Buster Keaton, Bill Torrence, Marion Byron. Dir: Charles Reisner (and Buster Keaton- uncredited)
Again, I am excited, again my cat is lying on the keyboard, again you get what you get.
Steamboat Bill, Jr. is a spectacle. There are sequences that will cause you to manually pick your jaw up from the floor and return it to its normal position. One, in particular, could have killed him, had the math been wrong. You see, Buster was very precise in what he did, especially if it was dangerous. He planned his stunts carefully, measured twice, cut once, so that they would come out as seamlessly as possible. I honestly don’t know if he was trying to shock people with the danger he put himself in or if he was just going for the laugh and it happened to be dangerous. I lean toward the latter because that’s what he wanted to do- to make people laugh. And it seems he would do it at almost any cost.
This movie is about a steamboat captain whose son, which he has not seen since infancy, comes to stay with him after college. There’s hardship and weather and buildings and water. It ends happily. Completely satisfactorily, because it’s not a Chaplin film. Had it been a Chaplin film, it would have been bittersweet, because he can’t have the happy without the sad. It’s a rule of his or something. But, you know, that’s okay for him, it seems to have served him well.
You have no idea how difficult it is to write this without giving anything away. I would like to talk specifically about the stunts and acrobatics, I would like to tell you about how he meets the girl who is the daughter of Buster’s father’s arch-enemy. Even telling you a little would lead me to tell you more than I should just to make things make sense. But I don’t do spoilers because I like to know as little as possible about a movie before I watch one, and that’s what I’m trying to do for you. Just know that it’s good. No, great.
Maybe I will just throw out some key words. Shame, hats, ukulele, boat, sneaking, another boat, fighting, jail, baking (more shame), atmospheric conditions, third floor window, rescue, rescue, rescue, rescue.
There. I feel a little better.
Buster smells the girl’s hair in this. That’s something he does in several films. If you have not witnessed this before, then you don’t know why I mention it. If you have, then you do.