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Post-Graduate Keaton

college tc small

The new year begins with a couple of fine box sets that came out a little too late for the holidays. Kino International has completed its Blu-ray upgrade of (most of) the major Keaton features and shorts with the 14-disc “Buster Keaton Collection,” which includes the 1927 “College” in its high-definition debut. A stand-alone release is promised for later this year, for those who have been acquiring the Kino Keatons as they’ve come out over the last few years. It’s painfully clear why “College” has come out last: the print source is very far from the camera negative that produced Kino’s glorious version of “The General,” and it shows a lot of serious damage. The film itself is not one of Buster’s best — it was a low-budget quickie made to recoup some of the losses of “The General,” which cost a fortune and didn’t do well at the box-office, and the plot is plainly derivative of Harold Lloyd’s 1925 “The Freshman,” the William Haines vehicle “Brown of Harvard,” and no doubt dozens of other films constructed around the college sports craze of the 1920s. Keaton himself is so obviously a gifted athlete (he looks a lot better in a track suit than most of the real-life USC students drafted as extras) that it becomes difficult to accept the clumsiness that the screenplay forces on him. But those more properly Keatonesque moments of angelic grace are there as well, most memorably in a gag in which Buster, working as a waiter, takes a spectacular pratfall without spilling a drop of the cup of coffee he’s carrying. More details here, in the New York Times.

53 comments to Post-Graduate Keaton

  • skelly

    Looks like the street date for the stand alone COLLEGE disc is March 5.

  • Barry Putterman

    Gregg Rickman, you favorably mentioned the new Vitaphone box which was noted in this week’s review. What could the inquiring consumer expect to find there besides the sound Arbuckle shorts?

  • Dave, thanks for the excellent piece. Your description of Keaton’s films taking place “in the same strangely symetrical world of flat surfaces, ominous horizons and eerily multiplied objects” is excellent and points back, I think, to the vaudeville stage that comprised Buster’s childhood. Think of his favorite repeated joke of running toward the back of a stage set and disappearing through a hole in the backdrop. His films are also full of trains (young Buster crisscrossed the country on them) and boats (the family took a memorable ocean voyage to England in his early youth). The ominous horizons of his work, then, can be ascribed to both stage flats (deceptive in their false perspective) and the unreachable horizons seen from trains and a giant liner.

    Barry, there’s a difference between the “Vitaphone Varieties Volume Two” set Dave discusses in his column (Bergen, Lahr, et al) and “The Vitaphone Comedy Collection Volume One – Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle/Shemp Howard (1932-1934)” set I mentioned last week. The latter has the six Arbuckle talkie shorts Roscoe filmed for Warners in 1932-3, plus shorts starring the future Stooge, which also feature in many cases one Gus Shy, who’s already acquired a cult following thanks to these “new” releases.

  • Barry Putterman

    Gregg, thanks for clearing up that distinction. You can’t tell the players without a scorecard and the Warner Archive site isn’t very helpful in that regard. Gus Shy? The hambone from the 1930 GOOD NEWS?

    Now, if you can also sort out the differences between SAW VI and FRIDAY THE 13TH VII we will be forever in your debt.

  • bill sorochan

    Recently I’ve had the pleasure of viewing the early Arbuckle/Keaton shorts directed by Arbuckle. I was taken aback by the sophistication of the direction and how influential these shorts were in shaping silent and sound comedy. Has there ever been a directorial study done for Roscoe Arbuckle? If someone knows of one, could they please indicate the text. Seeing Arbuckle’s work during this period from today’s perspective is quite a revelation. Thanks for the help.

  • Arbuckle’s comedy feature The Red Mill (1927) has approaches in common with Coney Island (1917):

    Both feature romantic rivalries between men, for a woman’s affections.
    Both have bridges over small canal-like waterways, with boats.
    The race on ice-skates in The Red Mill recalls the carts sliding down “The Witching Waves” in Coney Island. Both are areas full of sliding: something that will return in The Garage.
    Buster Keaton climbing a pole in Coney Island and the brief gag of cops and ladders outside the jail cell, are extended to elaborate scenes with ladders and the mill vanes in The Red Mill.
    The cow and mice in The Red Mill recall the dog in Coney Island.
    There are gags that take advantage of superstition: the fortune telling machine about a “Happy Home” in Coney Island, the legend of the haunted mill in The Red Mill.
    Characters steal food belonging to other people: the ice cream cones in Coney Island, the breakfast in The Red Mill.
    Both films have comic men in uniform: the cops and life guards in Coney Island, the sea captain and the Governor in The Red Mill.
    The characters change clothes in the bath house in Coney Island, take off their wooden shoes outside the church in The Red Mill.
    Both films have characters wearing other people’s clothes.
    Arbuckle’s “The Garage” (1920) is a short comedy set in a combination car-repair garage and fire-fighting station.
    The fire poles recall Buster Keaton climbing a pole in Coney Island. Buster actually climbs a fire pole here.

