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Reviews of silent film releases on home video.
Copyright © 1999-2017 by Carl Bennett
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Keaton Plus
(1921-1962)

 

Since there is no such thing as too much Buster Keaton, Kino International has prepared a compilation disc that is now offered as a bonus disc to their Art of Buster Keaton DVD boxset which contains a cornucopia of footage, photos and fun facts that covers more than forty years of Buster’s career as an entertainer. — Carl Bennett

coverKino on Video
2001 DVD edition

Keaton Plus (1921-1962), color and black & white, 200 minutes total, not rated.

Kino International, K230DVD, UPC 7-38329-0230?-?.
Full-frame 4:3 NTSC, one single-sided, dual-layered DVD disc, Region 1, 4.5 Mbps average video bit rate, 192 kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo and mono sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, chapter stops, standard DVD keepcase and slimline DVD keepcase [boxset], $24.98.
Release date: 16 October 2001 (released separately 3 August 2004).
Country of origin: USA

Ratings (1-10): video: 9 / audio: 9 / additional content: 9 / overall: 9.
The Short Films section contains the only silent era footage on the DVD (except for a minute-long home movie), being three Keaton films that have been discovered since the original 1995 release of the Art of Buster Keaton home video series. The exerpt from Day Dreams (1922) features Renée Adorée visualizing what Buster must look like as a policeman. The 35mm print is contrasty but clearly shows the action. The exerpt from The Love Nest (1923) features a funny on-ship gag with a bottle. The sepia-toned 35mm print is excellent. The highlight, however, is the inclusion of a fairly complete version of Hard Luck (1921), a film that was once thought to have been lost (but has been transferred from a 1987 Raymond Rohauer post-release print) and has been listed as one of Buster’s favorite of his short films. Buster is down on his luck and is looking for a quick way out of this life. Buster eventually finds employment as an armadillo hunter. The toned print utilized appears to have been copied from at least two good 16mm reduction prints and a very good 35mm print (with a final shot from a rough 16mm reduction print). The films are ably accompanied by Neil Brand on piano.

Also included in the Short Films section are two Keaton sound shorts for Educational Films. Allez Oop (1934) has Buster as a clock repairman who is infatuated with a female customer. She becomes infatuated with a circus trapeze artist, so Buster attempts to learn the trapeze himself. Dorothy Sebastian costars. The film is presented from a very good 35mm print that has a few splices in it. In Jail Bait (1937) Buster is an office boy talked into confessing to a murder he didn’t commit, but they only person who knows that dies before Buster can be exonerated. Harold Goodwin from The Cameraman (1928) and Mathew Betz from The Wedding March (1928) costar. An excellent 35mm British release print, marked with a little speckling, was utilized for the transfer.

The Short Films section is topped off, ironically, with a five-minute exerpt of approximately 32 minutes of completed footage from a 1962 feature-length musical comedy, Ten Girls Ago, that was to feature Buster, Bert Lahr, Eddie Foy Jr. and teen idol Dion. Uncompleted and unreleased, the surviving Cinemascope film exerpt was assembled during production in a black & white rough cut (some shots minus optical sound) to present to potential investors. In a very brief exerpt, Buster accompanies a singing Bert Lahr on piano. The letterboxed exerpt has been anamorphically enhanced for 16:9 televisions.

The Television section contains four exerpts from the 1951 television series Life with Buster Keaton, “Detective Story,” “Gymnasium Story,” “The Time Machine” and “The Haunted House.” The funny exerpt from “The Time Machine” roughly resembles Buster’s film Three Ages (1923). Also included is an entire episode of Douglas Fairbanks Jr. Presents, “The Awakening,” a straight-forward television drama from 1954 based on Gogol’s story “The Overcoat.” The episodes have survived in and been transferred from excellent 35mm prints.

The Commercials section contains spots for Phillips 66, Shamrock Oil, Simon Pure Beer, and the advertising film The Triumph of Lester Snapwell for Kodak. The Phillips 66 ad has been transferred from a good 16mm reduction print; the Shamrock Oil spot appears without sound in its edited version and with a blank soundtrack (with optical sound pops) in its unedited outtakes; and the Simon Pure Beer ad, which recycles a sight gag from The High Sign (1921), is transferred from a very good 35mm print. The Triumph of Lester Snapwell has been transferred from a very good but worn 35mm(?) print that has color-shifted to pink tones. The print has a number of splices, light scratches and dust specks. Also included are six Lester Snapwell production stills.

The Home Movies section features three short amateur films (without audio) spanning from 1926 to 1960(?). The first is footage that has previously been seen in the Kevin Brownlow and David Gill documentary entitled Buster Keaton: A Hard Act to Follow (1987). The photographer captured Buster on location in Oregon for the filming of The General (1926), and Buster is seen posing with a visitor to the set and directing in costume. The 16mm footage is in very good condition and features a broad greytone range. Next is 16mm? footage of Keaton in Paris (briefly seen with tour organizer Raymond Rohauer) in color. Keaton clowns for the camera and talks with visitors. Some of the footage was also seen in the Brownlow and Gill documentary. Last is Interview with Buster Keaton, a brief documentary (without sound) in a grainy 16mm print. Each of the selections are quite brief, ranging from 50 seconds to 1:25 in duration.

The “Silent Echoes” section is a companion piece to John Bengtson’s book Silent Echoes: Discovering Early Hollywood Through the Films of Buster Keaton published in 2000. Bengtson introduces the on-disc tour of several of Buster film locations in Hollywood and San Francisco, map tours of the Keaton Studios, downtown Los Angeles and southern California with audio commentary by Bengtson, and case studies of locations used for Cops (1922) and The General (1926).

The Photographs section features a number of production photos and portraits grouped together in the categories “Family Photos,” “Vaudeville,” “Portraits,” “Production Stills,” “Special Effects” and “The Later Years.”

The Tributes section contains three film introductions (Orson Welles on The General, Lillian Gish on College, and Gloria Swanson on The General) from the series The Silent Years and Silents Please, and brief (all too brief at 1:48) exerpts from Buster’s appearance on This Is Your Life from April 3, 1957.

While we felt that some of the exerpts were surprisingly short, the disc is worth the money just for the inclusion of Hard Luck, the two Educational shorts, the “Awakening” television episode and the Silent Echoes section.

 
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Other silent era BUSTER KEATON films available on home video.

Other SHORT COMEDY FILMS of the silent era available on home video.

 
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