Region 2 (UK) Edition - Reviewed by Andrew Smith
Buster Keaton, Charles Reisner, James W. Horne etc.
Buster Keaton, Ernest Torrence, Wallace Beery, Anne Cornwall
Note: At the time of writing only the disks
containing College and Steamboat Bill Jr. were available for
My chief gripe with the films of Buster Keaton is that, while I find his antics incredibly clever, he is not
always hysterically funny. This is especially true of his features and
most of his post 1930 output. Luckily here we have Keaton at his finest,
both funny and brilliant, a trick Chaplin never truly mastered for my
Both College and Steamboat Bill
Jr. were filmed during the last great flashes of brilliance in
Keaton’s career. Soon he would make the disastrous move to MGM that would
launch a career nose dive. MGM was simply not a studio for comedy, as
Laurel and Hardy and the Marx Brothers were later to find out.
Of the two films, Steamboat Bill Jr.
easily comes out tops, having sufficient comedy AND plot to sustain its
length. It is a film of many great sequences, all showcasing Keaton’s
sublime pantomime. The film is worth watching for the twelve minute
cyclone scene if nothing else. It's here we find Keaton at his inventive
and acrobatic best.
College on the other hand struggles
to maintain interest at times, while there are some great set pieces it
doesn’t really hold together as well as it should. It's perhaps worth
noting that the film contains a sequence of Buster in blackface
masquerading as a black waiter. While today some might find this offensive
I really don’t think that this is the case here. Keaton doesn’t mock the
African American workers, he simply wants to make a quick buck and in the
end he gets his comeuppance, during an amusing scene that climaxes with
his makeup mashing off.
These discs have been licensed in from mk2,
who have released equivalent discs in France (as part of a lavish ten-disc
Cinema Club's collection comprises three
DVD-9 disks, each containing one film and the relevant bonus features. The
films are each directed into sixteen chapters, accessible from a submenu.
The menus themselves are simple yet attractive with white text overlaid
onto of a montage of clips from the feature attraction.
A respectable 5.96Mb/sec average bitrate on
Steamboat Bill Jr. and 5.12Mb/sec on College does the films
justice, with no noticeable artefacts.
The Dolby Digital audio - a mixture of
stereo and mono tracks - is encoded at 192kbs, and serves the piano scores
mk2 and Cinema Club should be proud of the
standard of restoration performed on these classics: the image quality is
usually nothing short of remarkable. The only sequences that seem a little
more worn than the other would appear to be sections in College
that come from inferior prints, perhaps to re-instate footage otherwise
Introduction (5m 6s)
An aural essay from David Robinson set to stills and clips from the film.
Adopting the same format as those on the Warner / mk2 Chaplin Collection
discs, Robinson expertly puts the film into historical context and reveals
interesting production details.
Candid Camera (5m 36s)
A brief excerpt from a 1959 episode of the legendary American prank show
Candid Camera. Keaton gets in on the act, causing much amusement
for the patrons of a cafe.
Run, Girl, Run (17m 48s)
A complete Max Sennett comedy from 1928 starring Carole Lombard and Daphne
Pollard. This is typical Sennett fare of the time with nothing really to
distinguish it from the crowd. The short is included here due to the
sporting college theme. The print is worn but acceptable with cleaned up
Ball Park (5m 18s)
A short Paul Terry cartoon from 1929 that appears to be presented here
with a music soundtrack that was added for re-release. Animals of various
shapes and sizes gather together to partake in a game of baseball.
Astonishing print quality for a short of this age and obscurity.
Sport Chumpions (6m 50s)
A Warner Brothers Merry Melody supervised by the great Friz Freling and
released in 1941. This short is a ‘gag’ cartoon featuring a number of
amusing sporting vignettes. Cinema Club are able to include it here thanks
to a quirk of copyright which allowed the short to slip into the public
domain. Unfortunately this is reflected in the quality of the print which
is worn, faded and cropped throughout.
Filmography (5m 7s)
An enticing set of clips from the Keaton films Three Ages, Our
Hospitality, Sherlock Jnr, The Navigator, Seven
Chances, Go West, Battling Butler, The General,
College and Steamboat Bill Jnr.
Steamboat Bill Jr,
Introduction (5m 5s)
An introduction to the film along the lines of the featurette on the
Frame By Frame (7m 10s)
David Robinson talks us through special effects shots from the cyclone
sequence of Steamboat Bill Jnr. In some cases we are literally
taken through frame by frame, revealing the amount of love and attention
lavished upon this twelve minute tour de force.
Back Stage (2m 23s)
An excerpt from the 1919 Fatty Arbuckle / Buster Keaton comedy which
contains an earlier attempt at the famous house front window gag used in
Steamboat Bill Jnr.
One Week (5m 50s)
Excepts from the 1920 Keaton short subject which contains a cyclone scene
reminiscent of that in Steamboat Bill Jnr. One Week is
possibly my favourite of the Keaton shorts so the only flaw I can find
here is that the full short is not included in the set.
The River (29m 33)
A dull 1938 documentary film that serves as a profile of the mighty
The Mississippi River Flood (10m 52s)
A 1927 newsreel that contains footage of the devastating flood that year.
Originally Steamboat Bill Jnr. was to climax with such a flood
sequence but this was soon changed in favour of the cyclone in light of
tragic real life events.
Down South (5m 56s)
A 1931 cartoon set aboard a steamboat. The short lifts many
elements from the landmark 1927 Mickey Mouse cartoon Steamboat Willie
but nevertheless remains enjoyable and charming throughout. The print
quality is acceptable if a little washed out in places.
Filmography (5m 7s)
The same set of clips as featured on the College disk.
The bonus features listed for Three Ages are as follows:
by David Robinson
Frame By Frame:
David Robinson takes you through the stunts frame by frame (4m)
Choose The Age
- Stone / Roman / Modern: the movie broken into three two-reelers, so
the viewer can see each age on its own
The Triumph of
Lester Snapwell: excerpt from 1963 short promotional film advertising
the Instamatic camera starring Buster Keaton (8m)
excerpt from D.W. Griffiths Intolerance, which Keaton's
Three Ages parodies so effectively (7m)
Why They Love
Cavemen: a 1921 short animated comedy (5m)
Collection (5m 7s) - The same filmography as seen on the other two
While neither film
can be described as flawless, one has to take into account the high
benchmark Keaton set himself with The General.
I would heartily
recommend Cinema Club's collectors edition DVD of The General to a
Keaton Novice. It's the best release of the film out there.
Unfortunately for Cinema Club their release
of this title corresponds with a wave of Keaton films being made available
on DVD. One release that might be worth waiting for is Network Home
Video’s six-disk set, due later this month, which will feature all of the
films in this release and many others at a good price. It will be
interesting to compare print quality.
Andrew Smith - February 2006