Battling Butler (1926)

Battling Butler (1926)

“That jellyfish couldn’t take care of himself — let alone a wife.”

While camping with his enabling butler (Snitz Edwards), a wealthy milquetoast (Buster Keaton) falls in love with a “mountain girl” (Sally O’Neill) who comes to believe he’s a champion prizefighter (Francis McDonald) with the same name.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Boxing
  • Buster Keaton Films
  • Comedy
  • Mistaken or Hidden Identities
  • Play Adaptation
  • Silent Films

Widely considered one of the “least” of Buster Keaton’s films (primarily because it’s based on a play rather than an original cinematic conceit), this nonetheless remains an enjoyable treat for silent comedy fans. Keaton, as always, is at the top of his game, consistently delighting us with one visual gag after the other: Alfred (Keaton) finding no animals available to hunt in a forest literally teeming with critters:

… Alfred’s table sinking in the mud as he romances his new love interest:

… Alfred’s wild attempts at faux-boxing with a disheartened trainer.

It’s been noted that Keaton was actually too physically dexterous (check out his muscles!) to be convincing as a weakling, but this simply makes his slapstick maneuvers all that much more impressive. Meanwhile, it’s refreshing to note that Keaton’s character originally intends to tell his girl the truth, but literally gets sucked into marriage before he can say a word; his deception thereafter is simply meant to save face in front of the love of his life, and one can’t really fault him for that.

Note: If you decide to check out the original New York Times review, be sure to read all the way to the end, where you’ll find a giggle-worthy final line advertising an accompanying short.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • The amusing opening scenes
  • Some fun visual/physical gags

Must See?
No, but like so many of Keaton’s films (even his “lesser” titles), it’s recommended. Listed as a Personal Recommendation in the back of Peary’s book.


One thought on “Battling Butler (1926)

  1. A must.

    I find it more than odd that this would be considered one of the lesser of Keaton’s films simply because it’s based on a play. Huh?! I mean, regardless, it’s always a matter of whether the end product works as a film or not.

    From start to finish, this is an immensely entertaining work – with Keaton, in seemingly effortless fashion, giving one of his most winning performances. (The entire cast is good but Keaton is way out in front.) It has a marvelously constructed script which builds nicely, has considerable payoffs and, most satisfyingly, has a twist-upon-twist ending. You really won’t see what’s coming. I find it all quite charming; I hadn’t seen it before.

    It has a traditional-play structure of three acts: in the first, we see Keaton as a man of privilege, ‘roughing it’ in the woods – when his butler has made sure he has all – all! – of the conveniences of home with him. That alone is giggle-worthy throughout. Then the plot thickens – and, once it does, things get surprisingly ‘tense’ for a comedy. Along the way, Keaton (with his characteristic sharp direction as well) doesn’t miss a comedic beat. His little touches are constant. (And his boxing training scenes are the perfect panacea for those who hate boxing movies.)

    This really is one to treasure. Rich and rewarding.

    Fave line – Keaton to O’Neill (right after their marriage ceremony, in an attempt to keep her away from any boxing match and conceal his lie about being a fighter): I want you to know me as I am – not as the brutal, blood-thirsty beast that I am when fighting.

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