“Say, Mr. Detective: before you clean up any mysteries, clean up this theater!”
A movie projectionist (Buster Keaton) is falsely accused of stealing a watch owned by the father (Joe Keaton) of the girl he’s in love with (Kathryn McGuire), and soon finds out the crime was really committed by his rival (Ward Crane). While napping on the job, Keaton imagines himself entering into the movie he’s projecting, where he takes on the persona of a suave detective and attempts to solve a jewelry heist, also committed by Crane.
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
- Amateur Sleuths
- Buster Keaton Films
- Falsely Accused
- Love Triangle
- Silent Films
Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary points out that this “dazzling, surreal comedy” — the “most technically innovative feature of the silent era” — had at the time of his book’s publication “finally achieved [the] masterpiece status” it so richly deserves. He notes that, like in Woody Allen’s The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985) (which clearly “borrowed [this film’s] daring premise”), it “explores the nature of film, both as an art form and as a world to which those with wild imaginations can escape…; it treads the fine line between dream and reality, art and life”. In sum, it’s a movie film fanatics will readily embrace, and see much of themselves in.
After discussing the “brilliantly conceived and edited scene” in which Keaton “dreams that he walks toward the screen and climbs into the action”, Peary highlights just a few of the film’s many others “great moments” — including “Keaton riding on the handlebars of a fast-moving, driverless motorcycle, [Keaton] playing expert pool, and, in a bit you have to see to believe, [Keaton] escaping during a chase sequence by diving into a small case held by a peddler woman (actually his male assistant) and apparently disappearing through her body”. He labels the action in the film “furiously paced, inventive, [and] stupefying”, and ends his review by noting that this “picture is proof positive that Keaton was more in control of and in love with the film medium than Chaplin”. (Ah, the enduring Chaplin-versus-Keaton wars — even Peary, an avowed Chaplin fan, clearly can’t help taking a stance.)
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- The hilarious “lost dollar” sequence
- Keaton’s initial entry onto the screen
- The billiard ball sequence
- The vaudevillian peddler-woman sequence
- The expertly timed chase scene
- The quietly knowing and hilarious final sequence
Yes, as one of Keaton’s greatest films — and that’s saying a lot!
(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)