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Buster Keaton's Sherlock Jr.


B U S T E R  K E A T O N ' S
S H E R L O C K  J R .
Buster "Stone Face" Keaton was & is one of the greats of the silent screen era, with talent and artistry of acting, directing, and stunt performances. From the destruction of a railroad bridgewith a train on top of itin THE GENERAL to the fallen house around him in STEAMBOAT BILL JR. Buster Keaton was known to going to great lengths to entertain & grow his craft, all in the name of art & film. His characters are known to walk from total destruction, unharmed & well, stone-faced.

Though he walked off as if the worst had not happened, the brilliant actor was often left with serious injuries. SHERLOCK JR. is one example, and one that almost cost him his life. In his fourth-length film, he plays a film projectionist who happens to fall asleep & dreams he's a famous detective on the silver screen. This idea leads into a string of perfect of illusions, dream sequences, & stage gags. During one of the scenes, now one of his most famous on-set accidents, he jumped from the top of a moving freight car & swung down to grab a water tower's release rope. The water flooded down on Keaton, with more force than he expected, throwing him onto the ground with so much weight that the back of his neck was slammed against a steel rail. He had headaches for the neck a few weeks but was known for having a high threshold for pain & worked through it. It wasn't until a doctor in 1935, a doctor during a routine checkup, discovered that he had fractured his neck. This was Keaton's technique, going to great lengths to ensure that his public knew that he performed his own stunts. 

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SHERLOCK JR. is a simple tale of a theater projectionist & his efforts to prove that he is innocent of the theft of a stolen watch, & win the hand of his sweetheart, played by Kathryn McGuire. As the film progresses, he begins to rival another love interest of the girl, the "local sheik", played by Ward Crane. Neither of the possible suitors have much money and the projectionist purchases the only thing he could afford, a dollar box of chocolates. When the sheik pawns the girl's father's pocket watch and purchases a three dollar box of chocolates, he puts the pawn ticket into the pocket of the projectionist. When he is found with the ticket, he is kicked out of the girl's home.

The film's original title was THE MISFIT. Production started in January of 1924. In Keaton's own words, he spoke about the character walking onto the screen, & that was "the reason for making the whole picture. Just that one situation." During this time, Keaton's friend & the one who had discovered him was in a standstill with his career, Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle had been on top of the world when he was dropped from his throne after being accused of the rape of Virginia Rappe, in 1921. Keaton saw a promise to help his friend, who had lost his mansion & other valuables, all while being in debt. He hired Arbuckle as a director, using the name "William Goodrich". On set, everything was upbeat, until Keaton pointed out a mistake that Arbuckle had made. This changed the new director's attitude & he became hard to work with. Keaton said that he had become "flushed mad, the scandal just changed his disposition."


As the projectionist falls asleep, a film showing about the theft of a pearl necklace takes place. He dreams that he enters the film as a detective, Sherlock Jr. The actors in the dream-film scene are replaced with the real-life acquaintances. The scene when he walks into the film is pure genius & has aged like fine wine, seamless as can be. After the theft of pearls, the girl's father sends for the world's greatest detective & as quick as can be, Sherlock Jr. shows up. The thieves are nervous to be caught and attempt to kill the detective with a handful of ideas: traps & position & 13 ball. When all fails, the duo villains attempt to escape. Soon enough a chase scene takes place. Sherlock Jr. tacks them down at a warehouse, during this, he discovers that the girl has been kidnapped. Sherlock soon gets the girl & defeats the large gang.


This was Keaton's most complicated film for the optical effects & a handful of in-camera tricks. A famous trick included Keaton leaping into a suitcase & completely disappearing. This was an old vaudeville trick that his father had invented, & even though Keaton performed it in the fifties on a talk show, it was never revealed how he did it. The trick is said to have been accomplished with a trap door behind the suitcase. Keaton said it took "an awful lot of time getting those scenes." Filming took a total of four months instead of the usual two for a Keaton film. Keaton also was one of the first people to show a film with a film in the dream scene, this was done by positioning Keaton & the camera at the exact distance & angel, for the illusion. It one of the oldest films I have seen with a film inside a film & it truly is something else.


"EVERY CAMERAMAN IN THE BUSINESS WENT TO SEE THAT PICTURE MORE THAN ONCE TRYING TO FIGURE OUT HOW THE HALL WE DID SOME OF THAT." - KEATON TO FILM HISTORIAN, KEVIN BROWNLOW.

As the projectionist wakes, he is face to face with the girl, who tells him that she & her father have learned who the real thief was. The projectionist then mimics the screen in front of him, using the actor's romantic behavior in his favor, all with Keaton's sweet & sometimes naive individuality. 


The film is booming with personality & genius. These silent films were so important for supporting & continuing the popularity of the medium. With themes that the working class and middle class could relate to and provide a form of essential escapism & joy. All with a master of expression & comedy, truly a true masterpiece of cinema.

PLAYLIST FEATURING NINETEEN-TWENTIES MUSIC:

one. funny, dear, what love can do by ruth etting.
two. loveable and sweet by annette hanshaw.
three. roll on, mississippi, roll on by the boswell sisters.
four. if i could be with you one hour tonigt by ruth etting.
five. an' furthermore by irving aaronson and his commanders.
six. love is like that, what can you do? by ruth etting.
seven. goodnight by irving aaronson and his commanders.
eight. button up your overcoat by helen kane.
nine. smiles by annette hanshaw
ten. sentimental gentleman from georgia by the boswell sisters.
eleven. it all depends on you by ruth etting.
twelve. i want to be bad by helen kane.
thirteen. the pump song by irving aaronson and his commanders.
fourteen. you're the cream in my coffee by ruth etting.
fifteen. i dare not love you by irving aaronson and his commanders.


EVEN AFTER 90 SO YEARS THIS FILM IS A MASHUP OF SEVERAL ARTISTIC ENDEAVORS, ALL THAT CROSS SEAMLESSLY INTO A BEAUTY OF FILMMAKING: FILM, STAGE COMEDY, PARODY, AND MIME. ALL WHILE SHOWCASING THE UNDENIABLE TALENTS OF BUSTER KEATON. A PURE DELIGHT.


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