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SAPHEAD, THE (directors: Herbert Blach/Winchell Smith; screenwriters: from the play The New Henrietta by Winchell Smith and Victor Mapes/June Mathis/Bronson Howard/Victor Mapes; cinematographer: Harold Wenstrom; music: Robert Israel; cast: Edward Jobson (Reverend Murray Hilton), Beulah Booker (Agnes Gates), Edward Connelly (Mr. Musgrave), Edward Alexander (Watson Flint), Irving Cummings (Mark Turner), Odette Taylor (Mrs. Cornelia Opdyke), Carol Holloway (Rose Turner), Jack Livingston (Dr. George Wainright), William H. Crane (Nicholas Van Alstyne), Buster Keaton (Bertie Van Alstyne); Runtime: 77; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: John Golden/Marcus Loew/Winchell Smith; Kino; 1920-silent)

“Slightly amusing.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Metro films borrowed Buster Keaton with permission from his backer Joseph M. Schenck. Previously Buster was working with Fatty Arbuckle on two-reel comedy shorts. This was the slapstick comedian’s first chance to star in a feature-length film, and was the big break he was looking for. The Saphead is based on the old-fashioned melodramatic play The New Henrietta by Winchell Smith and Victor Mapes. In 1915 Douglas Fairbanks starred in the first film version of the play entitled The Lamb. Director Herbert Blach blandly directs and writers June Mathis and Bronson Howard never get enough comedy or big moments out of it, nevertheless despite its stagey creakiness retains a slight charm and is slightly amusing.

Bertie Van Alstyne (Buster Keaton) is the hapless scatterbrained but good-hearted spoiled son of Wall Street tycoon Nick Van Alstyne (William H. Crane). Dad objects to his idler son marrying his sweet ward Agnes Gates (Beulah Booker), and kicks him out of the house but gives him $100,000 to buy a seat on the stock market in the hopes he makes something of himself.

The slimy evil stock broker Mark Turner (Irving Cummings), Nick’s son-in-law, palms off his love letters and that he sired an illegitimate child with a woman named Henrietta to the unsuspecting virgin Bertie and lets the destitute woman die without giving her a cent. When Nick goes on a sailing vacation, Mark steals his Henrietta Mine securities and sells them off. This causes the stock to plummet. Mark plans to become rich by buying back the stock when it reaches a bottom low, only his plan is foiled when Bertie, visiting the NYSE for the first time, is advised by his dad’s broker (Edward Alexander) to buy back the stock. The result is Bertie saves his dad from bankruptcy, becomes rich overnight and wins the girl.

After a long dry spell, the film explodes with some good Buster physical comedy in the chaotic climax scene set at the Stock Exchange.

REVIEWED ON 10/26/2011 GRADE: B-

Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”