College (1927)

“Anyone prefers an athlete to a weak-knee’d, teachers’ pet.”

Synopsis:
A nerdy high school graduate (Buster Keaton) follows his dream girl (Anne Cornwall) to college, where he attempts to impress her by trying out a variety of sports — but his clumsiness foils him time and again.

Genres:

Review:
As noted by Chris Edwards in his “Silent Volume” blog, College is partially undone by its very premise: how can one of the most athletically toned, physically agile actors of all time successfully convince us that he’s no good at sports? Well, the same dilemma held true to a certain extent in Keaton’s Battling Butler (1926), but it’s much more prominent here, given that nearly the entire film is spent showing his character failing time and again at each sport he attempts. Naturally, none of this takes away from the intrinsic joy of watching Keaton perform: he’s the most skillful and precise klutz you’ll ever see (and to be fair, some of what he fails at is simply understanding the rules of the game). At any rate, College‘s storyline — directly inspired by the success of Harold Lloyd’s The Freshman (1925) — ultimately feels more like a series of gags than a well-rounded storyline; however, its finale — when Keaton’s character (in classic form) suddenly shows his mettle in a crisis — is truly inspired. Watch for an infamous final shot (which I’ll admit I don’t fully “get”; what, exactly, was Keaton’s point, other than to shock? or to simply imply “The End”?).

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • The soda jerk sequence
  • Many impressive physical stunts
  • The inspired finale

Must See?
No, though naturally (like all of Keaton’s films) it’s recommended. Listed as a Personal Recommendation in the back of Peary’s book.

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One Response to “College (1927)”

  1. Not a must.

    ~although it is consistently amusing. The main ‘problem’, as I see it, is not that Keaton looks too physically fit to be bad at sports – but that audiences are all too familiar with the sports/athletics on display. Since the joke each time is that Keaton will simply do the opposite of what’s expected of an athlete, there’s little by way of real surprise. We can pretty much see what’s coming. That said, each failure of Keaton’s is still charming because it is *Keaton* who is failing in his own adorable way. (I should add, though, that there is one delightfully unexpected bit of athleticism on Keaton’s part when he’s steering during a boat race. As well, the soda jerk sequence lends itself more to spontaneity.)

    By far, the best part of the film comes with the last five minutes – when Keaton proves he can do anything when faced with saving his true love. (~which makes the tacked-on coda that much more strange: the implication seems cynical; a flash-card montage implying that ‘true love’ is not all it’s cracked up to be).

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