Steamboat Bill, Jr. (1928)
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The rest of the movie is about other things, such as Buster - reunited with a Dad who never knew him - meeting his father, getting a new outfit (especially a different hat), beginning a romance with the daughter of the competing steamboat operator, later trying to get his father out of jail, on and on.
The part that makes this one of the more memorable silent films of all time is the hurricane segment near the end. There are some amazing scenes in that, including a very famous one in which an entire side of house falls on Buster, who escapes without injury because an open door on the house is exactly where Keaton is standing. He had not been exactly on the right mark, the famous comedian could have been seriously injured in that stunt. The man had guts, that's for sure.
Anyway, our hero does show in the end that he learned a few things about navigating the boat as he rescues all the major characters following the hurricane. Great stuff and a suspenseful finish.
Story: Set in River Junction, Mississippi, William Canfield (Torrence), better known as "Steamboat Bill," owns a riverboat called "The Stonewall Jackson." He has a rival, John James King (Tom Maguire), a wealthy citizen, who attempts to cause Bill's financial ruin with his new river packet called "King" after himself. Canfield receives a telegram from Boston that his son, whom he hasn't seen since he was a baby, is arriving in town by train. Excited about the union, he is soon disappointed when he finds Bill Canfield Jr. (Buster Keaton) not to be the physical built of himself but a weakling sporting checkered clothes and beret, a mustache and playing a ukulele. Also returning home to River Junction is Mary (Marion Byron), King's daughter, whom Bill has already met while attending college. Because Bill and Mary love one another and Canfield and King have become rivals, the fathers attempt to keep these two apart.
A story with enough ingredients for comedy. With the love plot resembling that of Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet," there is no tragedy involved, but methods of the youths trying to get together at times without the knowledge of their feuding fathers. Scenes involving the meek Keaton and the rugged Torrence are extremely funny, their introduction being with Torrence at the train station to meet the son he hasn't seen in years, to be identified with a carnation, only to find practically every man at the station is wearing one. The element of surprise in finding his son not to be what's expected has been reworked numerous times on screen, the most famous being Universal's comedy-western, DESTRY RIDES AGAIN (1939), where the eagerly awaited sheriff believed to be a strong physical type only to arrive in town only to be a "horse of a different color" (James Stewart). Like Stewart's character, Keaton is considered a fool by many, but on the contrary, he's the opposite, in fact, intelligent when intelligence is needed, especially when it comes to rescuing his father from drowning in a jail cell during a flood that nearly has water covering over his head. Other scenes worth mentioning include father taking son by the hand like a small child to the barber shop to eliminate his mustache, and later to the clothing store where father attempts to change son's image into something more manly. But the high point is that of natural disasters of cyclone and flood that nearly wipes away the town, with the confused Bill actually becoming the hero during all this confusion, leading to the most celebrated scene where Keaton is seen standing in an empty street staring at the damaged surroundings, with the entire facade of a house falling down on him, with the open window frame of the house passing safely over his body, leaving him unharmed. A very dangerous stunt, which might have proved fatal, done without the technology of special effects or computers nearly succeeds in outshining Harold Lloyd's thrill comedies of the day. This alone needs to be seen to be believed. Even when all this is over, there are even more elements of surprises. Watch for them.
STEAMBOAT BILL JR. was introduced to public television around 1983 as part of a weekly series known as SPROCKETS, accompanied by a standard piano score. Later revived to cable television, it was then seen on American Movie Classics starting in 1995 where it was part of that station's annual film preservation series, and ending its run there in 1999. The movie was later presented on Turner Classic Movies in 2001 where it is played as part of its "Silent Sunday Nights." Initially accompanied with an excellent piano score by William Perry from the Paul Killiam collection, TCM sadly discontinued using this print in December 2004 in favor of a restored copy (which is fine) accompanied by scoring that happens to be one the worst ever composed for a silent movie. A pity because STEAMBOAT BILL Jr. is such a fine and exciting comedy, worthy to film students to studying the art and genius of Buster Keaton. Fortunately someone must have been in agreement with the bad scoring considering a new organ score was used in a crisp pint that aired June 21, 2005. Though scoring for STEAMBOAT BILL Jr. has varied in either VHS or DVD formats over the years, personally, the William Perry piano accompaniment is the best of its kind.
