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Two old soldiers, Jeb and Homer, chat about the Civil War. Homer tells his story of being a Kentucky youth, who enlists with the South only to discover that his brother has joined the Blues. He's captured and his brother frees him, then the tide turns and it's Homer who has to rescue his brother. When the North retakes the town, Homer must use all his wits - and a few short logs of wood - to save himself. Have he and Jeb met before? Written by
I hadn't expected to really enjoy any of the Columbia shorts, but I found this one delightful. No, it's not "The General". Nobody ever handed the reins back over to Buster after Joe Schenck put them in the hands of Louis B. Mayor, so never again would we see what Buster would produce if allowed to just be Buster. But with "Mooching Through Georgia", we get a peek at what could have been. We get as close as Buster -- and Clyde Bruckman -- could get us.
In case Bruckman's name isn't familiar, he's the man who gave Buster a copy of "The Great Locomotive Chase" -- the book that inspired Keaton to film "The General". Bruckman co- wrote and co-directed "The General" with Keaton. The two men worked together quite a bit on some of Keaton's greatest silent works. And even hamstrung by a tight budget and an even tighter shooting schedule, Bruckman and Keaton let the old chemistry shine through in "Mooching Through Georgia".
"Mooching Through Georgia" doesn't even take place in Georgia -- it's set in Kentucky, no doubt via the pen of Bruckman, who was a Civil War buff and knew his setting. It was in Kentucky that you were most likely to find brothers enlisting on opposing sides of the war, and opposing armies passing through one after the other.
And from that very beginning, "Mooching" sets itself apart from the other Columbia shorts. "Mooching" doesn't rely on a totally ludicrous premise and characters so brainless it's a wonder they can tie their own shoes. Buster Keaton and Monte Collins play brothers Homer and Cyrus Cobb, who -- perhaps inadvertently -- enlist on opposite sides of the Civil War, and spend the entire movie keeping each other from being shot as spies. Thus Bruckman takes a very possible scenario, giving his characters human motives rather than cartoonish ones, so even when things get silly, the viewer can still see Homer and Cyrus as people they can relate to and root for.
Keaton doesn't get as much of a chance as we'd like to cut loose, but he does get some fine, understated moments, and an over-the top "death scene" that pokes fun once more of the overacted melodramas Buster gave the world a respite from. The gags are nicely done, and spring from the plot in keeping with a true Keaton film. All in all, "Mooching" is a breath of freshness in the otherwise stale Columbia air, and I'm glad Bruckman and Keaton managed to pull it together one last time.
Sadly, Bruckman's drinking had picked up where Keaton's left off, and the quality of his work deteriorated -- as is clearly documented in the deteriorating quality of the Columbia shorts Bruckman worked on. And unlike Keaton, who managed to reverse the downward spiral, Bruckman was unable to pull out of the tailspin, eventually borrowing a gun from Keaton and using it to shoot himself. A sad ending to a very talented man.
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