Tuesday, March 20, 2012

79. SHERLOCK JR. (1924)

A charming miniature, only 44 minutes and change, that finds Buster Keaton spinning a simple story of romantic rivalry into endless cinematic invention and inquiry. He plays a daydreamy film projectionist competing with a more prosperous, more ruthless scoundrel (Ward Crane) for the hand of a lady fair (Kathryn McGuire), who is framed by his rival for the theft of the girl's father's pocketwatch. While projecting a mystery film, he fantasizes stepping into the movie, assuming the identity of the dapper detective Sherlock Jr., and solving the case. Meanwhile, in real life, his beloved sees through her deception.

It's obviously not the story which has kept SHERLOCK JR. so fresh over the years, nor is its humor, since it's not quite so laugh-out-loud funny as some other Keaton treasures. The reason for its timelessness is the way it looks back, as a movie, at itself and how well it understands the roles that movies play in people's lives, and -- as the conclusion slyly suggests -- the confusion the movies once permitted by not telling us everything about life. The movie's final laugh, which must have been truly uproarious at one time, comes from acknowledging a secret shared by a whole audience of people sitting together in the dark.

As far as American movies go, SHERLOCK JR. is pretty much the beginning of our fantasies about crossing the proscenium into the world of motion pictures and, as such, it stands as the innocent forerunner of everything from Chuck Jones' "Duck Amuck" to VIDEODROME and RING.

Viewed on Netflix, but also available on DVD (with THREE AGES) from Kino Lorber.

1 comment:

  1. My favorite Buster film. For me, more brilliant and affecting than The General or The Navigator (though it's close).