The last true Buster Keaton classic from the silent era, and surprisingly something that didn't do financially well when distributed in theaters. In fact, it's been said that United Artists withheld its release for almost a year. Today STEAMBOAT BILL Jr. is critically acclaimed and hailed as one of Keaton's masterpieces, a notch below THE GENERAL but an improvement over COLLEGE. Thanks to television revivals and video/DVD, Buster Keaton comedies such as this should never go out of style. (***)
Like much of Keaton's best work, this is a piece of Americana, set in the fictional Mississippi town of River Junction. Steamboat Bill (Ernest Torrence) is a towering, crusty captain of a battered old boat, struggling to survive the competition from a "floating palace" owned by J.J. King, the richest man in town. Bill is expecting a visit from his son, whom he hasn't seen since infancy, and who has been in college in the East. "I bet he's taller'n me!" he crows, and we think: uh-oh. Sure enough, when Buster appears, not only is he petite, he's kitted out with a striped blazer and polka-dot tie, a beret, a ukulele, and a ludicrous little moustache dabbed on his lip. Their reunion is something less than joyful. Young Willie is thrilled to find that his girlfriend from Boston is also in townunfortunately, she's King's daughter. Romeo and Juliet, anyone?
Craggy Ernest Torrence, who specialized in hissable villains, is a superb foil for Buster, serving as both the film's "heavy" and as the object of Buster's efforts to earn approval. At the other end of the height scale is tiny, vivacious Marion Byron, just sixteen at the time, and an effective love interest. The first half of the film follows the clash between gruff, manly father and effete son. Willie is quickly relieved of his moustache and college duds. In one highlight, he tries on an array of hats, using the camera as a mirror and showing off an equally diverse array of subtle facial expressions, culminating in comic horror when Buster's trademark porkpie hat is placed on his head. Willie's idea of "work clothes for the boat" is a dashing naval uniform; while strutting on deck he trips, stumbles and collides with everything possiblewatch for one of Buster's greatest pratfalls when a coil of rope is pulled from under him and he dives forward and spins around on the back of his neck. After he sneaks out at night to visit King's daughter, his enraged father gives him a ticket back to Boston. But before Willie can leave, his father is arrested following an altercation with King, and Junior vows to get Senior out of jail.
A storm is brewing when Willie arrives at the jail, carrying a loaf of bread for his father. Bill wants nothing to do with his son, whose attempts to convey that there are tools hidden in the loaf, without letting the jailer catch on, culminate in a brilliant little pantomime in which Buster, with just his eyes and his fingers, acts out a prison-break. Finally the tools fall out of the soggy bread and clatter to the floor, prompting the movie's funniest title card. Willie looks at them with innocent surprise and says: "That must have happened when the dough fell in the tool box."
In the end, Senior remains in jail while Junior winds up in the hospital. The storm has by now become a cyclone, and thus begins the incomparable finale. When the entire hospital building is ripped from its foundations, Willie ventures dazed into the storm. The wind is so strong that he leans at a 45 degree angle when he tries vainly to walk into it. Houses collapse into splinters. In a haunting scene, Willie takes refuge in a half-ruined theater, where he encounters ghosts of Buster's vaudeville childhood. The whole cyclone sequence is unsurpassed in its surreal and violent beauty. Finally Willie returns to the boat and manages to pilot it himself, vaulting up and down the decks like Douglas Fairbanks and more than proving his manly worth as he comes to the rescue of the other characters.
During the making of Steamboat Bill, Jr., Buster's producer Joseph Schenck informed him that he was dissolving the independent Keaton studio and handing him over to MGM. The crass commercialism and regimented working style at MGM would crush Buster's creativity and spirit, spitting him out five years later as an unemployable alcoholic. It's almost impossible to believe that this inspired, hilarious, warm-hearted film was made under such a cloud. Buster did say later that if he hadn't been so depressed about his situation (his marriage was on the rocks too), he would not have undertaken the most dangerous stunt of his career, when he stands still while the entire front of a building crashes down over him, and he's saved because he's standing in the path of a window frame. Buster's life depended on his hitting a position marked on the ground; if he'd been a few inches off, the façade would have squashed him like a bug. His co-director couldn't stand to watch the scene being filmed, and the cameraman later told his son that he shot the scene with his eyes closed. On-screen, the effect is miraculous and oddly calm, a triumph of geometry. It's an indelible image, and a perfect symbol of a man who ultimately refused to be crushed.
