Hospitality Movie Reviews
Sherlock Jr. is a delightfully surreal fantasy of a film projectionist and amateur detective who climbs into his movie screen. Like Daffy Duck in the famous cartoon "Duck Amuck," Buster is at the mercy of sudden scene changes, sent from desert to snowstorm to lake in simple cuts while he remains helplessly fixed onscreen. (Even more astounding is that he accomplished this engineering marvel with nothing more than surveyor's tools and an exacting eye.) Settling into his dream role as a master detective and society bon vivant Sherlock Jr., he chases the dastardly villains in a world as wild and unpredictable as the French serial Les Vampires: bombs are hidden in billiard balls and Keaton leaps through the torso of a peddler woman and into nothingness! No other silent film turns logic on its head with such grace and comic hilarity. --Sean Axmaker
In "Our Hospitality", Buster plays Willie McKay, a naive New York City resident (if you can call New York a city in 1830) who returns to his native south to collect an estate from his mother who has just recently died. Unfortunately, McKay's family has been involved in a backwoods feud with the Canfield family who are determined to kill off the last surviving McKay.
Further complicating matters, Willie finds himself falling in love with the elder Canfield's daughter who invites him to dinner. The Canfields will not shoot McKay in their house as this violates their code of honor (there is apparently nothing dishonorable about shooting McKay outside). This leads to a series of hilarious comic situations as Willie must find ways to prolong his visit. Later, when he runs out of excuses, he must find a way to sneak out without being recognized. Wait till you see what he uses for a disguise!
The film leads up to a hilarious and exciting chase sequence ending on a river. Buster Keaton was quite the acrobat. It's amusing how throughout the film he pokes fun at the south's twisted sense of hospitality. There's also a surprisingly touching finale.
"Sherlock Jr." is another great, albeit short film. Buster plays a hapless movie projectionist and amateur detective who is wrongly accused of stealing his girlfriend's father's watch. Ostrasized by his girlfriend, Buster falls asleep in the projection room and in his dream, walks into the movie and interacts with the characters. In his dream, he imagines himself as the great detective Sherlock Jr. and attempts to find the culprit of a stolen watch.
"Sherlock Jr." is an interesting film as it deals with Keaton's fascination with the film medium. The special effects for the scene where Buster walks into the screen were incredible for their time. This scene has been copied a lot in subsequent films. Unfortunately, the film is marred somewhat by the inane music score which someone decided to tack on. Nevertheless, it's well worth viewing.
Buster Keaton was a genius. His best films matched, if not surpassed those of his rival Charlie Chaplin. They were cinematically superior and had better stuntwork (nothing wrong with Chaplin mind you). A must for any lover of silent comedies.
*Our Hospitality* (Four Stars): Somewhat primitive but still accomplished comedy about a city boy (Keaton) who embarks on a journey Down South to claim his ancestral inheritance. The joy of the thing is in the journey, which involves an amazing, diminutive, jerry-rigged "train", replete with roof-chairs on which passengers bob and sway like reeds in a high breeze. Once arrived, Keaton discovers that he has also inherited participation of a blood feud, of the Hatfied-McCoy variety, with another family. (Of course, the girl he falls for on the train ride is the daughter of the enemy family.) Much humor (and irony) is derived from Keaton's character taking advantage of the fact that the enemy clan must not, out of Southern Honor, shoot him down like a dog as long as he's a guest in their home. Other points of interest: costumes and architectural details are surprisingly accurate (the movie takes place in the 1830's); and Keaton's stunts in this movie are among his most death-defying.
*Sherlock Jr.* (Five Stars): The first movie turns out to be a starter for the main (yet smaller, at 45 min.) course, the masterpiece *Sherlock Jr.*. Falsely accused of stealing a watch, wanna-be detective Keaton returns to his dreary projectionist job at the local movie-house and has a dream that begins with him leaping into the movie screen and becoming master detective "Sherlock Jr.", a hero of his own film. I could put my egghead's cap on and blather about the movie's postmodern immersion in its own medium; how it influenced filmmakers like Woody Allen; how it's arguably the greatest achievement in silent comedy. Or: I can tell you that the scenes involving an explosive billiards-ball and a daffy motor chase through the city are laugh-out-loud hilarious. Many of the special effects (this is 1924, mind you) still defy easy detection . . . which is more than can be said for 2002's *Spider-Man*, to use just one current example.
[The DVD is adequate. *Sherlock Jr.*, actually, has somewhat better-than-adequate picture quality. Good job, guys. And I'm rather more glad than not that there are no "special features": the last thing I need is some film scholar stripping away, piece by piece, Keaton's layers of artifice.]
Sherlock Jr. is probably one of Keaton's more famous works, but to be honest, I liked the first movie on the DVD more. This one is funny, too, but it's kinda scattered, plot-wise. Keaton plays a movie projectionist who enters his movie (in a dream), solves the mystery, and saves the girl. It's really an excuse for some great special effects (back in those days, at least!). I guess some things never change (I wonder if Sherlock Jr. was a summer film...) but this film is still really really funny. Back to back, these films are funnier and more original than almost anything you'd see in theaters today.
Just a few words about the DVD itself - these films are 70+ years old, so they aren't in perfect condition. Our Hospitality has scratches and dust. The source print is ok but looks its age. At least the image is clear with good contrast, unlike a lot of silent films which look all black with patches of white. Sherlock Jr's print source is great! It almost looks new and has great contrast. Plus, the best part is the soundtrack. The Sherlock Jr soundtrack is really jazzy with bits of James Bond/Batman/saxophone music; it doesn't have the typical ragtime piano or organ music you usually hear and it really makes the movie sound fantastic (that's something you don't hear much about silent films...) Too bad there are not extras on the DVD, except for chapter search. I would have liked to see a Keaton biography or filmography, especially since this DVD is a little pricey.
Still, a great DVD, and a must for Buster Keaton fans! Get the General, too! Or any of the Chaplin feature films (get them from Image, which has access to the Chaplin vaults and has the best looking films as a result).