Combustible Celluloid
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With: Buster Keaton, Kathleen Myers, Howard Truesdale, Ray Thompson, Brown Eyes
Written by: Buster Keaton, Lex Neal, Raymond Cannon
Directed by: Buster Keaton
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 68
Date: 10/25/1925

Go West (1925)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Brown Eyes Blues

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Kino continues its complete retooling of their Buster Keaton catalog with this latest release, a double-feature of Go West (1925) and Battling Butler (1926).

Go West (1925) is one of my favorite Keaton features, a surprisingly touching 68-minute tale with some unusual touches. Buster stars as a city slicker called "Friendless," who heeds Horace Greeley's popular advice to "go west, young man." He sells his belongings, hops a train, and finds work on a ranch. There he befriends a sweet cow called "Brown Eyes," and decides to rescue her during an impressive cattle-driving sequence that spills into the city streets.

The movie contains some of Keaton's most striking imagery, starting with the offbeat juxtapositions, such as the crowded urban sidewalks and the wide-open spaces. Perhaps more memorable is Buster's tiny, effeminate pistol, which he can barely even locate in his man-sized holster. Indeed, Buster's outfit and behavior in this movie come closer to Chaplin's "Little Tramp" than anything else he ever did.

In one amazing sequence, Keaton designed a chase with the camera providing the POV of a bull (complete with horns). But perhaps the movie's piece-de-resistance has Buster donning a red devil outfit to lead the cattle through the streets; it's a bizarre image, one of the most startling and surrealistic in all of Keaton's canon.

Most fans and critics agree that the boxing picture Battling Butler (1926) is probably Keaton's least successful picture, though it was a money-maker in its day. Based on a play, the material was a bit too literal and plot-driven to have inspired Keaton's creative juices. He plays Alfred Butler, a rich layabout whose manservant provides even the simplest tasks. ("Arrange it," Butler continually orders.)

His father orders him to go camping so that he can "become a man." But instead he meets a pretty country girl (Sally O'Neil) and falls for her. Worse, she confuses him with Alfred "Battling" Butler, a professional prizefighter. He decides to keep up the ruse, even striking a deal with the real Butler to train and fight a "killer" in the ring. The movie ends with a rather shockingly brutal dressing room brawl between the two Butlers.

The movie has a few good gags, and -- truthfully -- no Buster Keaton movie is all bad, but it just doesn't have the speed, creativity and energy of Keaton's best.

Kino released this pair on Blu-Ray and DVD. Extras include a short Hal Roach comedy, also called Go West (starring monkeys), an audio recording of Keaton working on a script proposal for the "Wagon Train" TV series, excerpts from the screenplay of an unproduced Battling Butler remake, and still galleries.

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