    The comedy of heights Arbuckle loves returns at the end, with second story windows, fire-fighters’ nets, and telephone wires.

    Mechanically moving floors, such as “The Witching Waves” in Coney Island, return with the circular turntable in The Garage.

  • Robert Garrick

    I’ve seen “College” a couple of times, most recently at the Library of Congress in a 35mm print that, as best I recall, was close to perfect. I love Keaton, but I found “College” to be pretty ordinary, with a few great gags sprinkled into an otherwise pedestrian film. The film’s ending is jarring (it’s a tombstone), and “College” is the first film where Keaton used a stunt double. Keaton didn’t want to take the time to learn how to pole vault. So instead of spending weeks or months perfecting the gag himself, he hired an Olympic pole vaulter.

    Keaton’s films are a case study in the ephemeral nature of most film criticism. Back in the ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s, Keaton’s films were still fresh in everyone’s memory, but few took him seriously. It was Chaplin who was the great artist. In the 1952 Sight & Sound poll, “City Lights” (1931) and “The Gold Rush” (1925) were ranked the second and third greatest films ever made. Keaton was nowhere to be seen, and he didn’t appear in the 1962 poll either.

    But starting in 1954, Raymond Rohauer began working furiously to secure prints of Keaton’s films, along with their copyrights. Some of his tactics might have been questionable, such as sending Buster himself to visit Joe Schenck in the late 1950s, even though Schenck by that time was a semi-parlyzed invalid incapable of comprehending what Buster had asked him. According to Ed Watz, who worked for Rohauer, Keaton was pretty upset by this, and he told Rohauer, “You better first find out if they’re sick, because I’m not gonna bother anybody else who’s at death’s door!”

    Ultimately Rohauer was successful, and by the mid-60s the Keaton films were back and being shown to astonished audiences at world film festivals. (Happily, Keaton was alive to witness this revival of his reputation.) When the Sight & Sound top ten list for 1972 came out, “The General” (1927) was suddenly in 8th place, and (as I recall) “The Navigator” (1924) and “Sherlock, Jr.” (1924) were in the second list, covering films that were ranked from 11th to 20th. Keaton was the king of silent comedy. (Chaplin never appeared on one of Sight & Sound’s lists after 1952.)

    When the 1982 list came out, “The General” was still there, in 10th place. But that was it. Keaton was gone in 1992 and in 2002, and in the most recent list, “The General” is the only Keaton film in the top fifty, in 34th place. The only Chaplin on the list is “City Lights,” in 50th place. (Comedy is mostly missing from the 2012 list because, you know, comedy isn’t important. The highest rated comedy is “Singin’ in the Rain” (1952), in 20th place. Back in 1982, when the auteur critics were at their most powerful, “Singin’ in the Rain” was ranked third overall in the Sight & Sound poll.)

    I take two things from this. First, thank goodness for Raymond Rohauer. He’s the main reason we have all those great prints of Keaton’s films.

    And second, thank goodness for people like Dave Kehr, who are constantly mining the past, and trying hard not to forget. Most critics know little of history, and they’re always looking for something “new.” We take the long view here.

  • Bill, great question. (Aren’t those shorts good? Would like to see you discuss your favorites.) I also feel Arbuckle is underrated as a director (and, generally, all around).

    The books on Arbuckle (with one significant exception) are biographies that do have some interesting ancedotes on the making of his films in the teens. The ancedotal books disagree as to whether the post-scandal films (where he returned to directing anonymously, and then under a pseudonym) are the works of a director picking up where he left off, or a burnt-out husk (“he set dead in his chair” as Louise Brooks reported of her director on the short WINDY RILEY GOES HOLLYWOOD). The developing consensus among si-com buffs such as myself is the former, more positive take. In either case, he did repeat and rework a lot of gags (and plots) over his career (as Mike’s catalog of CONEY ISLAND v. RED MILL makes clear).

    The exception I mentioned above is James Neibaur’s “Arbuckle and Keaton” (McFarland, 2007), which does discuss Arbuckle as a director, with emphasis on his shorts with Keaton as his sidekick (1917-20). You would also want to take a look at the 182 page book accompanying the Masters of Cinema set “Buster Keaton The Complete Short Films 1917-1923,” half of which is comprised of an email symposium on the films by J-P Coursodon, Dan Sallitt and Brad Stevens. However all 3 of the contributors, with a couple of caveats, are primarily interested in Keaton, so that comments on the Arbuckle films revolve around what Keaton may have added to them. You would also want to look at the (much shorter) booklet accompanying the Laughsmith set “The Forgotten Films of Roscoe ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle” (OOP, 2005) where several of America’s Arbuckle experts have some short essays. (Also, there are several v-o commentaries.)

