Screen Directors Playhouse: Season 1, Episode 12

The Silent Partner (21 Dec. 1955)

TV Episode  -   -  Comedy | Drama | Romance
7.3
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When a great film star accepts an academy award, he reflects on a comedian he worked with in the early film days, owing his success to him, not realizing that man is now destitute, watching the show on TV from a barstool.

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Cast

Episode cast overview:
...
Kelsey Dutton
...
Selma
...
Arthur Vail
Evelyn Ankers ...
Miss Loving
...
Ernie
...
Shanks
Percy Helton ...
Barney - Bartender
Joe Corey ...
Arnold (as Joseph Corey)
Lyle Latell ...
Ernie's Friend
Charles Horvath ...
Barber
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Storyline

When a great film star accepts an academy award, he reflects on a comedian he worked with in the early film days, owing his success to him, not realizing that man is now destitute, watching the show on TV from a barstool.

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Comedy | Drama | Romance

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21 December 1955 (USA)  »

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(Western Electric Recording)

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1.33 : 1
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The redemption of Kelsey Dutton
19 March 2006 | by (Westchester County, NY) – See all my reviews

When commercial television came along in the late 1940s it provided legions of show business veterans with new career opportunities. Aging vaudevillians and silent era comics who'd been hustling for bit parts in movies found themselves in demand once more, filling slots on T.V. variety shows with ancient routines that were newly fresh for younger viewers and provided a touch of nostalgia for their elders. Buster Keaton was a major beneficiary of the new medium. The '40s had been a fallow period for Buster, but by 1950 he was hosting his own weekly T.V. series and doing guest shots on many other programs. Suddenly, and after a long dry spell, Keaton was famous again, performing well-honed bits from his classic comedies for live audiences.

Filmed in 1955, "The Silent Partner" was something a little different. This was a half-hour dramatic episode from an anthology series, one of many such series that flourished at the time, and it served as something of a tribute (and explicit apology) to Keaton and all the other long-neglected veterans from the silent days. Buster plays a once-famous comedy star named Kelsey Dutton, a character clearly meant to be a version of himself. The story is set in a greasy spoon diner in Hollywood, located a few doors down from the theater where the Academy Awards ceremony is taking place. While the show plays on a T.V. over the bar the diner's regulars exchange quips, bicker, and pay little attention to the stranger in their midst, an old man in a baggy suit who sits at the counter sipping a beer, watching the show in silence. When a movie director named Arthur Vail (played by Joe E. Brown) receives a lifetime achievement award the televised tribute includes clips from his early comedies starring Kelsey Dutton, and the denizens of the diner gradually realize that the old man at the counter is Dutton himself. In the end, it's implied that the renewed attention brought by the Oscars telecast will result in a career comeback for Dutton --which, obviously, echoes the real-life role T.V. played in Buster Keaton's life.

The intended highlight of "The Silent Partner" is Keaton's recreation of his silent film routines in the televised Oscars tribute, but for me this is where the show falls short. The routines Buster performs here are primitive compared to his own actual comedies; Kelsey Dutton's movies look like the sort of thing Ford Sterling was doing at Keystone in 1913, and give viewers a skewed idea of what the best silent comedy was really like. The humor is based on broad slapstick, falls, and silly props, and, worse, the segment is accompanied by the shrill sound of a raucous laugh track. I wish the producers of this show had simply inserted clips from such classics as The Goat or Cops instead of staging these rather patronizing sequences.

Even so, "The Silent Partner" has a number of elements in its favor. The diner sequences are the true highlight, and Buster gets an opportunity to demonstrate his dramatic acting chops in these ensemble scenes. The supporting cast features several familiar faces, not only Joe E. Brown but ZaSu Pitts as an eccentric (of course) lady at the diner who remembers the old days. Jack Elam is cast against type in a brief bit as a pompous stage actor who disdains the movies, while Evelyn Ankers, best known from Universal's '40s horror flicks, plays Kelsey Dutton's leading lady in the flashbacks. Most surprising of all, Bob Hope turns up in a brief cameo as himself, hosting the Oscars broadcast in a scene shot specifically for this program.

While this show isn't all it might have been, it's an unusual treat for silent comedy fans who will likely find the finale quite moving. Incidentally, "The Silent Partner" was filmed at the Hal Roach Studio, one-time home base for Laurel & Hardy, Charley Chase, and the Our Gang kids. And, in a happy postscript: five years after this T.V. episode was filmed Buster Keaton --not Kelsey Dutton-- finally received his own honorary Oscar.


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