Thursday, February 10, 2011

My Quest To See the 1000 Greatest: Steamboat Bill Jr. (1928)

Steamboat Bill Jr. is #579 in  
My Quest to watch the 1000 Greatest Films

Screened 11/17/10 on TCM

Ranked #392 on TSPDT

*this is one in a series of catch-up reviews in my aforementioned quest (which should explain the rather old screening date above).
The debate rages.  Chaplin vs. Keaton.  I have always been a steadfast Chaplin man myself, but in no way does that mean I dislike Keaton.  Chaplin has the pathos, the sentimentalism that makes his films work on a much deeper level than those of Keaton.  Keaton on the other hand is a better gag-writer and his films, though never as deep, are straight-up funnier than Chaplin's.  Still, the debate rages.

My favourite Keaton has always been my first Keaton, The General.  I would surely call it one of, if not the funniest movie I have ever seen.  Not a single word is spoken, but it annihilates me every time.  Keaton did not need the added words of the later screwball comedies of Hawks and Lubitsch, he did it all with his brilliant visual audacity.  If I were to compile a Top 5 Keaton List, after his Civil War-set Masterpiece (with a capital M), I would place the oft-forgotten Our Hospitality, followed by Sherlock Jr., The Navigator and then this movie, Steamboat Bill Jr. 

Mostly remembered for its famed falling house gag (where the facade of a house falls on top of Keaton as he stands precariously - and very strategically - in the perfect spot to be saved by an open window, the frame of which falling just around him) and the scary fact that this was no trick photography or body double, but Keaton himself, just inches away from being crushed to (most likely) death, the movie is full of great physical gags - just as Keaton had done in all his previous works, becoming an influence to many future comic actors, most notably Jackie Chan, who has cited Keaton as a big influence on numerous occasions.  

Unfortunately for the world, this was the last film Keaton would ever have control over, leading to eventual obscurity (though with bittersweet roles in Billy Wilder's Sunset Blvd. and Chaplin's Limelight in the early fifties) until future critics would one day rediscover the great stone-faced clown of the silent era.

1 comment:

Michaël Parent said...

I agree on you about the Chaplin debate. And The General is perhaps one of the funniest silent comedies out there. But, it makes me sad to think of the latter years of Keaton live how a genius could have felt into such darkness! Let's hope the greats still living today will still have the recognition they diserve.