    Finally, for Arbuckle’s own contemporaneous statements on film comedy, Richard Koszarski’s book “Fort Lee: The Film Town” reprints a number of them, from interviews from the late teens.

  • ” by the mid-60s the Keaton films were back and being shown to astonished audiences at world film festivals.”

    Somewhat earlier Robert Youngson used excerpts from Keaton’s shorts for his compilation films, and Keaton was making guest appearances on TV shows and cameos in AIP pictures directed at the teen market, not to mention acting in the Samuel Beckett/Alan Schneider “Film” (and there’s an anecdote told by Allen Ginsberg who visited the set just to meet Keaton and pay his respects.)

  • David Cohen

    Robert, I think Lee Barnes, Buster’s stunt double in COLLEGE, also plays himself as a member of the college track team. He was a 1924 gold medalist as a pole-vaulter, though not a double winner like Bud Houser, who’s also seen as a member of the team Buster’s trying to crack.

    Houser and fellow cast member Charles Borah went on to Olympic golds in 1928.

    (And the baseball team is coached by a Hall of Famer, Wahoo Sam Crawford – Ty Cobb’s old neighbor in the Detroit Tigers’ greatest outfields.)

  • In 1965 Keaton also appeared as a Nazi in an Italian comedy, Due marines e un generale (also known as War Italian Style). A pretty poor film, starring Franchi & Ingrassia, a comedy team that specialized in low budget flicks. He had already guest-appeared as himself in another Italian film back in 1953, L’incantevole nemica by Claudio Gora, shot during his European vaudeville tour. According to later interviews, director (and film archivist) Alberto Lattuada met Keaton during this tour. When Lattuada told him that prints of his films were conserved at La Cineteca Italiana, Keaton seemed quite surprised that in Italy his work was so highly regarded.

  • Robert Garrick

    We should also remember that Keaton appeared as one of the bridge-playing “waxworks” in Billy Wilder’s “Sunset Boulevard” (1950). The “waxworks” were forgotten silent film stars, reduced to killing time in big decaying homes in Hancock Park and Beverly Hills. When “Sunset Boulevard” was made, Keaton’s greatest films were only a little more than twenty years old. He was 54, and Gloria Swanson was 50. Today they’d be making R-rated romantic comedies, like Alec Baldwin and Meryl Streep. Baldwin, today, is the same age as the waxwork Keaton, and Streep is a dozen years older than Swanson’s Norma Desmond.

    Keaton was still known in 1950, but most people had no idea of his importance. He was just a B-list celebrity. He actually had a successful TV show (“The Buster Keaton Show”), that aired locally in Los Angeles that year, and he had a comedy role in Chaplin’s “Limelight” in 1952. His great talents were tapped only nominally, here and there, but he was able to stay busy until his life ended in 1966.

  • Steve elworth

    In this very interesting discussion of Keaton and the beginning of the revival, let us not forget the importance of Jim Agee’s “Comedy’s Greatest Era” being published in Life in the late 40’s.

  • Bill Sorochan

    Gregg thank you so much for sharing those texts with me-can’t wait to locate and enjoy!

    You asked me about favorites re: Arbuckle/Keaton. I apologize if my insights may not be of the same caliber as the majority of great writers who stop by for a cocktail at this site, but I’ll try my best.

    A couple of things come to mind. I was really impressed with “Out West” (which I believe was the first film they made after the move from the east coast). The camera angles, movements and lighting is so striking and the location of the saloon and the subsequent battle is more like something out of Anthony Mann’s “Man of the West.” I was also impressed with “Good Night Nurse” which has an absolutely nutty scenario that makes no sense but absolutely perfect sense at the same time. The final chase sequence is so effortless and relaxed in comparison with the opening rain storm-both brilliant sequences that give the film an extremely odd circular arc.

    Throughout all of the shorts Arbuckle use of natural locations as opposed to reliance on sets is almost revolutionary. His camera placement is organic and complimentary to the action, allowing for very graceful camera movements and thoroughly striking images that never call attention to itself, always supporting the comedic action and story. He also breaks the logic wall so many times with innovative in-camera effects that are still remarkable when viewed today.

    When you watch all the films in a chronological order you get a sense that you are witnessing the evolution and potential of the surreal in comedy. I think it’s tragic that, deservedly, Keaton gets the bulk of the glory, but Arbuckle seems to be left out hung to dry by history. Hopefully time will vindicate Mr. Arbuckle and give him the attention and credit he deserves.

  • Mike Gebert

    I think Keaton has slipped on the Sight & Sound polls in terms of titles because the votes are more spread out now among a variety of films. He gets a lot of votes though (he places two on the top 10 silents). That said, I think film fans are more siloed than they were in the film society days. If you were a French new wave fan you still went to see Keaton and Bette Davis and John Ford because that was what was playing; now if you only want to see current foreign films, you can watch lots of them and never dip into the past. So Keaton is probably less widely known than he was 30 years ago.

