Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Steamboat Bill Jr.

Directed by Buster Keaton and Charles Reisner and written by Keaton and Carl Harbaugh, Steamboat Bill Jr. is the story of a young man who reluctantly joins the crew of his father’s steamboat as a way to be a captain like his father. The film is a silent comedy that explore a man trying to help his father save the business as well as deal with what is expected of him as Buster Keaton plays the titular role. Also starring Ernest Torrence, Marion Byron, Tom Lewis, James T. Mack, and Tom McGuire. Steamboat Bill Jr. is a sensational film from Buster Keaton and Charles Reisner.

The film is a simple story about this college graduate who travels from Boston to the Mississippi River to visit his steamboat captain father whom he hadn’t seen since he was a baby. There, he finds himself trying to do what his father does to please him while dealing with his father’s rival whose daughter is someone he’s in love with and went to school with. It’s a film that has this young man trying to find his way to a world that is so foreign to him yet bumbles his way to understand life in a steamboat. The film’s script is more driven by William Canfield Jr. and his attempt to please his father as well as win over Kitty King (Marion Byron). Still, there are complications as William’s father (Ernest Torrence) has a steamboat that is old and falling apart as he is forced to compete with the town’s richest man in John James King (Tom McGuire) who doesn’t approve of William Jr. because of his father.

The film’s direction by Charles Reisner and an un-credited Buster Keaton is quite sprawling for the world they create from the look of the river and town as well as the steamboats where Canfield‘s steamboat looks old and worked up while King is new, rich, and filled with a lot as it play into the personalities of these two men. The direction has these rich compositions with some unique wide and medium shots to capture the landscape with the latter providing some scenery in some of the gags that Keaton would create. Notably as he maintains a simplicity and straightforward approach to the way his character would act in these situations only to screw things up.

One of the film’s greatest moments involves this cyclone with these huge winds and set pieces that are just astronomical. Notably in how Reisner and Keaton would set up the moment and the framing as well as the stunts that Keaton would perform during the whole thing. Even in a scene where the wall of a house would fall while William Jr. is standing at a spot and come out unscathed. It’s among these moments that really showcases what Keaton is willing to do just to create some laughs which he does succeed and more. Overall, Keaton and Reisner create a very whimsical yet spellbinding film about a young man trying to please his father by working at his father’s steamboat.

Cinematographers Bert Haines and Devereaux Jennings do excellent work with the film‘s black-and-white cinematography to play into the sunny look of the daytime exteriors while using some lights for some of the scenes set at night. Editor Sherman Kell does brilliant work with the editing as it‘s largely straightforward with some rhythmic cutting to play into the humor as well as the transition to inter-titles. Music supervisor Gaylord Carter provides a nice music accompaniment that is a mixture of jazz and ragtime to play into the comical energy of the film.

The film’s superb cast include a couple of small roles from James T. Mack as a minister and Tom Lewis as the first mate for Canfield Sr while the performances of Tom McGuire and Ernest Torrence in their respective roles as John James King and William Canfield Sr. are just hilarious as they play the fall guys who don’t like each other and don’t approve of William Jr. and Kitty being together. Marion Byron is fantastic as King’s daughter Kitty as this young woman who is a classmate of William Jr. as she helps him look the part of a steamboat crew member while also having some feelings for him. Finally, there’s Buster Keaton in an incredible performance as the titular character as this college man who isn’t the strongest guy to work inside a steamboat but certainly determined while Keaton manages to use his physicality and wit to create a performance that is just so fun to watch.

Steamboat Bill Jr. is a phenomenal film from Buster Keaton and Charles Reisner. It’s a film that isn’t just one of the finest silent comedies ever made but also displays a sense of ambition of what Keaton was trying to do with the art form and more. In the end, Steamboat Bill Jr. is a tremendous film from Buster Keaton and Charles Reisner.

Buster Keaton Films: (The Rough House) - (One Week (1920 short)) - (Convict 13) - (The Scarecrow (1920 short)) - (Neighbors (1920 short)) - (The Haunted House (1921 short)) - (Hard Luck (1921 short)) - (The High Sign) - (The Goat (1921 short)) - (The Playhouse) - (The Boat) - (The Paleface) - (Cops) - (My Wife’s Relations) - (The Blacksmith) - (The Frozen North) - (The Electric House) - (Day Dreams (1922 short)) - (The Balloonatic) - (The Love Nest) - (Three Ages) - (Our Hospitality) - Sherlock Jr. - The Navigator (1924 film) - Seven Chances - (Go West (1925 film)) - (Battling Butler) - The General (1926 film) - (College (1927 film)) - The Cameraman - (Spite Marriage) - (The Gold Ghost) - (Allez Oop) - (Tars and Stripes) - (Grand Slam Opera) - (One Run Elmer) - (Blue Blazes) - (Mixed Magic) - (Love Nest on Wheels)

© thevoid99 2016

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