Today, these effects and particularly Keaton's, astonish ever so much more. Jackie Chan is the closest we have now, or recently. Chan knows that when we see something that we know is real: Chan jumping off a helicopter for instance, and when that is done with a comic tone, for some reason we chuckle more deeply.
(Stephen Chow's projects are a twist on this. We know the stunts aren't real, but they are much more extreme, and they deliberately reference other movies.) This collection of stunts has Keaton take a large river steam paddlewheeler, a rig it up to operate the boiler room by ropes from the pilothouse. Keaton's agility is absolutely phenomenal: today such acrobatics would surely be computer generated. Its not obvious that the man is risking his life. But as with his railroad movie, it is obvious that this is a real machine in a real raging river during real serious wind, though the wind might be generated with machines.
This is big stuff, important to watch and real thrill.
Ted's Evaluation -- 3 of 3: Worth watching.
My order of preference for story-telling of these three is: General, College, and Steamboat Bill. My order of preference for death-defying feats is: Steamboat Bill, General and College in that order.
"Steamboat Bill, Jr." is not the most creative at story-telling. Basically it's plot device after plot device to move Buster to and from one dangerous stunt to the next more dangerous stunt. How he pulls this off with such ease is still a marvel. And the comedy from "Ol' Stoneface" is still funny today. The hat-switch scene where Buster and his father go through a series of hats while Buster looks right at the camera as though it is the mirror is comedy brilliance. In all of Buster's best comedies, he figures out how to maneuver huge objects through the funniest and most insanely difficult ways possible - trains in "The General", a crew boat in "College", and he maneuvers a really large steamboat with only an insanely simple yet complex set of ropes in "Steamboat Bill, Jr.". Just watch Buster shimmy down FIVE levels of the boat to basically shake hands, only to shimmy BACK UP those same five levels in mere seconds. It is astonishing the athleticism and creativity he could pull off in one single, UNEDITED scene shot with only one camera. Astounding.
The supporting cast is mainly there as foils for Buster's laughs. However, Marion Byron (a mere 16 at the time of filming) is wonderful as the dainty love interest in this Romeo & Juliet story between feuding river boats. It is decently acted by all involved but this is Buster's show and everyone knows it.
The ultimate payoff is in the dramatic and DANGEROUS hurricane that hits the tiny town in the finale. There is a reason that ONLY Buster is in all the scenes in the hurricane. Nobody else would be crazy enough to be caught dead in something like that simply for a movie. It's borderline suicidal actually. They blow up an ENTIRE town right in front of our eyes using six jet engines creating a wind storm so strong Buster could literally lean at a 45-degree angle into the wind and not fall. In several scenes, there is only one take because once the building explodes into a pile of kindling within inches of the real-life Buster they can't rebuild it. For him to keep a stoneface when the world is physically demolished right in front of him, and he keeps acting in the midst of all that chaos... My mind can't fathom that kind of bravery from a screen legend.
I can reasonably believe that by today's standards, the insurance companies would NEVER allow the stunts Buster Keaton pulled off in this story. Simply breathtaking isn't a strong enough word. DEATH-DEFYING is the only word that can be used for the now-legendary scene of a wall collapsing all around Buster, save for a lone open window that saves Buster from certain death. It is said that half the crew stayed away from the set that day simply because they couldn't watch Buster die in real-life from that wall in the event Buster was only a couple inches from his mark and the stunt went horribly wrong. He would have been crushed without a doubt. How many movies have ever done something as dangerous around their major star simply for a scene in a movie? I can say without equivocation - none. Watch and rewind that scene - I promise you won't believe what you see. The weight of that wall is not break-away kindling. It is a SOLID wall of bricks and mortar weighing at least a few thousand pounds. When it SLAMS into the ground around Buster, you see what damage would have been done to him had it hit him. But as you rewind the tape, watch Buster through the entire sequence in slow-motion. You will see that he NEVER FLINCHES!!! I read that he was having a really bad day in his personal life that day but this is unreasonably suicidal as a scene. It is legendary for a reason. There will never be anything like it again.
Buster made the impossible seem routine. He was just a little feather being brutally tossed all over that town from one dangerous stunt to another. If you can't see true genius in his timing and physical superiority, you are missing a once-in-a-century entertainer.