    FWIW, before Rohauer, MOMA distributed The General and The Navigator, and not surprisingly, the two films which were regarded as Keaton’s masterpieces were… As his other films have become easier to see, I’d say Sherlock Jr. has joined The General while The Navigator has slipped to the middle somewhere.

  • Thanks, Bill. OUT WEST and GOOD NIGHT NURSE are two of the more nightmarish of Arbuckle’s films; more so I think than any classic-era comedian — save Chaplin in his Keystone period — Roscoe would let his id out to play (as symbolized by the escaped monkey in the second act of GOOD NIGHT NURSE). OUT WEST (and Keaton’s THE FROZEN NORTH, which Arbuckle helped script) present a bleaker western landscape than can be found in the contemporaneous films of Hart; indeed, you won’t find darker westerns this side of Corbucci. (THE FROZEN NORTH would provide a good prologue for THE GREAT SILENCE. Keaton plays an evil saloon keeper in OUT WEST who could hold his own with Al Swearengen from DEADWOOD.) Your reading of GOOD NGHT NURSE is good on its formal aspects, and I endorse your use of the term “surreal,” but the Parisian branch of the surrealists could only dream of the dream logic unfolding in GOOD NIGHT NURSE, with its transvestite love scene, a doctor covered in blood, a “nympho” who wouldn’t be out of place in SHOCK CORRIDOR, the mockery of patriotism (during World War I!) and the look on Roscoe’s face when he checks himself, after his operation, to see if he’s still “intact.”

    Some of the Arbuckle shorts enjoy more of a classical unity of cause-and-effect in their logical plots (eg THE BELLBOY) just as Keaton’s shorts, when he went out on his own, toggle between perfect, miniaturized features (ONE WEEK, THE BOAT) and rambling essays in free association like HARD LUCK. I would hazard that Arbuckle’s best efforts in this vein have more force even than Keaton’s. It’s Keaton’s mastery of composition that mark him out so strongly after 1920 — that and his unique character. People down to the present day read the Arbuckle shorts of 1917-20 as proto-Keaton films, whenthey ‘re not. Keaton’s roles in them are wildy varied: a small boy, a mad doctor, a tough barkeep. His roles in them only incidently foreshadow his classic character with moments here and there, which dissatisfy critics like those of the Masters of Cinema roundtable, but shouldn’t. Arbuckle and Keaton actually have great chemistry together, and their buddy act in some of the later shorts in the series (THE BELLBOY, THE GARAGE) marks out what could have been the greatest comedy team of all time.

  • Foster Grimm

    It’s been a wonderful week.
    When not finishing season 2 of BORGEN, I’ve been catching up on Arbuckle/Keaton – CONEY ISLAND, BACKSTAGE, OUT WEST. And two Arbuckle Vitaphones – although
    uncredited did he have any script input?
    Aside from previously mentioned titles – anything else in that line I should watch?


  • Johan Andreasson

    I’m happy to see fellow fans of BORGEN here. It’s of course a big hit in the Scandinavian countries, and easy for me to follow since the Swedish Parliament is very similar to the Danish. I’m a little curious how it looks from an American perspective with its completely different political landscape. Maybe it’s a little like when I’m watching American Baseball movies: fascinating, because it tells me so much about the U.S., but also a bit confusing, since the rules are a complete mystery to me.

    I very much belong to the category of film fans that mostly know Arbuckle through his connection with Keaton, but just ordered the DVD box “The Forgotten Films of Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle” which looks like a fun way to get educated.

  • Junko Yasutani

    ‘Your reading of GOOD NGHT NURSE is good on its formal aspects, and I endorse your use of the term “surreal,” but the Parisian branch of the surrealists could only dream of the dream logic unfolding in GOOD NIGHT NURSE’

    That is right Gregg, surrealists dream, but it is not ‘only’, it is source of creativity. Surrealists know and appreciate great American comic artist, many discussed in LA SURREALISME AU CINEMA, and by other surrealist. Surrealist always looking for marvelous.

  • Alex Hicks

    Mark Bowles shares a brief 1964 New York Times interview with Samuel Beckett and Buster Keaton:

    “The picture is about a man’s self-perception,” Mr. Beckett rather grudgingly acknowledged. The 58-year-old playwright-scenarist moved around gingerly on the fringes of the unit, joking with his colleagues and carefully checking each take with the director. Mr. Beckett, now visiting the United States for the first time, is a slender, wiry man with watchful eyes and a strong mouth dominating a leathery face.

    “I’ve waited till now to write for films because I wanted to know film technique better,” he said quietly. “No, I’m not too familiar with the recent experimental films, like the New Wave, but I was highly impressed by Italian ones like ‘The Bicycle Theif’ and ‘La Strada.'”

