FREE AND EASY(director: Edward Sedgwick; screenwriters: Al Boasberg/Paul Dickey/Richard Schayer; cinematographer: Leonard Smith; editor: William LeVanway; music: Fred E. Ahlert/Roy Turk; cast: Buster Keaton (Elmer Butts), Anita Page (Elvira Plunkett), Trixie Friganza (Ma Plunkett), Robert Montgomery (Larry Mitchell), Fred Niblo (Director Niblo), Edgar Dearing (Officer), Lionel Barrymore (Himself), Karl Dane (Himself), Dorothy Sebastian (Herself), Cecil B. DeMille (Himself), William Haines (Himself), John Miljan (Himself), David Burton (Himself), Gwen Lee (Herself), Jackie Coogan (Himself); Runtime: 95; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Edward Sedgwick; MGM; 1930)
“Buster Keaton bombs in his talkie debut.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Buster Keaton bombs in his talkie debut. It’s an unfunny slapstick comedy that satires MGM for its superficiality in the way it hires and fires its actors (in actuality it’s a chance for the studio to self-congratulate itself and advertise its stars). It’s also filled with too many bad musical numbers that seem to go on endlessly. Keaton is like a fish out of water in this new medium. In the three years time under MGM, the once independent comedian lost creative control for a lucrative contract and would go from being a superstar in the silent era to a forgotten man in the talkies. Veteran Keaton director Edward Sedgwick (“Speak Easily”/”Doughboys”/ “The Cameraman”) can do nothing with this misdirected farce; it’s that bad.
Accident-prone gas-station attendant Elmer Butts (Buster Keaton) accompanies by train recent Gopher City, Kansas, beauty contest winner Elvira Plunkett (Anita Page) and her overbearing mother Mrs. Plunkett (Trixie Friganza) to Tinseltown, where the town has appointed him to be her manager as she tries to become a Hollywood actress. Upon arrival at the Hollywood studio, the bumbling Elmer gets a chance to run loose on the sets of MGM as he must sneak in since no one gave him a pass and inadvertently disrupts their daily routine by stumbling onto sets during a shoot, blowing up one set, ruining a dance sequence in another, knocking over props in still another, appearing to converse with studio executives huddled together who don’t even acknowledge his presence in order to avoid a pursuing security guard, blowing a screen test in which he repeatedly can’t say the single line “The queen has swooned,” and causing all kinds of other mischief as the gate security guard chases him all over the back lot. The befuddled manager never gets around to spitting it out to Elvira that he loves her, but his rival Larry Mitchell (Robert Montgomery) does and the Hollywood star in the end wins the failed actress. Elmer gets the consolation prize, as he’s awarded a studio contract to star in their latest musical comedy and the film ends featuring the new film’s musical numbers of “Free and Easy” and “It Must Be You.”
I wish I could say that I found something about this showbiz comedy even slightly amusing since I count myself as a Keaton fan, but nothing could save this lame backstage variety show that took its great physical comedian and made him feel uncomfortable in front of the microphone–not even a number of cameos from some Hollywood stars could make this turkey tasty.
REVIEWED ON 9/23/2007 GRADE: C
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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