We’re back for another one of Buster Keaton’s silent films, the 1926 comedy Battling Butler.
Alfred Butler (Buster Keaton) is the heavily pampered son of a rich man, whose valet (Snitz Edwards) caters to his every whim. Alfred’s father is angry with this, and suggests he should go on a hunting and fishing trip, try to “rough it” and become a man. Of course, even in camping, Alfred is hardly “roughing it,” with a spacious tent, a variety of suits to wear, a stove, and his valet to serve him. However, he meets a girl (Sally O’Neil) there in the mountains, whom he takes to (even though they met by him accidentally shooting near her). Her father and brother aren’t so thrilled when his valet comes to propose marriage for him, since they feel he couldn’t even take care of himself, let alone a wife. The valet is inspired by the newspaper he is carrying, which contains an article about a boxer, also named Alfred Butler (or “Battling Butler”), whom he claims his master to be. They are thrilled, but since the boxer’s next fight is right away, they help Alfred and the valet to get on the train to get to the fight. Much to their regret, “Battling Butler” (Francis McDonald) wins the fight, and Alfred determines to go back and tell her the truth. But upon returning, he is taken immediately to her home, where a minister is waiting, and no sooner is the ceremony over than he is off to training camp after somebody sees a newspaper article talking about “Battling Butler” going into training for his next fight. Alfred convinces his wife to stay behind, but after a while, she decides to come to camp and help him. Meanwhile, Alfred has been talking to “Battling Butler’s wife (Mary O’Brien) at the camp, which has made the real “Battling Butler” jealous. When the two wives meet, “Battling Butler” decides to get even and go along with the gag, forcing Alfred to go into actual training for the upcoming fight. But can this untrained man win the fight?
Like Seven Chances before it, Battling Butler was based on a play (actually, a British musical called Battling Buttler). However, unlike that previous movie, this one made use of a property that apparently gave Buster Keaton more freedom to do his brand of comedy, thus giving him one of his favorite films that he did. While the stage show hadn’t included a boxing match onstage, Buster felt that his audience would expect him to include the fight. So he rented a gym and worked with his friend, world welterweight champion Mickey Walker, to help him plan out the fight. (Gasp! It was staged! 😉 )
After feeling somewhat let down by Seven Chances (well, except for that fun ending), this movie was a welcome change, more in line with the previous handful of Buster Keaton movies I had seen. I enjoyed this one greatly, from the scene in the woods of Buster and Sally O’Neil’s characters leaning on the table as it sinks into the ground, to Buster watching the first fight next to Battling Butler’s manager (who was really getting into the fight), and many more wonderful, laugh-out-loud moments, I could see Buster Keaton’s imprint on this movie, which made it that much better. I admit, I’m not the most thrilled with how spoiled his character is for most of the movie (and definitely want to see him get his comeuppance), and the story falls into that old cliche of “guy falls for girl, tells her a lie about himself to impress her and then has to jump through increasingly ridiculous hoops to keep that deception going even though he could simply tell her the truth and she would still be happy with him,” but for me, these are minor things that really don’t take away my enjoyment of this movie! While I like some of the other Keaton films I have seen better, this one is still no slouch! It’s definitely worth a few good laughs, and that alone makes it worth recommending!
This movie is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Cohen Media Group with Seven Chances (1925) as part of “The Buster Keaton Collection Volume 3.” This release included the new restoration of the movie, and for the most part, it looks fantastic! Sure, there are a few moments where the image shows the damage from the elements, and there are a few scratches here and there, but otherwise it looks pretty darn good, and the double-feature set definitely feels worth it!
Film Length: 1 hour, 18 minutes
My Rating: 8/10
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