Steamboat Bill, Jr. – 1928 Buster Keaton and Charles Reisner
It begins with a strong 180-degree panoramic pan shot and quickly, like Keaton’s sophomore and breakout feature Our Hospitality, we’re introduced to two rival men and families- King and Stonewall Jackson. And like Our Hospitality, there’s a love match between Keaton and the daughter of his family’s enemy- star-crossed lovers.
Keaton is hilarious as his typical weakling character (or underestimatedly so)—he’s got the little Fairbanks mustache, a beret and ukulele
Keaton’s works aren’t normally notable for supporting actors – but the 6’4 Ernest Torrence as his father, Steamboat Bill, Sr. – is superb here. He’s macho, scowling and shaking his head disapprovingly (until the heroic finale) at Buster
Again, Keaton’s works aren’t notable for the lines of dialogue (we’re talking silent films here anyway) but the line by the first mate to Steamboat Sr. looking at the tiny Keaton with his beret—“no jury could convict you”- great stuff
Like nearly all of Keaton’s work, the climax and back half of the film are so much stronger than the scenario setting in the opening. At 56 minutes the wind storm comes along—buildings and sets collapsing. Instead of Buster’s trademark chase where he’s running to or from something – here the wind is the substitute, he’s getting blown around
At 59 minutes we get the famous building collapsing on Buster shot—again, trademark to his typical choices as auteur, we’re in long-shot, not to see his facial expression, pine for pathos, but to appreciate the set piece. It’s dangerous, it is brilliant—certainly one of Keaton’s greatest moments
In comparison an underrated shot is at 60 minutes when he runs into a fake backdrop on purpose showing us the illusion if you will. It calls back to the 4th wall breaking backdrop sequence in Sherlock Jr. It is meta, it is reflexive—
At 61 mins another door falls on him.
The houses and steamboats serve as the locomotive engine and cars in The General (even if they aren’t quite as malleable here)– they are extensions of Keaton’s body, a bit of a complex set piece shot in his trademark long shot distance, dance
He saves all three (the father, father in law and soon to be wife) and then, for a great comic ending, saves the previously unseen preacher- haha