Thoughts From The Music(al) Man (2021) on… College (1927)

Following up last week’s review of the Buster Keaton silent comedy Go West, we’ve got ANOTHER Buster Keaton silent. This time, it’s the 1927 film College.

Coming Up Shorts! with… Pink Outs (1967)

(available on Blu-ray and DVD as part of The Pink Panther Cartoon Collection: Volume 2 (1966-1968) from Kino Lorber)

(Length: 6 minutes, 14 seconds)

In this Pink Panther cartoon, there is no story. It’s just a series of different gags, switching from one activity to another. Some are funny, others not so much. There is no real relation between everything going on, although the final one (with him mowing the lawn) builds on another one from earlier in the short. Honestly, the overall short is decent, but not that memorable. The Panther is generally better when there is a slight story being served by various gags, and not just a series of un-related ones.

And Now For The Main Feature…

It’s high school graduation day at Union High School in California, and everyone is excited! The scholarly Ronald (Buster Keaton) gives a speech on “The Curse Of Athletics,” talking about how much more important education is than sports. However, his speech doesn’t go over well with the crowd (well, except for his mother, played by Florence Turner). In particular, the girl that he likes, Mary Haynes (Anne Cornwall), is furious with him, as she prefers the athletic type, like Jeff Brown (Harold Goodwin), whom she is dating. Jeff and Mary are off to the more athletically-inclined Clayton College, and Ronald decides to join them. The Dean (Snitz Edwards) is thrilled to have him at Clayton, and hopes that Ronald’s study habits will rub off on his athletic classmates. However, Ronald wants to try his hand at sports in an attempt to regain Mary’s affections, and tries out for the baseball and track teams (and fails miserably at both). As a result of his athletic attempts, his grades suffer, and Ronald is called in to see the Dean. The Dean is sympathetic when he hears why Ronald is trying to concentrate on sports, and makes him the coxswain for the rowing team. Of course, this doesn’t go over well with the crew coach (Carl Harbaugh) or the team, but for the moment, they are stuck with Ronald due to the Dean’s order. On the day of the race, the coach tries to drug Ronald with his drink, but the guy that everybody else wants to be the coxswain accidentally drinks it, and passes out. With no alternative, the team is stuck with Ronald for the race. Will he be able to help them win? Will his attempts finally gain the affections of the girl he loves?

In 1926, Buster Keaton completed what many would later call his one of his masterpieces, The General. However, audiences and critics of the time didn’t take to it very well, and he decided to go a more commercial route for his next film. Audiences were crazy about college at the time (and Harold Lloyd himself had had one of his biggest hits with the college-themed The Freshman), so that was the direction Buster Keaton elected to go. While he plays a (mostly) non-athletic character, that was obviously not the case in real life, with all the various stunts and pratfalls that he could do, so he actually had to hold back a little on his abilities (although he used a stunt double, which was a first for him, for a scene with him pole-vaulting through a window, figuring he didn’t want to spend months trying to train for it). Of course, he was plagued with some behind-the-scenes troubles, as his usual producer, Joseph Schenck, was unable to be that involved with the production (he had just become the president of United Artists), and left his publicity chief Harry Brand in charge (who made a nuisance of himself by frequently pestering Buster Keaton). Like with The General, critics and audiences didn’t care for the film, with the results being that he ended up making the career-destroying move of signing with MGM after Steamboat Bill, Jr.

I think Buster Keaton’s presence certainly makes this movie work! His athletic abilities really come in handy for the stunts that he tries to do with the various sports his character tries to do! And it is those mishaps (mostly when trying baseball and the various events in track) when this movie is at its funniest! It’s hard not to cheer for him, especially when, despite all the stuff that keeps happening, he manages to help the rowing team! I do think the film has some issues, though, that work against it. We are shown two attempts by his character to get a job to pay for college. The first has him working as a soda jerk, which is fine, as it is also one of the funnier bits in the film. The second, however, has him working at a restaurant. The problem? The “help wanted” sign was advertising for a “colored waiter” (which means he dons blackface to hold the job). Especially with him acting out some stereotypes to hide his presence, that whole section has aged very poorly (and, since nothing further is shown of him working after he is fired there, leaves you almost feeling like the job hunt is just there to pad out the movie a little). I’m also not thrilled with the last few seconds of the ending, which come out of nowhere and almost seem out of place for what the rest of the film is doing. Again, though, it’s only a few seconds, and not enough to ruin the rest of the movie. It’s an entertaining movie, which provided a few good laughs (even with its issues). It’s hard not to compare it to Harold Lloyd’s The Freshman, though, which I felt was done much better (and doesn’t have stuff like the blackface and stereotypes that have aged poorly). Still, this one is enough fun that I look forward to watching it again, along with some of the other Buster Keaton silents!

What’s Old Is A New Release Again (2020) with… College (1927)

This movie is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Cohen Media Group with Go West (1925) as part of “The Buster Keaton Collection: Volume 4.” According to the info at the beginning of the movie, this transfer made use of a third generation safety dupe positive and second generation safety dupe negative. Given that, it looks fairly obvious that this transfer isn’t quite as good as the one for Go West on the same disc. It’s pretty good overall, don’t get me wrong, but the detail isn’t quite as visible, and some spots (especially the opening credits and intertitles) look a bit rougher. It’s still good enough to enjoy the movie, though, and with Go West looking as good as it does, I think this release is still worth it!

Film Length: 1 hour, 6 minutes

My Rating: 8/10

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List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections

The General (1926) – Buster Keaton – Steamboat Bill, Jr. (1928)

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