Movie Poster
Sherlock, Jr.
Buster Keaton
Buster Keaton, Ward Crane, Joe Keaton, Jane Connelly, Erwin Connelly
44 min.


Look, Buster Keaton is cooler than Charlie Chaplin. That's just how it is. And don't try to play at being obscure, talking about Harold Lloyd. He doesn't enter into it. Chaplin's movies are good, usually with a sweet undercurrent of melancholy. But Buster Keaton is simply ingenious.

His early shorts with Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle are fucking hilarious. Most old-time comedy shows its old-time more than its comedy, but those Keaton/Arbuckle films keep the gags coming faster, and funnier, than most current comedies. Than most sitcoms. Than the fucking Simpsons.

Then Keaton went off on his own. Usually not quite as funny, but the comedy takes a distincly different turn. While an amazing slapstick artist Keaton is best remembered for his intricate mechanical comedies. And rightly so, The General, in which Keaton runs a steam locomotive for the south during the civil war, by himself, is genuinely amazing. Steamboat Bill, Jr., in which Keaton runs a steamboat and weathers a hurricane, features stunts (and yes, he did all his own stunts way before anybody even thought of talking to me about Jackie Chan) that by all rights should have killed him. The short The Scarecrow features a dinner scene where everything is manipulated (milk retrieved from fridge, poured, and replaced in fridge) from Keaton's seat via a hilariously convoluted web of pulleys and strings. It would be almost unbearably entertaining even if it weren't so funny.

But Sherlock, Jr. is one of his, unsung (or, at least, not as sung as The General) masterpieces. Keaton plays a poor projectionist working in a small town movie house. He is also, frequently while at work, studying to become a detective. The two inevitably start overlapping. One of the most famous bits of his career involves Keaton walking into the movie screen. He then, in a scene that even to my modern sensibilities has amazing special effects, discovers the hazards of navigating soviet montage.

He solves the mysteries (one in the movie and one outside), and, of course, gets the girl. The film is short, clocking in at a mere 44 minutes, but he packs in more side-splitting slapstick, intricate mechanical comedy, and smarts than most films twice as long. Than most comedians' careers. Than any three Chaplin movies.

Pat Jackson