Now we have another go-round with Buster Keaton in his classic 1928 silent comedy Steamboat Bill, Jr.
Coming Up Shorts! with… House Tricks? (1946)
(available on Blu-ray and DVD as part of Popeye The Sailor: The 1940s Volume 2 from Warner Archive Collection)
Disclaimer: On the disc case, it is noted that the set is intended for the adult collector, which is because these shorts were made at a time when a lot of racist and sexist stereotypes were prevalent. All I’m trying to say is, parents, be careful about just sticking these on for your kids.
(length: 6 minutes, 59 seconds)
Popeye And Bluto help Olive build a house. Apparently a remake of an earlier Popeye short called “The House Builder Upper” (which I haven’t seen yet, so don’t ask), this one definitely still works. A lot of the fun is in watching Popeye and Bluto try to one-up each other as they each build half the house. And, of course, once Popeye is forced to eat his spinach, as always, he does everything well, showing up Bluto and winning the affections of Olive. I will admit, the fact that Popeye was voiced by Harry Welch instead of his usual voice actor, Jack Mercer, was fairly obvious, but not so different as to completely take me out of the fun. Definitely a short I enjoyed watching!
And Now For The Main Feature…
William “Steamboat Bill” Canfield, Sr. (Ernest Torrence), owner of the riverboat “Stonewall Jackson,” is facing competition from his rival J. J. King (Tom McGuire) with his new riverboat, the “King.” Bill receives a telegram stating that his son, William Canfield, Jr. (Buster Keaton), whom he hasn’t seen since he was a baby, is coming to visit him. Anticipating a big, strong man like himself, he is disappointed to see that his son is much smaller, sporting a small mustache and carrying a ukulele. The father tries to buy his son a new wardrobe better fitting for work on a steamboat. While this is happening, Jr. runs into King’s daughter, Kitty King (Marion Byron), whom Jr. knew from Boston (and liked). Of course, their fathers are less than thrilled, and try to keep them apart. When the Stonewall Jackson riverboat is condemned, Bill gets into a fight with King and is subsequently arrested. Jr. tries (and fails) to get his father out. Then a big cyclone hits, forcing Jr. to do what he can to save everyone.
After all the success he had been enjoying, rising through shorts under Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle before going solo and then making his own feature films, Buster Keaton closed out his run of independent movies with Steamboat Bill, Jr. After The General had failed at the box office, Buster was given slightly less control on his films, being assigned a director on College (1927) as well as a production supervisor to help keep the costs in check. While he was still stuck with another director for Steamboat Bill, Jr., at least this time it turned out to be a good friend of his, Chuck Reisner. Chuck was the one who suggested Buster should play the son of a steamboat pilot, and the two of them co-directed the movie. They did have to make some changes, as they had originally planned to have the end take place during a flood, but after some actual floods on the Mississippi River about that time, it was felt that would be in bad taste and they changed it to a cyclone. Sadly, after this movie, Buster Keaton’s longtime producer Joseph Schenck had become president of United Artists, and devoted his full energies towards that, and no longer financed Buster’s production company. So, Buster soon signed with MGM, but soon found out they had no real idea how to handle him, and forced him to go along with THEIR ideas instead of giving him his creative freedom, starting his downfall.
Steamboat Bill, Jr. is one of the few Buster Keaton silent movies I had seen before, and it is one I have very much enjoyed! It is a fun movie, and one I can certainly say worked from start to finish! So much of the early going gives us Buster’s character as a klutz in everything he tried to do, from learning how to run the steamboat, to his romance, to breaking his father out of jail. And yet, during the cyclone, he reverses all that, and becomes a hero to all! And that cyclone scene is so very impressive, from the buildings that come apart (including the one that falls on Buster and misses him as he goes through the window) to all the wind that threatens to stop him from moving to the tree that he holds onto. Honestly, this movie is a lot of fun, and one of his best, in my opinion! A VERY easy movie for me to recommend!
This movie is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Cohen Media Group with The General (1926) as part of “The Buster Keaton Collection Volume 1.” This release includes a new restoration undertaken by Cohen. My own personal opinion is that this transfer looks fantastic, but I have also seen some experts say that it still has some issues. As I am far from an expert on the subject, I would certainly suggest seeking out other opinions, but, in between the price and the stellar transfer for The General, I still feel like this release is worth it!
Film Length: 1 hour, 11 minutes
My Rating: 10/10
List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections
College (1927) – Buster Keaton – In The Good Old Summertime (1949)
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3 thoughts on “What’s Old Is A New Release Again (2019) with… Steamboat Bill, Jr. (1928)”
What a well-written review, Neil! I liked how you provided information about Buster’s career, as I felt like I learned something new. By the way, I nominated you for the Liebster Award! Here’s the link to my award post:
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Thank you for you kind words! Glad you enjoyed it! And thank you for the nomination!
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You’re welcome! Can’t wait to read your award post!