Archive for January 6th, 2010

by Allan Fish

(USA 1928 67m) DVD1/2

Storms clouds in the offing

p  Joseph M.Schenck  d  Charles Reisner  w  Carl Harbaugh, Buster Keaton  ph  J.Devereaux Jennings, Bert Haines  ed  J.Sherman Kell  art  Fred Kabourie

Buster Keaton (William Canfield Jnr), Ernest Torrence (William Canfield Jnr), Marion Byron (Kitty King), Tom Lewis (Tom Carter, 1st mate), Tom McGuire (J.J.King),

When he wrote of Buster Keaton, David Thomson talked not just of Keaton’s genius as a physical comedian, but as an evoker of period and place.  Other masterpieces The General and Our Hospitality were superb examples of this, and Steamboat Bill Jnr, his last film made under his control before punishment under the creative suffocation of MGM, certainly is.

            Though set in the present, only the automobiles and the heroine’s wardrobe really tell us so.  In every other respect it could be the late 19th century and we could be in Mark Twain country.  We’re in the fictional town of River Junction, where two rival steamboat owners are battling it out for supremacy of the Mississippi.  The winner in every respect is J.J.King, whose state of the art boat makes that of rival William Canfield, a dilapidated relic of days gone by, seem like the accident waiting to happen it surely is.  To compound matters, Canfield receives a telegram from Boston advising him that the son he hasn’t seen since he was a baby is arriving to join him imminently.  He expects a big strapping lad who he can share a chaw of tobacco with.  Instead, he gets Buster, kitted out like he’s just escaped from one of the more flagrant Oxford colleges, complete with striped boating jacket, bow tie and beret.  Needless to say, he doesn’t exactly endear himself to his father’s affections.  Buster’s only ally is a girl he knew in Boston, Kitty, but she happens to be the daughter of his father’s rival – oh how Buster loved his family feuds. Canfield arranges for his son to go back where he came, but just as he’s about to, King arranged for Canfield to get put inside the jailhouse, and then a storm rises up which threatens the safety of the entire settlement. (more…)

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