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Buster Keaton leaves his family vaudeville act for the movies. He starts out as a bit player but quickly becomes famous as he acts in and directs his own films. Casting director Gloria Brent is in love with him, but he favors a starlet. When she rejects him, he starts drinking, a problem which only worsens when sound destroys silent cinema and his career. Will Gloria's love and his desire to make people laugh win out? Written by
Ann Blyth's character was a composite of Keaton's three wives. When Keaton's second wife Mae tried to sue Paramount for defamation of character, it was easily proved that she was not a specific character in the movie. See more »
Keaton's wife, a stylish studio employee, continues to wear WWI-era fashions well into the late Twenties-early Thirties. See more »
Donald O'Connor gives a poignant portrayal of someone who never existed
O'Connor is very good here and gets the elements of Buster's comic timing down very well, plus he is very moving as a composite figure of a silent star who, just as he is doing his best work, is overcome by talking film, and just can't come to terms with the fact that at such a young age he's been made a dinosaur overnight. The problem is, other than the alcoholism, the overspending, and the talkies putting a dent in the value of pantomime comedy, this just isn't Buster's life.
In Buster's biography it was stated that Paramount meant to turn Buster's actual three wives into the one screen wife, Gloria Brent (Ann Blythe). Somehow, though, Paramount mixed together eggs, butter, and flour and came up with a steak!. None of Buster's three wives were casting directors at any studio as the screen wife is. And this maudlin melodrama of Keaton matrimony is just plain fiction. The film shows Buster roughing it on vaudeville as a kid and often going hungry, landing a studio contract by sheer force of will as a young adult, and then being a savvy business fellow when dealing with fictitious "Famous Studios" when none of this is true. From the time Buster became part of his family's act as a small child, the act succeeded and the family lived very well, and the doors of Hollywood swung wide for Buster Keaton starting with his very first meeting with Roscoe Arbuckle in 1917. Only the coming of sound hurt Buster because he didn't have the money to go on independently, causing him to sign with MGM and conform to their movie factory standards.
I'd watch this to see Donald O'Connor given a rare chance to really show his versatility and his acting chops, but this is definitely not even close to Buster's life.
A couple of side notes of interest - The screenwriters were in such a hurry to shove something out the door that they got some key facts about the era wrong - The Jazz Singer being an all talking picture and Peter Lorre's character trying to unnerve Keaton by telling him that John Gilbert's contract was canceled after his first unsuccessful talkie are two falsehoods, but they are common enough myths. However, one part of the plot caused by their sloppy research is just plain hilarious if you actually know something about Keaton's life. You may wonder where the Lena Lamont-like star came from that Keaton pants over until she marries a duke (Rhonda Fleming as Peggy Courtney). Fictitious Peggy Courtney was modeled after Mae Murray, who married European royalty in the 1920's before torpedoing her own career. You see, the screenwriters got confused and got Mae Murray mixed up with Mae Busch, a Keystone comic with whom Keaton did in fact have an affair. Keaton and Mae Murray were never involved. Sometimes a good research department can be invaluable!
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