Buster Keaton was a national treasure. His "Big 3" movies need to be in the Smithsonian for many millennia. That way, in a thousand years when our society is viewed by that generation, I hope they view Buster's movies and see what the best of us looked like at one time. He is my favorite silent movie comedian, with Harold Lloyd a distant second and Charlie Chaplin third. But nobody touched Buster. He's my hero.
As a movie, the story is maybe a 5 for it's simplicity. As a study of physical comedy and dangerous stunts, this is a 50 out of 10. Thank you, Buster. You are missed.
The first half of this film is amusing, without being uproariously so, basically acting as a lead-up to the fantastic climactic storm sequence. The crusty, irritable captain of a battered steamboat (Ernest Torrence) receives a letter from his estranged son, informing him that he has plans to visit after so many years of separation. However, Steamboat Bill Sr's enthusiasm at having the assistance of a younger version of himself quickly evaporates when Steamboat Bill Jr (Keaton) arrives in town, sporting a delicate moustache and a sophisticated French artist's hat. Furious, Bill Sr sets about improving his son's image, only to find that his son won't accept any drastic changes quite so willingly. Bill Sr is even more aghast when he discovers that Keaton has already fallen in love Marion King (played by Marion Byron, just seventeen years old when the film was released), the pretty daughter of John James King (Tom McGuire), his arch enemy and main rival in the steam-boating business. This section of the film contains some clever sight gags including a hilarious routine involving a multitude of different hats but it noticeably lacks the frenetic energy and remarkable stunt-work that is the reason we love to watch Buster Keaton.
The second half of the film, however, is a completely different story. When a destructive cyclone bears down upon the small riverside town, all hell breaks loose, and young Steamboat Bill Jr finds himself wondering precariously through a crumbling labyrinth of abandoned streets and buildings. As he endeavours to rescue his father, who is locked up in the local jail, Keaton endures the savagery of the hurricane winds and flying debris, frequently dodging tumbling building walls. The storm is probably the most ambitious extended silent comedy sequence since Harold Lloyd scaled the skyscraper in 'Safety Last! (1923),' and it is remarkable how, in the absence of any elaborate special effects, it all seems so believable. The storm effects were created using six powerful Liberty-motor wind machines and a 120-foot crane, and directors Charles Reisner and Keaton (uncredited) unleashed the machines' wrath on $135,000 worth of breakaway street sets specially built for the film.
In one extremely memorable stunt which has since become legendary Keaton stands willfully still as an entire building wall tumbles down on top of him, his only saving grace being the attic window that was intricately positioned to pass over his body. Believe it or not, there were no optical tricks employed to pull off this shot; the wall was very much solid, and Keaton's death would have been very much real had he positioned himself incorrectly. Reportedly, half of the film's crew walked off the set on the day that this stunt was performed, lest it went horribly wrong and Keaton was killed. If all this wasn't remarkable enough, then consider this final fascinating observation: throughout the entire stunt, as the mammoth wall thunders down upon him and his entire life hangs in the balance, Keaton doesn't even flinch once
"Steamboat Bill Jr." has a silly but funny beginning, and an amazing hurricane sequence, with very bold scenes. The timing and the physical capability of Buster Keaton are very impressive, and in the present days it is impossible to imagine shooting the scenes in the storm without the use of computer, so convincing they still are. From his biography, I have seen that he died of lung cancer, not in an accident as I might guess, meaning that he has survived to his risky scenes usual in most of his films. My vote is eight.
Title (Brazil): "Marinheiro de Encomenda" ("Sailor by Order")
Romeo and Juliet, Buster Keaton Style
A series of mishaps and confusions make for a stream--or a river--of comic laughs. For my taste, Chaplin's sentimentalism trumps Buster Keaton's supposed modernity (such is film criticism), but this is fast, funny, and even awesome at its best. Sadly, my version (streaming on Netflix) had terrible soundtrack music.
The General is a better movie, overall, if you want an introduction to Keaton, and I assume it's no coincidence that he helped write and direct that, as Chaplin did his own films. There are enough great moments here--physical slips and gags, slapstick tricks, and fast turns of event to make it funny, don't get me wrong. But the slim plot takes too long, and it lacks the gravitas or true romance (even though the romance is on the surface by fifteen minutes or so in) that comedy often really depends on.
