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The Best of Buster Keaton [2 Discs] [DVD]
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Overview

Synopsis

The Goat
This two-reeler is one big chase film -- or, rather, it's two chases in one film. A drifter (Buster Keaton) is already on the run from the cops when he's mistaken for murderer Dead Shot Dan (portrayed, incidentally, by Keaton's co-director Mal St. Clair). Keaton has eluded the previous group of policeman, but he's no match for the ill-tempered, heavyweight detective Joe Roberts who's hot on his trail...or is he? The battle of wits and punishing physical stunts is a pleasure to behold -- Keaton wrings every bit of mirth from props such as an old-fashioned dump truck, an elevator, windows and, of course, the passing train. A delightful, fast-moving film. ~ Janiss Garza, Rovi

Cops
Although Cops is one of the all-time great two-reelers, its creator, Buster Keaton, never thought much of it. He felt it was just a run-of-the-mill chase film, which suggests that perhaps Keaton was his own worst critic -- the chase is what gives the film its brilliance. The film's beginning is a portent of things to come: Keaton longingly looks at his girl Virginia Fox through what appear to be prison bars. In reality, it's the gate to the mansion where she lives. The girl sends Keaton away, telling him not to return until he is a success in business. Keaton attempts to do so, acquiring, through convoluted means, a horse, wagon, and a load of stolen furniture. Somehow he drives his wagon into the middle of a policeman's parade, where an anarchist's bomb falls in his lap. Carelessly, he lights his cigarette with it and throws it away. It explodes in the middle of the parade, and suddenly Keaton is pursued by every cop in the city. The surrealistic vision of Keaton, small and alone, evading these hundreds upon hundreds of policemen is unforgettable. The filmmaker was both athlete and comic, and here he makes maximum use of both talents, racing down streets, playing a balancing act on a ladder, and casually grabbing hold of a car as it flies past, all in an attempt to evade the cops. When it was first released, this comic short confused many people -- its subtle statements (including its blend of humor and politics) went over the head of the average filmgoer of the '20s. But those same qualities make Cops a classic today. ~ Janiss Garza, Rovi

The General
Buster Keaton plays Johnny Gray, a Southern railroad engineer who loves his train engine, The General, almost as much as he loves Annabelle Lee (Marion Mack). When the opening shots of the Civil War are fired at Fort Sumter, Johnny tries to enlist -- and he is deemed too useful as an engineer to be a soldier. All Johnny knows is that he's been rejected, and Annabelle, thinking him a coward, turns her back on him. When Northern spies steal the General (and, unwittingly, Annabelle), the story switches from drama and romance to adventure mixed with Keaton's trademark deadpan humor as he uses every means possible to catch up to the General, thwart the Yankees, and rescue his darling Annabelle -- for starters. As always, Keaton performs his own stunts, combining his prodigious dexterity, impeccable comic timing, and expressive body language to convey more emotion than the stars of any of the talkies that were soon to dominate cinema. ~ Emru Townsend, Rovi

Steamboat Bill, Jr.
Not the best of Buster Keaton's silents, Steamboat Bill, Jr. nonetheless contains some of Keaton's best and most spectacular sight gags. Keaton plays Willie Canfield, the namby-pamby son of rough-and-tumble steamboat captain "Steamboat Bill" Canfield (Ernest Torrence). When he's not trying to make a man out of his boy, the captain is carrying on a feud with Tom Carter (Tom McGuire), the wealthy owner of a fancy new ferryboat. Carter has a pretty daughter, Mary King (Marion Byron), with whom Willie falls in love. The two younger folks try to patch up the feud, but this seems impossible once the captain is jailed for punching out Carter. Willie tries ineptly to bust his dad out of jail, only to wind up in the hospital while trying to escape the law. As Willie lies unconscious in bed, a huge cyclone hits town, knocking down tall buildings like kindling. Upon awakening, he does his best to remain standing as the winds buffet him about. He takes refuge in a tree, which is promptly uprooted and blown toward the waterfront. Here is where Willie proves his manhood -- and ends the feud between Steamboat Bill and Carter -- by rescuing practically everyone in the cast from a watery grave. Steamboat Bill, Jr. would be memorable if only for one eye-popping (and dangerously real) sight gag: as the cyclone rages, the facade of a three-story building collapses upon Keaton -- who is saved only because the upstairs window has been left open! ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

The Love Nest
When Buster (Buster Keaton) is spurned by his sweetheart, he decides to forget by sailing around the world. He posts a letter to his girl, sealing it with his tears, and heads out to sea in a ramshackle little boat he's named "Cupid." Weeks later, he encounters a whaling ship called "The Love Nest" -- an ironic name, considering the captain (the very formidable Joe Roberts) is extremely mean-spirited and in the habit of throwing men overboard for the smallest infraction. When the steward spills the Captain's coffee and receives the ultimate penalty, Buster is given his job. Buster's seafaring talents, of course, leave much to be desired -- for example, when he hears the order, "All hands on deck!" he takes it literally and, yes, puts his hand on the deck. Amazingly, Buster goes for quite a while before he incurs the Captain's fatal ire. He outfoxes his tormentor, sinks the ship and takes off on a lifeboat. But fate isn't done with him yet -- he winds up fishing in a Naval target practice zone. But just as the target he's sitting on explodes, he wakes up, back on the "Cupid" -- it was all a dream. But Buster's relief is only temporary, as he discovers that he has no food or water. Then he sees someone swimming past him ... his boat, luckily, is still tied to the port. This was Keaton's final two-reel short; by the time it was released in March 1923, he was already working on his first feature, The Three Ages. ~ Janiss Garza, Rovi

The Blacksmith
The homely Longfellow poem about The Village Blacksmith"will never seem the same after viewing this two-reel spoof. (Buster Keaton) is the assistant to the town blacksmith (Joe Roberts), a big, mean-tempered sort. In the early '20s, it was common for a blacksmith to double as a car mechanic, and Keaton is equally inept at both tasks. This short is essentially a string of wonderful gags -- Keaton helps Virginia Fox's horse pick out just the right shoe, and he methodically and hilariously destroys a gleaming new Rolls Royce. By the end of the film, everyone is out to throttle Keaton for his countless blunders, but somehow he still manages to get the girl! ~ Janiss Garza, Rovi

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