Or a flick. Most of a flick --One of the cable channels was, for a wonder, showing Buster Keaton's* Steamboat Bill, Jr., one of the last films over which he had creative control. I tuned in just in time for the last two-thirds, which is better than ot at all.
The film wasn't a big success -- it didn't even get good reviews. Yet you've seen part of it: this film has the iconic, full-on version of the front of a house falling on Keaton; he escapes what seems certain squashing by just "happening" to stand in the part of an open attic window. It's a bit of a shock to discover this bit is nearly lost in a long, stunt-filled (and hilarious, IMO) windstorm sequence. You might ask, "how'd he do that?" and the answer is, the hard way: that's a pretty heavily-built (two tons, by some accounts) wall falling around him in one piece and he's standing in the (only!) right spot. It was (probably) hinged but there's no sign of a cable and it was shot at normal speed, which means if he misses his mark, no more Buster. It is not just that gag: the entire sequence works that way, with very few cuts to set up the stunts.
Keaton did (nearly) all his own stunts throughout his career; his last film appearance was in A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum in which we last see him bouncing off trees like a pinball, very much the unbreakable Buster Keaton, in a Latinate version of his signature porkpie hat. He was terminally ill at the time.
...But the very much younger Buster of Steamboat Bill, Jr. is more than a clown; seeing him climb a steamboat in a vertical dead run, deck to deck to the wheelhouse and use nary a ladderway, or swing through the windstorm sets clutching onto a crane-swung tree, or any one of a zillion dangerous, physical, funny stunts makes it transparently clear that this funnyman is more of a man than any present-day film hero. --Except for Jackie Chan, who looks to Keaton as a godfather of his art.
Another Keaton gift -- and related! -- is the ability to "sell" an action. At one point in the film, he is hand-miming a jailbreak: an upraised thumb stands in for a prison bar, the other hand a file. Sure enough, the thumb vanishes as it is sawn through, quick as wink. It's a simple trick, a child's trick -- but so well-executed that, just for a moment, you're wondering how he did it. On a far larger scale, to see him appear to stop or start a train car by pushing or pulling it is to have one's disbelief not merely suspended but grabbed unawares and reeled in hook, line and sinker.
Keaton was a gem but, sadly, had a chaotic personal life and a weakness for alcohol; after 1928, he was pretty well locked into the studio system and often miscast. I enjoy his silents when I can find them and one of these days, I'll have a chance to see his very last silent The Railrodder and companion documentary, Buster Keaton Rides Again.
...As happens, you can see the first of those films right here!
LikeTelevision Embed Movies and TV Shows
That livin' the future stuff, sometimes it's pretty good.
* Wikipedia bio
T. R. MCELROY'S STREAMLINED TELEGRAPH KEYS
11 months ago