The sixteen two-reelers that Buster Keaton made for Educational Pictures between 1934 and 1937 represent a tremendous comedown from his creative peak in the 1920s, but approached with a spirit of low expectations, they can yield some remarkable moments. The most personal of the lot — the one film that seems to consistently reflect Keaton’s bleak existentialism and minimalist mise-en-scene — is probably the 1935 “One Run Elmer,” but there are fleeting glimpses of his brilliance in “The Gold Ghost,” “The E-Flat Man” and “Ditto.” And “The Palooka from Paducah” and “Love Nest on Wheels” both offer fascinating perspectives on Buster en famille, with appearances by his father, mother and sister in supporting roles.
These films have been knocking around the collectors market for years, but now Kino has gathered all sixteen shorts, taken from prints (of variable quality) in the Rohauer Collection, for a definitive two-disc DVD edition. The company has also issued a recently discovered, alternative version of “Steamboat Bill, Jr.,” Keaton’s final independent feature (1928), that uses takes sometimes strikingly different (as in the famous trying-on-hats scene) from the standard print. It’s also of much higher image quality — good enough, apparently, to support a Blu-ray release, though I didn’t receive a copy in time for this week’s column.
My New York Times review of the standard definition disc, as well as the Education collection (titled, with forgivable exaggeration, “Lost Keaton”) is here.