The great hat scene near the beginning has him try on his own famous hat and reject it, probably appropriate since this is his last film where he controls the movie (before his now notorious move to MGM). And when he pulls out the giant loaf of bread in the jail it's hilarious. But beyond funny plot elements, Keaton is most important, or most fun, for his stunts, so don't let the story and the thin supporting actors drag you down before he really gets going. And I don't mean to give short shrift to the leading woman, Marion Byron, who is perky and adorable, and the perfect siren for the perky and adorable Keaton.
The ending (the last twenty minutes) is pretty astonishing stuff. The effects with the wind and collapsing buildings, and the sheer marvels of acrobatic stunts by Keaton, are a thrill. This is what made him enduring, and don't miss it.
Everyone talks about the Wall Falling Scene. It is astounding to be sure, but for sheer belly laughs, watch the scene in which Bill Jr. is made to try on a multitude of hats by his father. Note that the one hat Bill Jr. seems to hate is Keaton's own signature "Porkpie" hat.
Other little gags speak to how well Keaton could work gags big and small, be it riding a flying tree (!) to the water, or just trying to set up a plank to go to Stonewall Jackson's ship. There's even a sequence that I would show immediately to those wanting to get a sense of Keaton at his best, which actually involves as much reaction from those around him as Keaton himself, with the trying-on-the-hats sequence, where one is too small, or too big, or just too goofy. It almost goes way too over the top in the climax (how many things in town can Bill Jr go around in a tailspin, including winding up on what looks like a film set, ha!), but why carp? It's an exemplary form of showing a level of sophistication in doing dumb things, which includes sincerely dumb dialog ("Hey, my son's coming to visit, I haven't seen him since he was a baby" "I bet he's a grown lad now"). I'm sure the General will stay a Keaton classic for decades to come, but as far as purely accessible comedy on all levels Steamboat Bill Jr is hard to beat from the era.
This is indeed the source of the most famous scene in all of silent comedy (alongside, perhaps, Chaplin's cogs and Lloyd's clock). Caught up in a hurricane, hiding under a bed that's whisked away in the wind, Buster staggers to his feet only for the front of a house to fall all around him. Except - the tiny window falls directly over Buster. Who just stands there, staring.
We've all seen this a thousand times or more. Before I even knew who Keaton was I'd seen this scene. But even now, going back to watch it (again and again) - it's an extraordinary moment. Keaton had two nails hammered into the ground, marks for his feet, and two inches of room either side. Two inches left, two inches right, Buster would have been killed. Dead centre, and it's wondrous. Perfection. It had to be.
And he doesn't even FLINCH.
But there's something else about it...
Here's a scene, the big scene, not just expensive but incredibly dangerous. Half the crew refuse to watch. Anywhere else, you might imagine this stunt as the grand conclusion, milked for all it's worth. But that was never the Buster Keaton way. Everything had to be done perfectly (the golfing accident in Convict 13, for example, 78 takes...), and if that meant nearly killing yourself for a few seconds three quarters of the way through, so be it. Do the perfect gag, move on, do some more.
Extraordinary. Staggering. Unbelievable.
But, heavens, there's more, so much more... from Buster throwing away his own hat in disgust, to the dough that fell into the toolbox, to Buster's seemingly limitless capacity for wearing clothes under his nightshirt, to all those stunts in the hurricane, to the ingenious ending - a joy, an absolute joy. Unremittingly wonderful.
So this makes him better than Chaplin? Forget it. All I hear is competition, comparison, Keaton better/not better than Chaplin, Laurel better/not better than Lloyd, and all combinations in between. IT DOESN'T MATTER. This could only be a Keaton film, in the same way that Chaplin's best is unmistakeably Chaplin, Lloyd's best unmistakeably Lloyd, Laurel's best unmistakeably Laurel (and Hardy). There's no point bickering. There aren't any prizes to be won. Just accept - just rejoice - that for a brief few years, some of mankind's darkest years, the world was blessed with four unique comic geniuses. It probably never happened before, it maybe never will again. We were, are, will be, all of us, amazingly lucky to have them. And to always have them. So pull up a chair, grab a drink and a loved one, and settle down to this glorious film. And when it's done, stick on 'The Kid' for good measure... and 'Liberty'... and 'Never Weaken'...
... and rejoice ...
