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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
By the mid-1930s, Buster Keaton's fortunes had diminished. While he was
one of the top comics in Hollywood during the 1920s, his moving to MGM
meant the studio's demand that he give up creative control--and they
forced him into films that simply weren't very funny. So, to rejuvenate
his stalling career, the MGM idiots decided to pair him for several
films with Jimmy Durante--one of the worst teamings in film history, as
Durante was loud and brash--the exact opposite of what made Keaton so
lovable. In these films Keaton understandably looked lost. However, in
a case of good news/bad news, Keaton signed with tiny Educational
Pictures. While this was far less prestigious, at least the films were
a bit better--not brilliant but more watchable.
"The Chemist" might just be one of the stranger of Keaton's 17 films at Educational. It is set at a college where Buster is a chemist--and a pretty wacky one at that. His experiments are just strange but amazing nonetheless. He creates a powder that causes living things to instantly quadruple in size, a love potion that causes a lot of mayhem and a powerful explosive that is noiseless. This last invention causes problems because crooks want to kidnap him to force him to use it to blow safes. However, using his wits, Buster is able to turn the tables and save the day.
As I said, it's pretty unusual, as Buster plays a genius--something not particularly true in most of his other films. As for me, I liked it---it was a nice change of pace and had some terrific gags. It might just be among the best he did at Educational and it's worth a look.
This is one of the several very good, very funny sound shorts Keaton made for Educational. Everyone says "Grand Slam Opera" is the best, but "The Chemist" is by far my favorite of the bunch ("The Gold Ghost" would be next in line for me). We need someone to restore and distribute the entire Educational archive. Sony has done us the favor of releasing excellently restored Columbia shorts that Keaton made in the early '40s, and of them, two are practically vintage Keaton, in parts if not whole. If we could see the Educational films in pristine prints I think the series would be a hit. Kino has released them all under the title "Lost Keaton". The picture quality of "The Chemist" is excellent; other titles do not fair so well. For some reason the sound is more poor than the release by LooserThanLoose (where the picture is not good). Check out this film from the Kino release and see what you think.
Chemist, The (1936)
** 1/2 (out of 4)
This Educational short with Buster Keaton had him directed by comic legend Al Christie and this here would be the only picture where they'd work together. I guess it should come as no surprise but the film itself is without question the best Keaton did at Educational. In the film he plays a college chemist who keeps creating eccentric potions including one that will make girls love you and another that will make anything bigger. When he creates a noiseless explosion it catches the minds of some gangsters who kidnap him and plan to use the potion to rob a safe. THE CHEMIST isn't a classic and it's not going to make you forget Keaton's silent work but there's no question that it's the best thing he did at Educational and there's enough good stuff going on here that you'd be willing to recommend it to people. Christie's direction keeps the movie going at an extremely fast-pace and you really couldn't help but wish that he had gotten to handled some of the earlier films Keaton did with this studio. There's a terrific piece where Keaton is trying to feed the girl he loves his magical candy, which will make her love him but another woman ends up eating some of the candy and then the woman tries to feed the candy to Keaton, which turns out to be the magical piece but things don't go as planned. The scene where the bigger potion is put in with some goldfish had a pretty funny end as well. Keaton certainly appears to be having fun as his stone face is perfect for this character who takes himself way too serious no matter how silly his creations are. Keaton is perfect in the part and the screenplay allows him to not only get some good one-liners but also one of his most memorable characters from the sound era.
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