buster Garnier, he also portrays an escaped hoodlum, Scarface Jim. This was his only role as a villain (if you don't count his incredibly bizarre short, The Frozen North). Yet he is completely credible as the heavy, and it is, in fact, perfectly easy for the audience to guess which character Buster is playing at each moment, even when the gangster and the actor wear the same clothes. So the picture is one of his finest acting triumphs as well as perhaps his last great moment as a comedian.
Though my French is rudimentary, and though the print was unsubtitled, this film was a total joy, and is highly recommended.
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