If there ever was a golden age of comedy, it was the 1920’s. Three geniuses led the way: Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd. There were others of course, Harry Langdon, Laurel and Hardy, Snub Pollard, Mabel Normand, Larry Semon and Fatty Arbuckle among others. But it was the top three who reached the exhalted status of genius. Of the three, there was always a battle on who was the greatest. Lloyd always seemed to take the third spot. No disgrace considering the talent of the other two. Between Chaplin and Keaton, it’s always been a matter of individual taste. Chaplin was the sentimental artist with a social conscience. Keaton’s comedy was always more cerebral. I personally love both and have always went back and forth on who I thought was better. I have resigned myself to the fact that they both share the top spot.
You can read my first post in this series here.
Here is my list of favorite comedies from the 1920’s.
Stan and Ollie were masters of the reciprocal art of mass destruction. A minor disagreement escalates into an all out war. Many of their shorts were based on this formula, but Big Business never lets you down. Stan and Ollie are Christmas tree salesman in California. The customer is the great Jimmy Finlayson who does not want a tree. It builds up slowly but by the end of the film, the boys car is completely demolished and Jimmy’s house has seen better days.
An ode to the world of filmmaking. Like Sherlock Jr. this is a film about an artist looking inward at himself and his art. It was Keaton’s first film for MGM and not directed by him. However, while officially directed by Edward Sedgwick, Keaton’s foot prints are all over the film. Buster, who liked to improvise, was forced by the MGM honchos to have a completed script along with all the jokes and pratfalls worked out in advance. Still, there is a feeling that Keaton managed to work in some inspiring improvisational moments during the making of the film, despite all the corporate overseeing and demands. The Cameraman ranks up there with Keaton’s best work. The corporate interference was sadly a sign of things to come.
One of Buster Keaton’s masterpieces! A masterful study of one man’s athletic stunts and brilliant inventive gags meshing together perfectly. The action scenes are so good they work on their own as just plain thrilling.
The Gold Rush
The Gold Rush is filled with iconic images like the “dancing rolls,” boiling and eating one of his boots for dinner, and waking up one morning after a fierce snowstorm to find his cabin teetering on the edge of a cliff. These images are at times poignant, sweet and always laugh out loud funny. They are embedded in our cinematic file cabinet as deeply as Bogart and Bergman’s final goodbye in Casablanca or Rocky Balboa running up the steps as the soundtrack plays Gonna Fly Now in Rocky.
Country bumpkin Lloyd leaves home, saying goodbye to Mom and promising his girl they will soon marry. He heads to the big city where he plans to become a big success. The famous scene where Harold is hanging on a clock outside a tall building is just one of many stunts the comedian performed.
Buster Keaton’s greatest film. A stunning, cleverly funny, visually poetic work of art that was way ahead of its time. A surrealistic trip through the magical world of film. As a film projectionist at a local cinema who wants to be a detective, Keaton sits next to the projector imaging himself as the film’s hero. Made in 1924, Keaton evokes the audiences strong love affair with movies exploring the boundaries between fantasy and reality.
Steamboat Bill Jr.