(director: John Blystone/Buster Keaton; screenwriters: Jean Havez/Joseph Mitchell/Clyde Bruckman; cinematographer: Gordon Jennings/Elgin Lessley; cast: Buster Keaton (William McKay), Natalie Talmadge (Virginia Canfield), Buster Keaton, Jr. (The Baby), Joe Keaton (Lem Doolittle), Kitty Bradbury (Aunt Mary), Joe Roberts (Joseph Canfield), Craig Ward (Lee Canfield), Ralph Bushman (Clayton Canfield), Edward Coxen (John McKay), Jean Dumas (Mrs. McKay), Monte Collins (Reverend Benjamin Dorsey), James Duffy (Sam Gardner); Runtime: 70; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Joseph M. Schenck; Kino Video; 1923-silent)
“Buster Keaton’s second feature as an independent is a gem.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Buster Keaton’s second feature as an independent is a gem. It’s a very funny satire of the Hatfield and McCoy family feud, substituting the Canfields and the McKays. It’s set in the Old South in the early 1800s, so to keep it authentic looking Buster built a genuine replica of an early steam locomotive, the “Stephenson Rocket,” and also the very first bicycle called the “Gentleman’s Hobby-Horse.” His penchant for meticulous detail is also with the period costumes and the different kind of pistols used at the time. Buster’s athleticism shines in a number of sketches, especially in the daring acrobatic rescue of the heroine from a waterfall (actually California’s Truckee River). Known for doing all his own stunts, Buster really shines here. The heroine, Virginia Canfield, is played by Natalie Talmadge (the sister of silent screen great Norma and Buster’s real-life wife).
The prologue is set in 1810, where John McKay is killed in his cabin during a shootout with the rival Canfields. His widow leaves with her infant son (Buster’s real one-year-old) for NYC. When mom dies, he’s raised by his aunt. In 1831, the now adult Buster is informed of his inheritance of his family’s estate and takes a train trip (Buster’s dad Joe is the engineer) down South to his family’s birthplace to see what he inherited (it will turn out to be a rundown shack). During the arduous and bumpy train trip he meets a pretty young lady,Virginia, returning to her hometown of Rockville after a visit to NYC and she invites him to dinner. They don’t realize that they are from feuding families, but her father Joseph and two brothers do. Dad offers Buster “our hospitality,” Southern style, which means he’s safe while in the house but not when he leaves. Buster contrives to become a permanent guest, and when he’s forced to leave has to dodge the bullets from the Canfield males. Only after rescuing Virginia in the rushing river and marrying her, does the clan feud end.
This delightful adventure tale is up there with the greatest ever in comedies. It also did quite well at the box office, taking in a respectful half a million dollars.
REVIEWED ON 9/2/2007 GRADE: A