    Mr. Beckett is also a Buster Keaton fan, although he said the hero’s part was originally written for an unavailable Irish actor who has appeared in his plays. “I used to see Buster’s films when I was a boy in Dublin,” Mr. Beckett added, smiling reminiscently.

    Awaiting his entrance and flight along the brick wall, Mr. Keaton put on his familiar hat (“my flattened-down stetson”), a dangling coat, and smiled a greeting.

    “No, I’ll never smile on film,” he declared, “Metro tried it once years ago and the audience hated me. What’s the picture about? Well, I’m not too sure myself. what I think it means is a man may keep away from everybody but he can’t get away from himself”.

  • Robert Garrick

    Keaton’s summary of the Beckett film, in a few words, is perfect.

  • “What’s the picture about? Well, I’m not too sure myself. what I think it means is a man may keep away from everybody but he can’t get away from himself”.”

    We do not know to what extent Keaton was aware of the magnitude of his achievement. Always modest, devoid of pretense, he spoke little of his intentions or deeds. We have his autobiography, “My Wonderful World of Slapstick” (1967), and a number of interviews — all warm, informative, helpful, yet somehow strangely reticent. There’s no doubt that he knew much more than he cared to express in words: “Because I find it easy to scratch my left ear with my toe you may think me incapable of having opinions on poetry or music. But after all, learning how to scratch your ear with your toe requires strong muscular discipline, and every discipline implies another, cerebral discipline.” It’s interesting to note, in this regard, that when Keaton made the above remark he was reading a volume of the selected works of Karl Marx.

    It was in his silent films that Keaton said everything he wished to say, and he said it with such brilliance and verve as to preclude all misunderstanding.

  • Junko, as I’m sure you know the surrealists loved silent comedy generally, and Bunuel’s film criticism includes praise for Keaton in particular. And Keaton “got” FILM (as is sometimes claimed he didn’t), as Alex’s quote shows. Foster, Arbuckle would have consulted closely with the directors of his sound short comebacks, as can be seen by his many old routines which he recreates in them. (In BUZZIN’ AROUND he even brings back Al St. John, his nephew and an Arbuckle company stalwart.)

    Eloquent comment, x, always wondered about the source of that Marx quote. Have you a reference?

    As there are a lot of Ford experts on this board, and at least one writer for the New York Times, perhaps someone could confirm my suspicion that the author of the NYT article “Art and Buster Keaton: A Genius of the Custard Pies Wends His Way Back to the Theatre,” 7/13/41, is Frank Nugent. Per the reference above to James Agee, Keaton did have some subterranean critical support in the lost decades of the 30s and 40s.

  • Foster Grimm


    Johan – anyone who knows about the parliamentary system can appreciate BORGEN. My big worry was the the soap opera aspect would take away from the government aspect. Didn’t need to worry.

    Before I get too far off topic, after discovering BORGEN I came across the Danish mini-series JUL I KOMMUNEN (the 24 episodes were each 10 minutes long, as least on the Danish Radio TV website.) It was very, very funny even without knowing a word of Danish. Once one picked up the story line, the episodes could be watched based on the characters actions and reactions; their body language, facial expressions, and the occasional slapstick bits. It was as if one were watching a silent comedy.

    The “unavailable Irish actor” was Jack MacGowran, no? Keaton would have been a wonderful Beckett actor on the stage. Can’t you imagine him in, say,


  • Bill Sorochan

    Gregg I hope someone is hiring you to do commentary on dvd’s-your analysis is fantastic!

    There was one other thing that I failed to mention about the Arbuckle shorts that I found absolutely fascinating. So many of the gags were organically evolved and incorporated from the location (Coney Island is the most obvious example but there are so many others) as opposed to just filming a pre-determined routine on location. That type of radical re-imagining of setting I found quite striking. Another wonderful example is the Moonshiner’s lair from “Moonshine”, which is more akin to a Mario Bava set from “Danger Diabolik” than something I would expect from a 1918 comedy. Arbuckle was a visionary and it’s sad that his vision has been so overlooked by the powers that be who define cinema history.

  • Bill, thanks. No one’s asked me for any dvd commentaries, but I am scratching away on some print material. At some point I’d like to write in detail on Arbuckle’s comedies but that will involve their greater availability (a new set is on the way, which I tried to promote in the previous thread). Good comment on the highly imaginiative MOONSHINE, one of Roscoe’s most self-referential works.

  • Johan Andreasson


    Thanks for the tip on JUL I KOMMUNEN which I had never heard of before. It looks a little like a Danish version of my favorite American comedy show PARKS AND RECREATION. Spoken Danish is so hard to understand (even to Danes themselves I suspect) that they do well to stick to visual humor.

