Ten Killer Bits from The Great Stoneface, Buster Keaton

I won't pull any punches here. Buster's comedy is timeless.

I haven’t been shy about my professing my appreciation of Buster Keaton here at TDYLF. I haven’t exactly mentioned it for a few months but it shouldn’t reflect at all on my opinion of the guy. It doesn’t matter how awful, or grouchy, or stressed out I feel. I can always fire up a Keaton film- a short or otherwise- and it serves as a U-Turn sign for my mood. Here are my ten favorite Keaton bits. And understand, narrowing it down to only ten was extremely difficult for me.

1. A Million Angry Brides, Seven Chances
It’s such an insanely long and amazing chase scene that I couldn’t even include it in one youtube clip. It requires two. It starts around the 2:44 mark in the first clip and carries on into the second video. The first time I saw this, I’d bet that I pissed off my neighbor from all the noise I was making laughing at this.

And clip two:

2. Monkeyin’ Around, The Playhouse
When I showed this to my dad, I thought he was going to piss in his pants. Disregard the voiceovers.

3. Chariots of Buster, Three Ages
Unfortunately, all I can find is the full length film on the youtubes. If you’re patient enough, it kicks in around the 33 minute mark when Buster is forced to survive a chariot race. And while everyone else in the race has horses, Buster has sled dogs… and uses a cat tied to a stick to motivate them.

4. Monkey Business, The Cameraman
This time, it’s an actual monkey that steals the show. Of course, the monkey adds a ton to the humor but it wouldn’t be the same without Keaton to play off of him. It starts around the 1:30 mark. Buster works for a news agency, and he and his monkey sidekick have lost a critical piece of footage. The error has cost him his job. And then… the monkey saves the day.

5. Not a Ghost of a Chance, The Haunted House
When I told my friend Marty that I was making this list, he said “Be sure to include a clip where he plays dead”. And here it is. This clip is great because it illustrates a lot of great aspects of Keaton’s humor. First, it shows off the physical side, that he’d take any fall and bust his ass countless times for yuks. Second, it also shows his ability to deadpan- to stay “stone faced”, as it were, amid a sea of chaos. And last but not least, it shows him playing dead, at the very end of the clip.

6. Train in Vain, The General
This was the first Keaton movie I ever saw, it’s his most iconic, and it should give you a great idea what his daredevil stunts (intended for humor) are all about. The “oh shit!” moment when he realizes that he inadvertently has a loaded cannon pointed at him, and he pointed it at himself (at the 4:00 mark) is precisely the moment that I realized I’d found something that’d make me go nuts. The highjinx in general start around 2:00.

7. Read my Lips, The Boat
Early in the film, Buster is building a boat, and he hopes to launch off to sea on it along with his wife and kid. The boat is curiously named “Damfino”. “How”, I first thought, “is that pronounced? Dom-fee-no? I don’t get it.” As the short film progressed, the boat winds up lost at sea amid a horrible storm. Upon finally finding dry land, around the 9 minute mark, his wife asks “Where are we?”

(side note- in my opinion, this is his best short among many great shorts)

8. Horrible Carpentry, Steamboat Bill, Jr.
This one was almost literally a “killer bit”. If he had been standing an inch or two in the wrong direction, the face of the house would’ve squashed him. Many of the people on set at the time actually left the set for this scene, anticipating disaster. It stands now as one of the most iconic clips in Hollywood history.

9. I Always Feel Like Somebody’s Waaaaatching Meeeee, Sherlock, Jr.
How many times have you seen this schtick in a cartoon? I’m not positive that this is where it started but it wouldn’t surprise me in the least.

10. The Shooting Gallery, The High Sign
Buster uses a dog to rig a shooting gallery, and it works until a black cat brings him some bad luck. It’s simple, and it’s fantastic.

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Filed under Humor, Movies

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