BUSTER KEATON: SO FUNNY IT HURT(TV) (director/writer: Kevin Brownlow/Christopher Bird; editor: Christopher Bird; cast: James Karen (Narrator); Runtime: 38; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Patrick Stanbury; TCM; 2014)
“Enriching documentary that tells how Buster Keaton’s career was killed when in 1928, while he was the king of the comics, he signed with MGM a five year deal.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Brit film historian Kevin Brownlow and documentarian Christopher Bird co-direct a hard-hitting, enriching documentary that tells how Buster Keaton’s career was killed when in 1928, while he was the king of the comics, he signed with MGM a lucrative five year deal and it ended with him unemployable. It chronicles how the rigid MGM studio system, demanding complete control of any project, was enforced by studio head Louis B. Mayer and top creative executive Irving Thalberg. They just wanted Buster to perform and gave him no creative input into his roles. As Keaton’s friend and narrator James Karen states, they ruined the comic genius who worked best when making it up as he went along. Their insistence that Buster do wisecrack dialogue instead of his forte action comedy, was to his detriment.
That period was a bad time for Buster, whose wife Natalie Talmadge divorced him and took custody of the children and their villa. The studio and personal problems led to Buster becoming a drunk. Fortunately in 1940 he married the right woman and stayed happily married until his death in 1965.
There’s archival footage of Buster’s films from 1928 to 1933, that include The Cameraman (1928) and What! No Beer (1933).
REVIEWED ON 7/4/2015 GRADE: B
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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