Friday, June 20, 2014

The Films of Buster Keaton: 1920-1923 Short Films Ranked

I’ve gone over all 19 of the Keaton shorts that he made between 1920-23 – before he started his feature career. So, I guess I should rank them. From worst to best, this is how I see them – and why. I wouldn’t describe any as truly bad, but some are certainly much better than others.

19. Convict 13 (1920) – A film that isn’t very funny, and is actually downright violent at times, it left a bad taste in my mouth.

18. The Balloonatic (1923) – Slow and dull – and longer than most of the others – Keaton never quite figures out how to work with a woman as an equal.

17. My Wife’s Relations (1922) -  A rather obvious comedy, with a silly premise, that has moments where Keaton devises a scheme to hit his “wife” and ends with her family of barbarians trying to kill him. Just not that funny.

16. The Frozen North (1922)  - A parody of movies mostly forgotten, the movie doesn’t work as well if you don’t know what he’s mocking – and I didn’t.

15. The Haunted House (1921)  - Two premises – Keaton works at a bank, and Keaton in a house he at first thinks is haunted – are grafted together. Some things work wonderfully, but overall a little disappointing.

14. The Love Nest (1923) – Some inspired gags, that act as a precursor to what he would do better in The Navigator – a fine film, just not among his best.

13. The 'High Sign' (1921) – The first one he made – although he held it because he was slightly disappointed in it. Mainly funny, but not top notch.

12. The Paleface (1922)  - If you can get past the redface and the racial stereotypes, actually quite funny. That’s a big if though.

11. The Blacksmith (1922) – Not particularly inspired, but always funny from beginning to end.

10. The Electric House (1922) – A lot of great sight gags in Keaton’s house of endless invention.

9. Hard Luck (1921)  - I prefer the first part when he tries to kill himself in various ways – to the later half – but the whole thing works.

8. The Boat (1921)   - Funny from beginning to end, as Keaton destroys everything his family owns.

7. The Scarecrow (1920)  - The breakfast table sequences, full of pulleys, is one of the best in Keaton’s career – and elevates the whole movie.

6. Daydreams (1922) – Unfortunately, some of this film is lost. What isn’t is inspired genius.

5. Cops (1922)  - An extended chase sequence that is among the best of Keaton’s career full of extended chase sequences.

4. The Play House (1921)  - A technical marvel, with Keaton in multiple roles. Is this a precursor to Being John Malkovich? You do have to expect some (thankfully short) blackface though.

3. Neighbors (1920) – A lot of inspired gags, with Keaton going back and forth between tenement houses contains some of Keaton’s best stunt work ever.

2. The Goat (1921) – Basically a live action Looney Toons cartoon – with Keaton at his very best.

1. One Week (1920)  - The first one he released remains the best – as Keaton tries desperately to build a house shipped to him by IKEA’s 1920s counterpart. There isn’t a sequence here that isn’t brilliant.

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