Here is Buster Keaton with his latest film, the wonderful College. Asepsis. Disinfection. Freed from tradition, our gaze revels in the juvenile, tempered world of Buster, the great specialist in fighting sentimental infections of all kinds. The film is as beautiful as a bathroom, as vital as a Hispano-Suiza. Buster never tries to make us cry, for he knows that cheap tears are outdated. He is not, however, a clown who makes us roar with laughter. Not for a minute do we stop smiling, not at him but at ourselves – smiling at health and Olympian force.
In cinema, we always contrast Keaton’s monotonous expression with the infinitesimal variations of a Jannings. Filmmakers overdo it with Jannings, multiplying his slightest facial contractions to the nth degree. For him, suffering is a prism cut into a hundred facets. […]
Buster Keaton’s expressions are as modest as, for example, a bottle’s; the dance floor of his pupils is round and clear, but there his aseptic spirit does pirouettes. The bottle and Buster’s face have infinite points of view.
Few are those who know how to accomplish their mission in the rhythmic, architectural workings of a film. It is the editing – film’s golden key – that combines, comments on, and unifies all these elements. Can greater cinematic virtue be reached?
Luis Buñuel, “Cahiers d’Art”, n. 10, 1927, in An Unspeakable Betrayal. Selected Writings of Luis Buñuel, University of California Press, Oakland 2000
Cast and Credits
Scen.: Carl Harbaugh, Bryan Foy. F.: Dev Jennings, Bert Haines. M.: Sherman Kell. Scgf.: Fred Gabourie. Int.: Buster Keaton (Ronald), Anne Cornwall (Mary), Flora Bramley (Mary’s friend), Florence Turner (Ronald’s mother), Harold Goodwin (Jeff, he rival), Snitz Edwards (Dean), Carl Harbaugh (the coach), Sam Crawford (the baseball coach). Prod.: Joseph M. Schenck. DCP. D.: 66’. Bn.
One of Buster Keaton’s most famous works, this movie is designed in two parts, both closed environments. The first is the bank where Keaton’s character works, a place thrown into complete chaos by his antics, until such time as he falls victim to his own mischief. The banking hall ends up looking like a giant fly-trap, actors stuck to the floor or to each other, pathetically and comically gesticulating. When Keaton’s hopeless cack-handedness results in his being fired, he takes refuge in a haunted house inhabited by bandits who manipulate a series of secret clockwork mechanisms. He also finds there an actor dressed as Mephistopheles, whom a hostile audience has hounded out of the theatre. Keaton remains trapped in this place, until such time as he can penetrate its workings and thus make the trap not a trap. […] He passes, in other words, from one room-space to the next, unfailingly assimilating every experience, moving from foolishness to wisdom as gradually it dawns that appearances are not what they seem. From beginning to end, the story operates a profound alteration in Keaton’s character and as always, his point is that people do not remain static. Life is about change. Changing is learning to live.
Jean-André Fieschi, “Cahiers du cinéma”, n. 130, 1962
Cast and Credits
Scen.: Buster Keaton, Edward F. Cline. F.: Felgin Lessley. M.: Buster Keaton. Scgf.: Fred Gabourie. Int.: Buster Keaton (bank employee), Virginia Fox (bank manager’s daughter), Joe Roberts (cashier), Edward F. Cline (client of the bank ), Natalie Talmadge (client that faints), Dorothy Cassil (flirty client), Mark Hamilton (ghost). Prod.: Joseph M. Schenck. DCP. D.: 21’. Bn.
In My Wife’s Relations, Buster Keaton has achieved comedy, pungent, vulgar comedy, wherein the vulgarity has vital power, the nutriment of first-rate Roquefort cheese. […]
Here is vulgarity, working-class vulgarity, people of bad manners, as the phrase goes, people whose behavior is far from such, beyond words, without pedigree, except among the animals of the barns and the health that goes with what Ezra Pound calls “the unkillable infants of the poor”.
A little like Frank Norris’ McTeague, people are the dummies, mummies and rummies that shamble, scramble and slide on their bottom ends across the flickers of this picture.
This is the nearest approach this reviewer has witnessed to the master handling of Charles Chaplin in presentation of human comics, with massive overtones and rapid implications. There will be those saying Charlie is a little schoolmaster showing them how to better find themselves in the pantomimic art science of the cinema. And there will be others who say otherwise.
The main point is that Buster Keaton’s My Wife’s Relations is a hummer of a comic two reeler.
Carl Sandburg, The Movies Are: Carl Sandburg’s Film Reviews and Essays 1920-1928,
Lake Claremont Press, Chicago 2000
Cast and Credits
Scen.: Buster Keaton, Edward F. Cline. F.: Elgin Lessley. M.: Buster Keaton. Scgf.: Fred Gabourie. Int.: Buster Keaton (the husband), Kate Price (the wife), Monte Collins (the father-in-law), Joe Roberts, Tom Wilson, Harry Madison, Wheezer Dell (the wife’s brothers). Prod.: Joseph M. Schenck. DCP. D.: 24’. Bn.
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Live accompaniment by Orchestra del Teatro Comunale di Bologna directed by Timothy Brock.
Cecilia Cenciarelli and Tim Lanza (Cohen Film Collection)
MY WIFE’S RELATIONS
MY WIFE’S RELATIONS