The movie is mostly fun because of its physical humor and charming because of the almost childish innocence that is in Keaton's performance. The movie also has a lot of comedy in its dialog. Surprising for a silent movie. Like often, the movie also further more features a cute little love-story involving Keaton and the young Marion Byron.
The story isn't much special and it's very typical for a '20's silent genre movie. It's however fun and interesting enough to hold your interest throughout but of course the movie is not dependent of it. The concept and its settings provides the movie with a couple of entertaining, silly and also original moments.
Once more Keaton also shows us his skills as a stuntman. He does some extreme dangerous stuff here. Of course stunts in those days were also much more dangerous than now, no matter how often much more spectacular it's looking all. Some of the things he does in this movie are really amazing, with of course the spectacular classic ending as the highlight- and most impressive of them all, when a cyclone hits the town and Keaton manages to run across collapsing buildings without getting hit and without him getting blown away, while also other large object are flying at him.
A great watch.
What everyone talks about is the last part of the film where a huge storm blows throw the small town. You can see that the wind is all artificial and that's fine. What is so hilarious is how it makes Keaton look, as he tilts, leans and wallows against a fantastically strong wind and rain storm. The special effects of having buildings crash down all around him are breathtaking and very funny. Obviously he and the director had to block out exactly to the square inch where Keaton had to walk lest a crumbling building crush him as it came down.
There are some buildings that appear to fall out of the sky and then within seconds are torn apart, all of the wooden beams just collapsing within inches of Keaton as he struggles to move out of the way. One after the other, building after building is torn up and Keaton is dashed about like a leaf in so many hilarious attempts to stay on his feet. How he didn't get seriously hurt in that section of the film is purely miraculous.
There are some rather obvious limitations to the special effects at that time but as we watch we don't care: it's just so much fun seeing how Keaton avoids getting demolished as the sets are dismantled in such a fury. The hurricane scene is one of the marvels of the history of cinema and is worth waiting for at the end. Keaton, with Chaplin, was a master of physical humor, often at the expense of what must have been terrific punishment for his body. No one would be allowed by a producer or director or insurance company to make these types of films today. The closest I have seen anyone come to this is the hair raising antics of Jackie Chan; and we should remember that he has broken so many bones in his body in the process of making his films. I am not aware of how badly Keaton suffered, but he must have had his bruises along the way. Terrific silent action but ridiculous musical score added only most recently; the film transfer was fine. Keaton at his best, not to be missed.
"I know what it is - you're ashamed of my baking."
In his last independent film "Steamboat Bill, Jr." Buster Keaton serves up his usual antics along with the most frightening and dangerous stunt he ever attempted. A crusty old riverboat captain, "Steamboat Bill" hasn't seen his boy since he was a babe. When "Willie" arrives in River Junction (by train) both father and son are disappointed. Bill expected a strapping lad that could fill his boots while the boy finds his old man a little rough around the edges. The first casualties are Willie's beret and mustache, "Take that barnacle off his lip." Keaton's father "Big Joe" has a small part as the barber. Watch for Buster's trademark porkpie hat in the hat scene, another hilarious inside joke. Willie bumps into Marion King (Marion Byron in her film debut), a cutie from school, and romance ensues. The two soon discover their fathers are enemies. John King owns the town along with the new riverboat. He'd like nothing more than to run Bill Sr. and his old steamer "Stonewall Jackson" out of town and off the river. "This floating palace should put an end to that 'thing' Steamboat Bill is running." The youngsters are forbidden to see each other but of course they disobey. Bill Sr. sends Willie packing just as King has the old man thrown in jail. Willie is duty bound to spring his dad and shows up with a loaded loaf of bread. "That must of happened when the dough fell in the tool box." The jailbreak fails just as a terrific storm arrives and Willie finds himself in a town of collapsing buildings. As in "The General", Buster is then forced into various acts of heroism, a tiny little fellow with almost super-human strength. Keaton used the Sacramento River as his location for River Junction, entirely built for the film and largely destroyed in the storm. Several accounts claim much of the crew walked off the set rather than participate in the filming of a scene in which a building façade falls into the street while Keaton stands precisely where a second story window is located. The wall was constructed at full weight. Had the calculations for this stunt been off a matter of inches, Keaton would have been killed. In another stunt, Buster clings to a large tree which is uprooted by the storm and flung into the river. A crane was used to lift the tree and lower it into the river. "Steamboat Bill, Jr." is brimming with the physical gags that had long been Keaton's stock in trade by 1928. Some gems to look for include a charming scene when Willie serenades a crying baby, his jailhouse pantomime and his walk down the road as he leaves town, then turns back, with the girl on his heels.