    Speaking of Danish visual humor, and possibly a little more on topic: Denmark had a silent comedy team called Fyrtårnet og Bivognen that was big in Scandinavia and Germany in the 1920s. I was only able to find one Youtube clip of them, with very poor image quality, but it will hopefully give you some kind of idea what they were about:

  • Alan Crosland is discussed in Dave Kehr’s column. He spent much of career on “romantic melodramas”: non-comedy films about the struggles of characters to find romance. They often have to fight villains’ schemes and terrible obstacles. Alan Crosland also made other kinds of films, such as mystery thrillers, and social commentary dramas.
    Alan Crosland made two key early sound films that led to the birth of “talkies”: Don Juan and The Jazz Singer.

    Some common subjects in the films of Alan Crosland, a starter list, mainly based on research from plot summaries at AFI TCM database:

    Trysts (Three Weeks, hero and heroine shipwrecked on island: Sinners in Heaven, week in Paris garret: When a Man Loves)

    Kidnapping of adult women (heroine kidnapped, sold in slave market: The Prophet’s Paradise, crusading newspaperwoman kidnapped by bootlegging gang: Contraband, heroine kidnapped by nobleman: The Beloved Rogue, villain locks heroine in apartment: The Furies, black man saves white woman from kidnappers: Big Boy, heroine kidnapped to prevent court testimony: Massacre, heroine kidnapped and gangster framed: King Solomon of Broadway) related (hero kidnapped: Kidnapped, hero kidnapped from yacht by seductress: Compromise)

    Yachts and romance (yacht-owner hero: Shadows of the Sea, hero kidnapped from yacht by seductress: Compromise, rich heroine: The Silver Lining)

    Men on horseback (heroine has crush on older man on horseback: The Flapper, hero is stunt rider: Massacre)

    Non-Christian religions glorified (Judaism: The Jazz Singer, Native American religion: Massacre)

    Social protest films (Marine learns brotherhood of man: The Unbeliever, hero steals food and gives to poor, insults nobility: The Beloved Rogue, mutiny on convict ship: When a Man Loves, evils of slum lords: The Silver Lining, Native American rights: Massacre)

    Social class issues (German officer torments enlisted men: The Unbeliever, poet hero versus nobility: The Beloved Rogue, poor woman forced to marry rich man: Captain Thunder, officers versus enlisted men and romance: Viennese Nights, marriage threatened between rich boy and poor girl, cook impersonates upper class lady: Lady Tubbs) related (slum youth gang reformed by Boy Scouts: Knights of the Square Table)

    Working class people become social benefactors (stage doorman backs Broadway show: On With the Show, butler turns speakeasy owner after stock market crash, helps heroine: Week Ends Only)

    People in the arts:

    Musicians, often classical (aspiring woman opera singer, violinist-opera composer: Greater Than Fame, heroine’s brother: The Point of View, hero as cantor and jazz singer: The Jazz Singer, aspiring woman opera singer: Children of Dreams, violinist hero, composer grandson: Viennese Nights, pianist: Mister Dynamite)

    Poets (heroine’s father: The Point of View, poet Francois Villon as hero: The Beloved Rogue)

    Technology equipment, used in thrillers (Boston Blackie uses high tech equipment to fight crime: The Face in the Fog, tracing phone call, death trap: Mister Dynamite, radio used by German spies: The Great Impersonation, radio used to warn of danger: King Solomon of Broadway)

    Technology and vehicles (Florida canals with boats: The Flapper, aviator hero: Sinners in Heaven, cab driver hero buys garage: It Happened in New York, railroad construction camp: Lady Tubbs)

    Other (Boy Scouts save life with artificial respiration: Knights of the Square Table, hero works as typewriter salesman: Is Life Worth Living?)


    Russian Revolution (Romanov jewels brought to USA: The Face in the Fog, Revolution in background of tale: The Enemies of Women, woman revolutionary and prince: The Scarlet Lady, woman revolutionary and prince: Song of the Flame)

    Westerners go East (Western millionaire boards with Eastern family: The Point of View, Native American rights and Washington DC: Massacre, railroad construction people visit Long Island Society: Lady Tubbs)

  • “always wondered about the source of that Marx quote. Have you a reference?”

    I noted it from a French reference in a footnote in Lebel’s book “Keaton” (English language edition 1967,) and added that it was from a 1929 interview.

  • Foster Grimm

    Greetings, again

    Gregg R – I figured as much regarding the Arbuckle Vitaphones. As I watch more Arbuckle I see the patterns emerging,gags repeated.

    And Al St John, the “Fuzzy” of the B Westerns, a cluster of which I watched last year. Often Fuzzy was the only reason to watch them.

    Which brings me to a question that has been nagging me – Robert N Bradbury – auteur?



  • Foster Grimm


    (If this gets posted twice, its what happens when you hit send before its time and WordPress is picky. Apologies in advance.)

