Includes two of his most celebrated films: “Sherlock Jr.” and “The Navigator”, both from 1924.
Plot – Sherlock Jr.: A projectionist is studying to be a detective and is in love with a young lady. While he proposes her, his rival steals her father’s watch, incriminating Buster. The now-rejected young projectionist returns to his job and while projecting a film, he dreams of being the detective in the story.
Sherlock Jr. arguably exceeds The General as Buster Keaton’s greatest achievement — it is certainly more magical in its use of extraordinary special effects and unconventionally humorous situations. Movies about movies are a dime a dozen, but rather difficult to do well. Keaton’s brilliant structuring of the story — a fantastic treat for audiences when his pathetic projectionist becomes the genius detective through a literal entering of the movie screen — has been imitated dozens of times, but rarely surpasses this rendering.
Plot – The Navigator: Rollo decides to marry his sweetheart Betsy and sail to Honolulu. When she rejects him he decides to go alone but boards the wrong ship, the “Navigator” owned by Betsy’s father. Unaware of this, Betsy boards the ship to look for her father, whom spies capture before cutting the ship loose. It drifts out to sea with the two socialites each unaware of there being anyone else on board.
The idea for this film began when Buster Keaton learned of a large ship that was due to be scrapped. Seeing an opportunity, he purchased the vessel for a low price and proceeded to build a story around this massive prop.
The underwater scenes of him trying to repair the ship in full diving gear were originally intended to be filmed in the local municipal swimming pool. However, the pool was not deep enough, so higher retaining walls were built around the edges to hold more water. Unfortunately, the weight of the additional water broke the bottom of the pool, and Keaton had to pay for the repair. The production was moved to Lake Tahoe, where the water was very clear, but so cold that Keaton could only stay under for ten minutes at a time. The camera crew was sent down in a watertight box, with ice packed around the camera to keep the lens from fogging over.
Bio: When at six months he tumbled down a flight of stairs unharmed he was given the name “Buster” by Harry Houdini who, along with W.C. Fields, Bill Robinson (“Bojangles”), Eddie Cantor and Al Jolson shared headlines with The Three Keatons: Buster, his father Joe Keaton and mother Myra Keaton. Their act, one of the most dangerous in vaudeville, was about how to discipline a prankster child. Buster was thrown all over the stage and even into the audience. No matter what the stunt, he was poker-faced. By age 21 his father was so alcoholic the stunts became too dangerous to perform and the act dissolved. He first saw a movie studio in March 1917 and on April 23 his debut film, Roscoe ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle’s The Butcher Boy (1917), was released. He stayed with Fatty through 15 two-reelers, even though he was offered much more to sign with Fox or Warner Bros. after returning from ten months with the U.S. Army (40th Infantry Division) in France. His first full-length feature, The Saphead (1920), established him as a star in his own right. By the middle of 1921 he had his own production company–Buster Keaton Productions–and was writing, directing and starring in his own films. With a small and close team around him, Keaton created some of the most beautiful and imaginative films of the silent era. The General (1927), his favorite, was one of the last films over which he had artistic control. In 1928, he reluctantly signed with MGM after his contract with independent producer Joe Schenk expired. MGM quickly began to enforce their rigid, mechanized style of film-making on Keaton, swamping him with gag-writers and scripts. He fought against it for a time, and the compromise was initially fruitful, his first film for MGM – _Cameraman, The (1928)_ – being one of his finest. But with his creativity becoming increasingly stifled, he began to drink excessively, despondent at having to perform material that was beneath him. Ironically, his films around 1930 were his most successful to date in terms of box-office, which confirmed to MGM that their formula was right. His drinking led to a disregard for schedules and erratic behaviour on the MGM lot, and a disastrous confrontation with Louis Mayer resulted in him being fired. The diplomatic producer Irving Thalberg attempted to smooth things over but Keaton was past caring. By 1932 he was a divorced alcoholic, getting work where he could, mostly in short comedies. In 1935 he entered a mental hospital. MGM rehired him in 1937 as a $100-a-week gag-man (his salary ten years before was more than ten times this amount). The occasional film was a boost to this steady income. In 1947 his career rebounded with a live appearance at Cirque Medrano in Paris. In 1952 James Mason, who then owned Keaton’s Hollywood mansion, found a secret store of presumably lost nitrate stock of many of Buster’s early films; film historian and archivist Raymond Rohauer began a serious collection/preservation of Buster’s work. In 1957 Buster appeared with Charles Chaplin in Limelight (1952) and his film biography, The Buster Keaton Story (1957) was released. Two years later he received a special Oscar for his life work in comedy, and he began to receive the accolades he so richly deserved, with festivals around the world honoring his work. He died at 70 years of age.