The Buster Keaton Collection is a must for any fan of the short film, slapstick classic comedy, and the great Stone Face farce genius of Buster Keaton even if the heavy-handed direction by Jules White takes some of the funny away. The Buster Keaton Collection features 10 short comedy features Keaton made between 1939 and 1941 for Columbia Pictures when his life was getting back on track. Sony Home Entertainment has released these as a 2 DVD set that includes the original screenplay reproduction for the 1941 short She's Oil Mine, a nice curiosity. The picture quality is crisp and bright with no visible scratches or dust particles in most of the shorts although a couple of the shorts seem to be missing a frame or two but that is nothing to interfere at all with the viewing experience.
Buster Keaton was the great pratfall, slapstick comic actor and The Buster Keaton Collection proves it without a doubt. It is a shame the comic short reel is no longer something the major studios and theater owners favor (instead you get seventeen minutes of previews and commercials) because this genre could definitely help Hollywood's dwindling box office receipts.
Instead, theater goers and comedy DVD buyers get an expensive ninety minute movie where only some fifteen minutes is actually funny; a good example of that is any Jim Carrey movie. Buster Keaton dispensed with the filler story modern viewers get and concentrated his efforts on the short gags that made up the entire short film.
General Nuisance, co-starring Keaton favorites Dorothy Appleby and ham actress Elsie Ames as the good-looking girl and her plain friend, has millionaire Buster Keaton joining the army so he can get close to cute nurse Appleby. This short features a great and very funny gag where a sergeant and a doctor trying to get Keaton to undress for his physical, a bad musical number although the pratfalls by Keaton and Ames are very funny, a couple of exterior running around and being pushed in a wheelbarrow gags, and a very funny, almost cartoonish scene in the military hospital where nurse Ames tries to set the weight that holds Keaton's broken leg up in the air. It is not a good idea to eat or drink anything during General Nuisance unless you like to propel food and drink through your nose.
His Ex Marks The Spot, with Dorothy Appleby and Elsie Ames, finds Keaton married to Appleby and trying to get his ex (Ames) and her boyfriend to move in with them so he can stop paying alimony. This Buster Keaton short is where the splices are evident. This short reeler features a sleeping on the luggage gag and the roll-up pants bit
Mooching Through Georgia is a Civil War based Keaton short where Keaton and his brother wear the confederate uniform, the union uniform, the confederate uniform and so on because the town they live in keeps changing sides. This one features a great execution gag.
Nothing But Pleasure has Keaton and wife Appleby take a bus to Detroit so they can save a few bucks on a new car and have a few riding the bus gags. Buster immediately crashes the car in the showroom window, the car parked behind him, and penniless, steals food from a farmer. The couple hides out in a motel next to some bank robbers. This Keaton short is okay. The bus gag is great but the rest is average, relatively speaking of course. We are talking Buster Keaton.
Pardon My Berth Marks has really old cub reporter Keaton follow a dame (Appleby) to Reno where she is going to divorce her mobster boyfriend. All three find themselves in the sleeper car and the usual laughter ensues with a parrot thrown in for extra laughs.
Pest From The West is the first two-reeler Buster Keaton made for Columbia (1939). He plays a millionaire who falls in love with Conchita, a three-timing Mexican girl (Lorna Gray). This Keaton short is the one with the gag of Keaton constantly running off his boat and falling in the water so he has to keep changing outfits. Funny stuff. According to expert David Weddle, this one is a tight version of The Invader, a feature film Keaton made in Britain.
The Buster Keaton Collection features commentary tracks by David Weddle, Ed Wolz, and by Patricia Tobias and Joe Adamson. This is a rare case where the commentary is interesting and useful. This is particularly true of the rich behind the scenes, biographical, and incidental information Weddle adds to many of the shorts.
Disc 2 of The Buster Keaton Collection opens with the last short Keaton made for Columbia, She's Oil Mine. Elsie Ames hams it up as usual as a rich oil heiress who is trying to flee suitor Eddie Laughton by hiding in a plumbing supply store run by Keaton and silent film second banana Monty Collins. This Keaton short features a few gags recycled from his Fatty Arbuckle days and echoes of an earlier Keaton short Passionate Plumber. This one features a bunch of jokes centered around heavy and dangerous plumbing tools, a fixing the shower scene, and a classic moment where Keaton gets his finger caught in a pipe and Collins simply unscrews Keaton out of it.
So You Won't Squawk? is the only Keaton short in this collection directed by Del Lord. It is one of the best here with quite a few very funny telephone gags, and where Keaton gets shot at, left in a running car, thrown out of a high-rise and left hanging for dear life. It also features a great chase scene where Keaton steals a cop car and tries to get as many policemen as possible to chase him to the crook's hideout. The chase scenes show some wear and tear and the commentary reveals there is one gag cut out of this one.
The Spook Speaks with Elsie Ames and Dorothy Appleby is considered by most, according to the audio commentary by Ed Wolz, the worst of Keaton's Columbia shorts. This is probably because the story is so very thin and unbelievable and everything is there just to set up a haunted house style gag. This time, Keaton and Elsie Ames are hired as caretakers at a magician's house. Another couple, Dorothy Appleby and Don Beddoe shows up, a third couple breaks in, a penguin causes havoc, it is a dark and stormy night and the lights go out of course. The Spook Speaks is thin but worth at least a watch
The Taming Of The Snood has Buster Keaton playing a hat maker -only to throw in a few ugly hat sight gags-who gets involved with a jewel thief (Dorothy Appleby) and her drunken maid (Elsie Ames). This Keaton short is fun to watch. It is also historically important as Keaton reprises a table based gag he performed with his parents as a very young boy during his vaudeville days.
The extra feature on The Buster Keaton Collection is Buster Keaton: From Silents To Shorts, a very interesting twenty-some minute biography of sorts of old Stone Face with interviews with relatives and film experts. This is very interesting and informative.
His Ex Marks The Spot
Mooching Through Georgia
Nothing But Pleasure
Pardon My Berth Marks
Pest From The West
She's Oil Mine
So You Won't Squawk?
The Spook Speaks
The Taming Of The Snood
Buster Keaton: From Silents To Shorts featurette