    Gregg R – I figured as much regarding the Arbuckle Vitaphones. As I watch more Arbuckle I see the patterns emerging,gags repeated.

    And Al St John, the “Fuzzy” of the B Westerns, a cluster of which I watched last year. Often Fuzzy was the only reason to watch them.

    Which brings me to a question that has been nagging me – Robert N Bradbury – auteur?



  • Thanks, X, I’ll see if I can trace it further.

    I’m aware of but haven’t seen any of the many Fuzzy westerns (St John was popular enough where his name is in the title of a few of them). Nor do I know Bradbury’s prolific work. But I do have a query about the credited director of COLLEGE, James Horne, who started in serials and I see ended in them. Any fans of his out there? Here are my research notes on Horne:

    Horne was a veteran, already dubbed “one of the real ‘oldtimers’ of the profession” in a 1924 Motion Picture News profile. “In 1911 he was making serials, for which there was greater demand than anything else, and two of the best-known were ‘The Stingaree’ and ‘The Girl from Frisco,’ in forty-seven episodes.” (“Studio Briefs,” Motion Picture News 5/31/24, 2708) “I had lived down eleven serials,” he wrote that same year. “Laugh that one off.” He added that he was surprised when the president of Kalem asked him to take over the rough and rowdy Ham and Bud series. His dictates for humor were “first a story… then gags to hang it on to make it funnier, and if possible a thrill or two.” He emphasized the need for spontaneity: “Rehearsals are death to comedy of any kind.” (Horne, “Making Them Funny,” Film Daily 6/22/24, 85.) One of his serial stars was the boxer “Gentleman Jim” Corbett, showing an early affinity for athletics on screen that would seem to fit perfectly with College. (Burns, “Chit, Chat and Chatter,” Camera 4/13/19, 14.)
    A regular director for producer Thomas Ince in the 1920s, his features included a series of light comedies starring Douglas MacLean: The Hottentot, Yankee Consul, Captain Fearless. His work on the DeMille-produced Cruise of the Jasper B preceded his hiring for College.

  • Barry Putterman

    The Keaton collaborator whom I’ve always wondered about is Donald Crisp. James Horne and Eddie Cline had long histories in comedy, but Donald Crisp was not exactly Mr. Million Laughs Charley either in his film career or personal life.

    Any details regarding Crisp’s actual function in Keaton’s work?

  • Foster Grimm

    Horne was the director of the Charley Chase MGM sound short WHISPERING WHOOPE, which is very funny and very pre code.


  • Not enough of Bradbury’s silent work survives to give us a very accurate picture of his accomplishment, though he does occupy an interesting role in film history. He started out making movies in the 20s in Glendale, California with his young son, Robert Bradbury, Jr — who eventually changed his name to Bob Steele and enjoyed a long career as a B western star. One of Bob, Jr.’s pals was a local kid named Marion Morrison, who was intrigued enough by what he saw to eventually get a job as a prop boy at Fox to support himself while he was going to college — and eventually changed his name to John Wayne. After Wayne’s first shot at stardom faded out in the wake of the financial failure of “The Big Trail,” he slid all the way down to Monogram, where he was reunited with Bradbury, Sr. — his director in thirteen B westerns made from 1933 to 1935.

    Al “Fuzzy” St. John lives on today in Daniel Day Lewis’s portrayal of Abraham Lincoln.

  • Shawn Stone

    Re: Donald Crisp & The Navigator. I read an interview (a long time ago) with Keaton in which he said Crisp was brought on to help with the dramatic scenes, but once on the set wanted to be a gag man, too.

  • Steve elworth

    I thought Walter Brennan appeared inLincoln. The most interesting of the Keaton collaborators has to be Clyde Bruckman.

  • Shawn is correct about Crisp and THE NAVIGATOR. In later years Keaton said he reshot Crisp’s scenes as they didn’t match what he envisioned. After THE NAVIGATOR — a substantial commercial success — Keaton worked without a co-director for his next three features, and then credited Bruckman as co-director on THE GENERAL for giving him the William Pittinger book on the actual historical event. His producer, Joseph Schenck, was unhappy at how THE GENERAL had turned out and hiring Horne for COLLEGE, and then Chuck Reisner for STEAMBOAT BILL JR, and giving them sole credit, was his signal to the industry about this.

    Like Horne, Bruckman would later work for producer Hal Roach, and Bruckman’s name is on important Lloyd and W C Fields films.

