|Index||4 reviews in total|
Keaton's winning streak of finely executed talking shorts continues
with the service comedy TARS AND STRIPES (1935). Despite the punning
title this is an enjoyable, freewheeling two-reeler. Filmed on location
at the U.S. Naval Training Base in San Diego, it plays as a breezy
alternative to the many service features being turned out by all of the
major studio's at the time to help promote the military. Those
features, starring the likes of a Jack Holt, a Jimmy Cagney or a
Wallace Berry, always had a credit thanking which ever arm of the
service cooperated in the making of this picture. Here it looks like
the Navy opened their doors to Keaton's crew and gave him free rein.
The storyline is a series of overlapping running gags as Buster bedevils his commanding officer played by Vernon Dent. What makes this short so satisfying are the amiable qualities that the on-site location filming gives it. As Buster runs around the grounds in his sailor whites ships are moored in the bay acting as witnesses to the various pratfalls into the water. While most of the byplay is between Keaton and Dent the star comic does intermingle with the real sailors stationed at the base - especially the ending during a parade ground formation and Keaton plays it straight, acting as a real sailor would running out to his commanding officer to accept his medal.
The gags on display here all have a rhythmic flow to them as Buster makes frequent trips in and out of the brig while attempting jobs assigned to him by the Chief Gunner's Mate - who gets the brunt of it when Buster fails miserably. Once again Keaton attempts to paint a mast from a shaky scaffolding, tries to tie knots and learn the intricacies of rifle training. The best gags are the variations of Buster constantly late for mess call. Regardless of how or where the line is when seaman Buster arrives he always ends up at the end of it. This is solid sight gag comedy performed without the need for sound. When he is alone watching the other recruits go through their paces he is suddenly able to perform a quick formation rifle routine under the watchful eye of Dent's girl. This was the magic of Keaton - regardless of his constant bumbling and ineptitude there was always boiling, just under the surface, a quick-thinking, agile paragon just beneath that flat hat facade.
Filmed at a navel base in San Diego, this is basically two reels of
Buster Keaton running around and getting into trouble as an apprentice
sailor. It is virtually a silent film. Dialogue is only used when
absolutely necessary. Buster is not interested in verbal jokes and
wisecracks. He was a quiet comedian who only spoke when necessary. The
film is totally natural and one does not get the feeling that Buster
refuses to speak. The special treat of the film has Buster doing battle
with superior officer Vernon Dent. Dent was usually paired with Harry
Langdon and later became a staple at Columbia, often appearing with the
Three Stooges. Because of Dent's presence, the film feels more like a
Harry Langdon comedy than a Buster Keaton comedy. These are the kind of
situations Langdon and Dent found themselves in during the silent
Sennett comedies and later in their talkie Educational comedies.
However, Keaton uses sound smartly, where sometimes Langdon became a
babbling idiot, trying to show that he is a talking comedian.
The film itself is only mediocre, with typical military gags which have been used many times before. The rivalry between Buster and Vernon for the girl is weak. Buster was inebriated during the filming, but it doesn't have much effect on his performance. This film is worth seeing for all Keaton fans and fans of slapstick comedy.
This is a comedy short from Educational Films. Despite their name,
Educational made short comedies and westerns--not educational movies.
In "Tars and Stripes", Buster decides to join the US Navy. And, while
military comedies usually are pretty sure-fire winners, this one was
amazingly flat. Fortunately, it did have a cute ending...but other than
that it was all pretty ordinary at best.
On the plus side, it's nice to see the rotund Vernon Dent in this film, as he's been a foil in quite a few comedies--such as those of the Three Stooges and Harry Langdon. I don't think he was at his best here, however, nor was Keaton--whose films of the 1920s are light-years ahead of this rather limp outing.
Tars and Stripes (1935)
* (out of 4)
Buster Keaton's sixth short at Educational Pictures is without question one of the most embarrassing moments of his career. Once again, people put down his time at MGM but he certainly never made something this bad at that studio no matter how much he hated it. In this film he plays Elmer Doolittle, a dimwitted sailor who can't do anything right even though his Chief Gunner (Vernon Dent) is constantly on his case. Dent swears he'll make Keaton a real sailor but things get a tad bit more complicated when Dent's girlfriend (Dorothea Kent) shows up and gets involved with Keaton. TARS AND STRIPES runs just over 20-minutes but the truth is that it would have been a disaster even at just a minute. It really does seem like the studio got permission to shoot a couple hours worth of footage on the naval base so they pretty much filmed anything and just threw whatever they had together once they were back at the studio. The story is full of boring clichés with most of them dealing with Keaton not being able to follow orders and constantly being in trouble. Such "jokes" as Buster dropping paint on Dent's head and Dent accidentally falling into the water at least three times. None of them jokes are funny and what's even worse is how poorly edited together the scenes were. Each sequence looks extremely cheap and you can't help but think they just turned the cameras on and captured whatever they could before getting thrown off the property. Keaton is pretty bland from start to finish as is Dent. The two have zero chemistry together and the same is true between Keaton and Kent.
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