Out of work, Buster tries various ways to commit suicide. At last he tries "poison" from a bottle containing booze. The president of a sporting club speaks of the need for a sportsman to promote the club and drunken Buster gets the job for which he must learn fishing, hunting and riding.Written by
Ed Stephan <email@example.com>
This film was considered to be Buster Keaton's major lost film until it was rediscovered in 1987. The recovered print did not have the final climactic gag; another print with the gag intact was found later on. See more »
Buster steps off a curb by a narrow street with no streetcar tracks, into a wide street with an approaching streetcar. See more »
One of Buster's oddest short comedies, recovered at long last
It's a pleasure to report that Buster Keaton's short comedy Hard Luck is now fully restored, complete with the famous "Chinese family" gag ending. According to Buster, who wrote about it in his later years, when the film premiered this finale was greeted with the biggest laugh he ever received. It was all the more frustrating that Hard Luck was believed to be lost for many years. In the late 1980s a battered print was discovered in some remote corner of the world, but -- more frustration! -- it lacked the closing gag, so the finale was replaced by an explanatory title and a photographic still. Now, however, the ending has been located, and the complete short is available on DVD.
While it's great that we can finally see Hard Luck in its entirety, I don't believe it's in the same league with Buster's best short comedies. It's certainly funny, and offers some of Keaton's characteristically clever, off-beat gags, and it's also pleasant to see Buster in his youthful prime, but the story is so disjointed and weird the whole movie feels like an obscure in-joke of some sort. In a way, the sheer silliness of it all makes for an amusing ride, but for me Keaton's humor works best in the context of a tightly-plotted story, however absurd it might be, as in The Goat or Cops. Here however, Buster just kinda meanders from one bizarre situation to the next without ever really settling into any of them. It's reminiscent of his earliest films with Roscoe Arbuckle.
Hard Luck plays like one of those crazy dreams that switches from one locale (and mood) to the next without warning: one minute our hero is so depressed he's attempting suicide, the next he's volunteering to hunt down a specimen of that rare creature, the armadillo (!?!?) for the local zoo. But this is just an excuse for Buster to go fishing (for armadillos?) which somehow leads him to the local country club, where he is promptly invited to join a fox hunt. Along the way, Buster winds up riding a bull and is then briefly tethered to a bear. Back at the country club, a bandit named Lizard Lip Luke breaks in and holds everyone hostage. When Buster rescues the girl she reveals that she's married to Bull Montana, so naturally it's time for our hero to jump off the high dive, only he misses the swimming pool and plummets to China.
. . . all of which brings us back to that closing gag, supposedly set many years later, when Buster brings his Chinese wife & children back through the very deep hole to see the country club. It's a clever idea, but nonetheless I find it strange that this is the gag which Keaton said produced the biggest laugh of his entire career. But hey, the man was there. Perhaps because the taboo against "inter-marrying" was so much stronger in those days the gag had a degree of shock value which has faded with time. In any event, it's nice to see the movie restored to wholeness at long last. When I saw the semi-complete version of Hard Luck at a Keaton festival at NYC's Film Forum in 1992 I thought the plot was disjointed because of the poor condition of the print. Now I realize that "disjointed" was precisely what Keaton had in mind all along. Even so, I'm still puzzled about that armadillo.
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