And of course the cyclone sequence with one of the most famous shots in Silent Film history.
As a good parent, old-fashioned , Canfield wants to impose their views and William struggle to preserve itself as it is. And soon, to "disgrace" of that parent, the boy and girl are attracted, resulting in at all costs, a romance how Romeo and Juliet, full of funny situations and accurate criticism of a sickly society that, in things essential as the individuality, tends to develop in a circle. ¿Do you not have the impression that, almost a century later, things still happen like that?
Charles F. Reisner, a former villain in some films of Chaplin, who later addressed to the Marx Brothers' "The Big Store", here's his one lucky encounter with Buster Keaton, and get round a film bursting with grace and wit that also has one of the scenes visual effects –the cyclone- best planned and most enchanting of all silent films.
As anecdote says that by the end of the film took two shots: one smiling Keaton -to break the myth of the "stone face"- and another with the usual hero of "expressionless"... the public of the previews chose to keep the myth.
Anyone wishing to meet one of the most fascinating of film art... BUSTER KEATON is his name.
As it happens, one of the movie's funniest moments comes not during one of Keaton's stunts, but rather during a scene in which Keaton is trying to smuggle some tools to his jailed father, using one of the biggest loafs of bread I've ever seen.
Have always considered Keaton one of the greats, as do a great many. It is a shame that he didn't transition as smoothly into the sound era from the silent as Chaplin and Laurel and Hardy, because in his prime (the 1920s) he was every bit as great, as funny and as likeable. His daring physical comedy and stoic deadpan expressions, that earned him the nickname of "The Great Stone Face", were unique and ahead of its time at the time and still amaze and are distinct now, plus he was a bigger risk-taker with bolder material and immense courage that most wish they could have. This was apparent in 'The General'. It is also every bit as apparent in his last fully independent film 'Steamboat Bill, Jr', one of his last "great" films and one of the crowning achievements of his whole career.
'Steamboat Bill, Jr' may not quite be the technical achievement that 'The General' is/was, but it still does look great. It is beautifully shot and designed but it's the effects and how they're used that stand out, it should be used as an example of how to have effects that still look good and like a lot of effort and care went into them and also use them properly, rather than overusing and abusing them to gratuitous effect with varied at best success as seen frequently now. The direction keeps things moving with control and balances everything beautifully.
In terms of the humour, 'Steamboat Bill, Jr' is a funnier film than 'The General'. It is never less than very funny, hilarious at its best, and the timing is spot on. The hat and jail cell scenes are the comedy highlights. Making more of an impression was the action and stunts, remarkably bold, leaving one in jaw-dropping awe and just exciting to watch. The cyclone, which still looks pretty impressive today, and house falling down on Keaton sequence sees Keaton stunts at their most spectacular and daring, a sequence that is justifiably famous and impossible to forget once seen.
Like 'The General', the story in 'Steamboat Bill, Jr' is a winner. It is easy to criticise its slightness and the slow start, they weren't issues for me actually because everything else that followed stick in the memory much more. There is a tender understated quality that is very surprising and the romantic element is genuinely charming without being sappy. The film also has a story that's easy to follow and at the same time is logical and interesting, indicating a film with brains as well as soul that treats the viewer with respect rather than getting irritated by credibility straining and logic lapses. Keaton as to be expected is superb here, not only is his comic timing on point but he once again provides a character that's endearing and worth rooting for. His physicality and how he copes with the stunts is awe-inspiring and he is one of not many to make deadpan interesting and entertaining because he still makes it very expressive and nuanced. Ernest Torrence is particularly good in support.
Overall, another Buster Keaton masterwork and one of his best. 10/10 Bethany Cox
The story is interchangeable with dozens of other silent comedies. Young man travels to meet father who he has not seen since childhood. Father is not impressed with son. Young man meets love of his life, but their fathers, who are bitter rivals, forbid them to see each other. Old man faces serious legal and/or financial trouble. No points for guessing that the young man will save both his father and the girl from a great peril, or that love will triumph in the end.
