Amateur journalist Buster covers a story about construction site safety regulations and gets first-hand experience in the process.

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Amateur journalist Buster covers a story about construction site safety regulations and gets first-hand experience in the process.

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8 January 1966 (USA)  »

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Easily admired out-of-context by any Buster Keaton fan
24 February 2003 | by (Oregon, USA) – See all my reviews

Because "The Scribe" is an instructional film, it doesn't develop a traditional plot. Keaton depicts an amateur newspaper reporter who finds a list of safety rules while snooping at a construction site. He runs amok trying to bring safety problems to the attention of construction workers, often precipitating disasters instead of preventing them. Because it's instructive, the pace is sometimes slow, but the film quickly establishes a pattern for delivering unexpected punch lines, thereby demanding the viewer's attention. And when there's action, the film really moves.

Though seventy years old, Keaton darts about at a frenetic pace reminiscent of his early years, and still engages in hair-raising stunts. But while he moves as quickly as ever, Keaton performs stunts that rely on his skill and timing, not physical strength. Instead of leaping chasms and climbing flagpoles, Keaton here plummets through a floor and gets bodily hoisted by a crane. It's still white-knuckle stuff, but distinctly less intense than Keaton's younger years.

Keaton's signature gags and style emerge throughout, and they enhance the film's instruction. For example, Keaton shoves a heavy tool box behind some equipment so nobody will trip over it. In a classic Keaton-style double-cross, someone instantly trips over the tool box in its new location! The gag is perfectly timed and perfectly executed, and it enhances the instructional value by candidly demonstrating that Keaton's careless "safety measure" was inadequate.

Due to its instructional format "The Scribe" is unlikely to satisfy a casual viewer, but it will certainly fascinate a Buster Keaton fan. To the best of my knowledge it isn't available on video, though you might find it on 16mm film at a public library.


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