Cult Movie: Buster Keaton Vol 3 a reminder of why he was one of the true kings of silent comedy cinema

Buster Keaton in Our Hospitality
Buster Keaton in Our Hospitality

Buster Keaton Vol 3

BUSTER Keaton could do no wrong in the 1920s. Everything the famously stony faced actor and director made in that decade just seemed to connect with audiences and the reputation he holds today as one of the true kings of silent comedy cinema was built from scratch in that 10-year period.

Eureka Entertainment have been doing a terrific job in recent years at reminding us just how groundbreaking, effective and downright funny much of that work was with a series of beautifully crafted collections that treat the work with the respect and love it truly deserves. Volume 3 is released this month and again it brings three more of the great man’s filmic offerings to Blu-ray for the first time in the UK.

Our Hospitality, from 1923, is the first film on offer here and it’s an important one in the man’s cinematic canon. Co-directed with John G Blystone, it’s a comic retelling of the infamous real-life feud between the Hatfield and McCoy families (here renamed the Canfields and the McKays) that marks the first time Keaton was afforded the kind of creative freedom that he would thrive on.

Playing the luckless William McKay, who’s lured down south to claim his inheritance before having his life threatened by the Canfield clan, Keaton turns in a mature and impressively restrained comic tale that’s strong on story rather than just being a series of impressive comic set pieces and stunts. The attention to period detail remains hugely impressive and the 2K restoration job here means it sparkles like never before.

Even better is Go West, released two years later in 1925. Here Keaton plays the brilliantly named Friendless who rides the rails to Arizona for a new life. Along the way he stumbles upon a new best friend in the shape of a cow named Brown Eyes.

In Keaton’s directorial hands such slight material is spun into comic gold and the sequence of cattle stampeding through the streets of Los Angeles is a masterpiece of silent cinema. Throughout Keaton’s trademark world weariness and stony-faced resignation is captured beautifully and the result is one of the actor/director’s greatest achievements.

The final film in this collection, College, from 1927, is slightly less impressive but even when Keaton isn’t quite at the peak of his powers he remains better than most. Here the comedian plays the spurned academic Ronald, whose high-school girlfriend Mary dumps him for a typical muscle-bound sports type. The clueless hero sets about winning his true love back despite being utterly useless at every sport he tries.

There are moments of great physical comedy here that live long in the memory but there’s also an uncomfortable sequence where Keaton’s Ronald wears blackface as a waiter that hasn’t aged well, to say the least.

Overall this latest volume of Keaton classics reminds you just how groundbreaking and technically innovative the man was. As always, Eureka have bolstered the whole package with plenty of meaty extras and as a tribute to a true American cinema great it’s pretty hard to beat.