So it's entirely predictable from beginning to end, but it doesn't matter. We know going in that the plot is little more than a thread to hang the jokes from. We came simply to laugh and be entertained. And rest assured, you will be entertained.
Keaton is in full form here, delivering all his now-classic gags. He comes off as a naive innocent and a clumsy oaf, whose every action results in delightful mayhem. When shown the boiler room on his father's steamboat, he of course leans against the wrong lever and rear ends their competitor's boat. His late night attempt to visit his girlfriend inevitably leaves him in the drink. And from the moment I saw his ukulele, I knew it was destined to be destroyed I comic fashion.
What makes this material work is that despite their broadness, Keaton's mishaps do seem to be accidents. We never get the sense that he's deliberately being clumsy to make sure we get the joke. In most movies today, many of these gags would be only mildly amusing at best, and quickly become repetitive, yet that doesn't happen here. I wonder if that's because silent film is such a different medium from modern talkies, and creates a different mindset in viewers. Or perhaps it's Keaton's ability to play the material completely strait. He wasn't called the "Stone Face of Comedy" for nothing.
And what elevates Steamboat Bill above even Keaton's other works is the fantastic storm sequence. He out-mimes even Marcel Marceau here, pushed along by an imaginary wind, and bending so far forward that we wonder what keeps him from falling down. And the effects are incredible for their time. Buildings collapse or are picked up as though they were doll houses. Keaton at one point clings to an oak tree, and both he and the oak are lifted into the air and deposited in the river. I was at a complete loss to explain how they created many of these effects, the level of technology being what it was.
The most amazing scene however, was not an effect at all. The iconic shot of a wall falling on Keaton, who is unharmed because he is standing in the path of an open window, is exactly what it looks like. They actually dropped a two-ton wall on the star, and if he had been more than a few inches off, he could easily have been killed. You just don't see devotion like that today.
Canfield Jr. is played by Buster Keaton, who really needs no introduction. Keaton is a marvelous actor, who can go from side-splitting comic relief to playing deeply tragic and emotionally-affecting in no time. With Steamboat Bill, Jr., he gives another performance that makes him worthy of placement amongst comedy greats of this era, from The Three Stooges, to Charlie Chaplin, to Harold Lloyd, to the Marx Brothers, to Laurel and Hardy, etc. He's an actor with impeccable timing and wit, and him playing a scrawny but not entirely hopeless underdog is a role that he fits perfectly.
Keaton also isn't shy when it comes to finding ways to incorporate breakneck physical comedy into the picture. Consider the scene when Canfield Jr. is being pushed back and forth between his dad's boat and King's boat, each time running a bit more of a risk of falling into the small little crevasse of water between the two boats. The scene is hilarious and keeps one on the edge as if watching an argument taking place between two people right alongside a swimming pool. You know something is coming and the effect is had on you is surprisingly very stimulating.
Another memorable scene possibly stands as Keaton's most famous scene of his career, taking place during the destructive cyclone. Keaton's Canfield Jr. is position in front of a home when the front wall of his house falls, ostensibly about the crush him, until we see that Canfield Jr. is in the setup's only safe position, which is where the wall's window is placed. This scene was famously unrehearsed, due to Keaton's trust of his special effects team and his lack of interest in wasting a perfectly good wall.
Directed by Charles Reisner, the man responsible for bringing us Chaplin's The Kid just a few years prior, Steamboat Bill, Jr. is also regarded as one of Keaton's best pieces of work, although initially a box office bomb and subject to a critical divide. Because Keaton was independently financing all of his films up until this point, Steamboat Bill, Jr.'s failure was a crushing blow to the director's ego and pocketbook, which tempted him to sign on with MGM to get a heavy studio salary along with more exposure and stronger odds on a successful box office performance. Despite the warnings from his contemporaries and good friends such as Chaplin and Lloyd, Keaton, out of financial desperation, signed on with MGM in a move he'd later regard as one of the worst decisions of his life, as his creative control and personal say in projects was hugely compromised. Viewing Steamboat Bill, Jr. now is a sweet experience, but one can't help but shake their head in sadness for what it entailed for its star, who probably couldn't foresee the legacy he would leave on cinema as a whole.
Starring: Buster Keaton, Ernest Torrence, Tom McGuire, and Marion Byron. Directed by: Charles Reisner.