Region 2 (UK) Edition  -  Reviewed by Andrew Smith

Director:  Buster Keaton, Charles Reisner, James W. Horne etc.

Starring:  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 review.


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 tastes.

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 box set).

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 well enough.

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 unavailable.



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 title cards.

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 College disk.

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 Mississippi river.

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.

Three Ages

The bonus features listed for Three Ages are as follows:

Introduction 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)

Intolerance: 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)

The Keaton Collection (5m 7s) - The same filmography as seen on the other two disks.


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





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