Poster of the Day: Sherlock Jr.

sherlock-jr-movie-poster-1924-1020143174Russian Sherlock. Jr poster, 1924

This poster stumped pretty much everyone in our recent film quiz – perhaps because of its tricky graphics, or perhaps because the film is not as well-known amongst contemporary film-lovers as it should be! With his trademark stoney face, Buster Keaton makes for an earnest hero, battling the wrong-doings of a rival over the affections of a beautiful girl.

For those used to the more pointed, polished and faster-paced humour of Chaplin, Sherlock Jr can come across as a little slow at points and the excellent visual comedy has a much more naturalistic feel, delivering something of a rawer result. But there are fantastic examples of his comic and film-making genius here. The movie is one of the first examples of a film-within-a-film, when Keaton’s character – a lowly projectionist at a local theatre – falls asleep and imagines himself leaping into the film being screened, creating quite a surreal scene and perfectly illustrating Keaton’s ability to think outside the usual slapstick comedy box. In this new, meta-storyline, Keaton’s character becomes a great detective whose objective is to show the true nature of his rival’s character.

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And, of course, there are also plenty of slapstick moments, including the famous ‘shadowing scene’:

sherlock-jr-4Other visual gags abound, but amongst them are stunts that make the jaw drop; stunts that clearly must have been carried out with extreme precision but which are, none the less, delivered in Keaton’s characteristic loose and raw style, making them appear utterly haphazard.

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And, of course, there’s the sublime pool-playing scene, where Keaton’s character manages to pot every ball whilst avoiding hitting the booby-trapped ball – all in the most nonchalant, off-hand manner imaginable. Yep. Sublime.

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posted by Dixie Turner

Favourite Scenes: Sherlock Jr. Plays Pool

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Buster Keaton as the great would-be detective, Sherlock Jr. (1924)

Anyone looking for proof of Keaton’s comic genius need look no further than any one of a handful of scenes in Sherlock Jr., such as the famous tailing scene:

or the motorbike chase scene (check out the unbelievable timing of the broken bridge stunt where two trucks traveling in different directions perfectly coincide under the missing part of the bridge to provide safe passage for the runaway motorbike passing overhead – 2.17):

But there’s something about the pool-playing scene that brings an extra smile, partly because the timing is, as always, just so spectacular and partly because Keaton reverses the expectations that we have of slick pool tricks by potting every ball except the one he’s meant to.  Having unwittingly avoided both the falling axe and the poisoned water, Sherlock Jr is challenged by his foes to a game of pool in which one ball – 13 – is replaced with an exploding ball. As he pots one after another, each ball narrowly misses number 13 by only a hair’s breadth. The scene may be especially enjoyable in part because we’re so familiar with the image of the cool hustler and Buster Keaton, whilst certainly cool (and not just because of his stoney face), has also something of the weedy nerd about him. Of course, this is a classic comedy trick, well used by the likes of Chaplin – the humble hero with skills you’d never imagine, but it works and we laugh and are left both amused and amazed.

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Keaton, candid.

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**Newly added to our shelves.**

Favourite Scenes: Chaplin and Keaton in Limelight (1952)

When Charlie Chaplin finished directing Limelight he had no way of knowing it was to be his last film made on American shores. In fact, when he went across to England for the film’s British premier, he had no idea that the country that had been his home for so many years would refuse him re-entry, supposedly for his ‘communist’ sympathies. The film is a fitting farewell – Chaplin plays an ageing and alcoholic music-hall comic, Calvero, once famous for his character of the Tramp, but now almost forgotten and unable to find work. Chaplin plays Calvero as something of a humanist philosopher, infected by what he calls a ‘sad dignity’ which, as he explains, is clearly fatal for a comic; the desire, as one gets older, to ‘live deeply’; to feel the profound expanses of the heart and soul – into which small laughs drop with deafening echoes.

Into his care comes a young, troubled ballerina, Thereza (played by Claire Bloom – Look Back in Anger) intent on ending her own life, but Calvero raises her spirits, encouraging her with great conviction that she must fight for her happiness and, in turn, as she regains her strength and her position as a dancer, she attempts to return the favour by finding Calvero work. Towards the end of the film, a benefit concert is staged for Calvero who entertains the audience with the following piece of pure comic genius – the one truly hilarious scene in what is otherwise a fairly sober (and, at times, overly sentimental) film. Calvero’s partner in the scene is played by Buster Keaton who need hardly do anything at all to make you fall right off your chair with uncontrollable mirth:


Trivia: As Chaplin fell victim to the McCarthy era communist witch-hunts which swept through Hollywood, Limelight was hardly shown in America until the 1970s, when it – and Chaplin – finally got some of the recognition it deserved. Chaplin won an Oscar for the score which, as usual, he composed himself.

The assistant director on Limelight was Robert Aldrich, who went on to direct Whatever Happened to Baby Jane and the Dirty Dozen.