    On Crisp’s pre-NAVIGATOR directorial career:

    Crisp was best known as the evil father Battling Burrows in Griffith’s BROKEN BLOSSOMS (1919). Keaton had a deep affinity for the work of D.W. Griffith, which his films show time and time again: with a parody of Intolerance as THREE AGES opens, with the Griffithian legend “from an old print” on the title introducing the Manhattan of 1830 in OUR HOSPITALITY, and “Brown Eyes” as the name of the cow in GO WEST. In 1924 Donald Crisp was just coming back from England, where he had directed films with American backing in a move toward international co-productions. In a 1920 interview with Sumner Smith, just before he left for England, Crisp discussed his early work for Biograph and commented that his acting in BROKEN BLOSSOMS was insisted upon by Griffith; he had merely been hired as someone who knew the Limehouse district in London, to aid in planning the sets. (Smith, “Donald Crisp, Veteran Director, Actor; Will Pioneer in England and in India,” Moving Picture World 9/11/20, 193ff.)
    In 1921-3 Crisp directed several films in Britain. The Exhibitors Herald commented of APPEARANCES that “Mr. Crisp has tried to inject a little American ‘pep’ into the cast, which keeps the story moving at a faster clip than the usual English society drama.” (“Appearances,” EH 7/2/21, 101.) THE PRINCESS OF NEW YORK won Crisp praise for making “much of the English locations” in “the best of the English-made Paramounts.” (“The Princess of New York,” EH 8/27/21, 44.)

    Crisp subsequently was brought on by another dominant star-producer to direct Fairbanks’ DON Q SON OF ZORRO. He resumed his acting career when sound came in and worked for decades to come (notably in HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY and THE MAN FROM LARAMIE).

  • “Al “Fuzzy” St. John lives on today in Daniel Day Lewis’s portrayal of Abraham Lincoln.”

    Dave, are you saying — to borrow a term from Mel Brooks — that Tony Kushner has authored “authentic Midwestern gibberish”?

  • Foster Grimm

    Dave – thanks for the info. The one Bradbury silent I’ve seen wasn’t that interesting and had a lot of inter titles.
    And to think that cowboy hero Bob Steele’s best remembered performance is as a bad guy in THE BIG SLEEP. Same with Tom Tyler, another good guy
    who gave us a memorable bad guy in STAGECOACH.

    Al “Fuzzy” as Lincoln? This could be a game changer.


  • D. K. Holm

    Of Danish crime shows, I just saw forbrydelsen 3 followed by The Bridge. Both terrific, and from units competitive with each other, according to last week’s New Yorker. It is imperative that the viewer know little about The Bridge before embarking on it.

  • Barry Lane

    Re Bob Steele

    Believe there to be a significant body of work that includes Of Mice And Men (1939). But the body of his work in quickie westerns is significant if only for their number and availability. As for Tom Tyler, he has almost no part in Stagecoach and is used, in my opinion, by Ford in She Wore A Yellow Ribbon, with far more effect. The body of Steele’s h work also includes several strong scenes in Pork Chop Hill and a fine cameo in Hang ’em High. I don’t think it likely you will find another b western player with as extended a resume.

  • Foster Grimm

    Barry L – thanks for the reminders. I had only recently watched STAGECOACH and THE BIG SLEEP and they were the ones that popped up in my mind.
    The ones you named I have not seen in ages, before I was aware who Bob Steele and Tom Tyler were. The perfect excuse to look ’em up.


  • Barry Putterman


    D.K., it has been way too long. Good to see a post from you.

  • Barry Lane

    By Bob Steele’s extended resume I merely meant that he was a working actor for about fifty years. I believe the only other b western star to figure at least somewhat prominently in bigger budget projects would be George O’Brien. It happens that his son Darcy was an excellent, if not prolific author, and in two of his novels, Margaret In Hollywood and A Way Of Life, Like Any Other he comes close to examining his parents in and out of the business. But, mostly in. These are novels not documents but there is clearly more than a semblance of truth. The wife and mother was the lovely Marguerite Churchill.

  • jbryant

    Someone has put up an Al St. John youtube channel that features 59 titles:

    Dave, I was looking online at the table of contents for the new issue of Film Comment, and there’s no listing for a “Further Research” column. Has it been discontinued, or is it just on hiatus?

  • Thanks for asking about the Film Comment column, jbryant. I’m finding that two months just isn’t enough time to work through an entire career and try to make sense of it, so I’m going to start spacing the pieces out a little bit more. I foolishly decided to tackle Lew Landers next, so that one’s going to take some time.

  • Tony Williams

    Dave, How coincidental you are going to tackle Lew Landers since Mike Nevins (the author of the one book in English on him) and I discussed him last night in St. Louis over liquid refreshment involving Jack Daniels – that final drink of President Stevens aboard Air Force One in TWLIGHT’S LAST GLEAMING (1977).

    Mike read me his interview with Landres (whose surname often got him confused with Landers)concerning the latter which was hilarious.

    I believe Lew Landers directed a short-lived TV series of TERRY AND THE PIRATES.

  • Foster Grimm

    Barry L – thanks for the head’s up on A Way of Life. Just reserved the one copy at NYPL



  • Barry Lane

    Foster Grimm:

    Look forward to reading your thoughts.