Combustible Celluloid
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With: Buster Keaton, Kathleen Myers, Howard Truesdale, Ray Thompson, Brown Eyes, Anne Cornwall, Harold Goodwin, Flora Bramley, Snitz Edwards, Florence Turner
Written by: Buster Keaton, Lex Neal, Raymond Cannon, Bryan Foy, Carl Harbaugh
Directed by: Buster Keaton, James W. Horne
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 128
Date: 12/08/2020

The Buster Keaton Collection: Volume 4 (2020)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Schooled by Buster

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Kino Lorber released the latest volume in the Cohen Film Collection's Buster Keaton double features; this one contains Go West (1925) and College (1927).

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.

Then, after the failure of his masterpiece The General (1927), Buster Keaton went back to less risky material with College (1927), subsequently one of his minor efforts.

Buster plays a smart, bookish student with a disdain for athletics. But his girl (Anne Cornwall) prefers athletes, so he heads to Clayton to try and impress her. He tries out for several teams including track and baseball, and fails miserably at them. But to afford Clayton, he must also work, and his attempts at being a soda jerk and a waiter (disturbingly, in blackface) likewise fail. Finally, the dean wants to know what's going on, sympathizes with Buster's plight, and makes him the coxswain of the school rowing team, where Buster's inner hero finally comes out.

The best moments are in the athletic sequences, though nothing here is quite as sublime as his solo baseball game in The Cameraman (1928). Likewise, Harold Lloyd had already explored this material in an earlier film, The Freshman (1925). Yet Keaton finds some great moments here and there, and creates a perfectly watchable comedy, not at a level with his best, but certainly at a level with anyone else's best.

Extras on the Blu-ray 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, and new re-release trailers for both films.

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