Over the past couple of years I’ve managed to increase (albeit only slightly) the number of silent movies I’ve seen. For the most part I’ve loved them, both Metropolis and Nosferatu were magnificent as was The Artist; and while I appreciated the impact and relevance of Battleship Potemkin I really didn’t get on with it. However, despite Buster Keaton being quite a legend of silent cinema, I’ve never seen any of his films. Until now. Many thanks to Tom over at At The Back for mentioning this gem in his “Top ten ‘New to Me’ Films of 2013”; and also thanks to the internets for being able to watch this for free!
Made in the middle of Keaton’s “golden era” between 1920 and 1929 (though actually his 22nd of 31 films in that time!), Sherlock Jr. is the story of a theatre projectionist who is framed for a very minor theft. While he is in the projection booth that evening his mind starts to wander and he imagines himself as super-sleuth Sherlock Holmes solving the mystery of some stolen pearls.
This sounds relatively mundane, but therein lies Keaton’s genius. The short (only 45 min) film contains so many inventive gags that despite seeing this 90 years later I was still surprised and laughed out loud. Often a joke would start off as fairly routine only for there to be a sudden unexpected twist, leaving the viewer giggling and admiring the downright creativity of it all. Naturally, being a silent movie, all the jokes are slapstick; not your custard pie in the face humour; but slick, perfectly choreographed and clever visual jokes. All his escapades are carried out with the same deadpan face (a trademark of Buster Keaton), with perfect timing and seemingly with a cavalier disregard for his own safety. Apparently during a particular scene involving a water tower at a railway stop, he broke his neck, but only realised later on!
Perfectly judged slapstick comedy, I thoroughly enjoyed Sherlock Jr., and I want to see more Buster Keaton films sooner rather than later. But, well, you know, don’t just take like, er, my opinion man. Watch it yourself here: