Caftan Woman

Caftan Woman

Sunday, February 8, 2015

The First Annual Buster Keaton Blogathon: Neighbors (1920)



You have to love a blogathon that is billed as "The First Annual", especially when the subject is Buster Keaton and the host is Silent-Ology! All the fun can be found by clicking here.

It ain't exactly the Montagues and the Capulets, but The Boy and The Girl in the 1920s romantic-comedy short, Neighbors, certainly have their problems.  And those troubles are told with a series of breathtaking gags that leave audiences screaming with laughter.  It was that way when I enjoyed a big screen triple bill of Neighbors, The Balloonatic and Sherlock Jr. a few years ago.  While I enjoy watching a Keaton movie in the comfort of my own home, nothing tops the camaraderie of laughing with crowd of Buster fans, the new and the old.

Edward F. Cline
(1891 - 1961)

Neighbors was written and directed by Buster Keaton and Eddie Cline.  The pair of comic geniuses collaborated on 19 shorts in the years between 1920 and 1923.  They were a perfect match.  Eddie, the former keystone cope and gag man, is responsible for lots of laughs through his work with Mack Sennett through to W.C. Fields.

 
 Buster Keaton as The Boy

The Flower of Love could find no more romantic spot in which to blossom than in this poet's Dream Garden.
- title card

The tenement section of a big city is home to The Boy who pines for The Girl on the other side of the fence.  Her Father, played by big Joe Roberts, Buster's perfect foil in 16 movies, is the blustery type.  He doesn't approve of the romance and tosses daughters and suitors about like so much confetti.  His Father, played by Joe Keaton is the combative type who fights as he breathes.  The lengths to which The Boy goes to reach his girl using the fence between the houses, the clothes lines and telephone wires is mind-boggling.  When you watch someone in a movie today sliding down the wires, bouncing up to third story windows or balancing on a beam, you immediately think CGI.  In Neighbors it's all Buster!

Virginia Fox as The Girl

We have a black-face gag which at first was greeted with uncomfortable twitters from the audience, but eventually the crowd just relaxed and went with it.  Stuck upside down in the mud The Boy accosts a cop, played by Eddie Cline, who starts looking for the culprit with the black face.  Having washed his face, The Boy is ignored while the cop tries to take in a black man who was passing by.  The innocent bystander escapes and The Boy has now had a bucket of tar dropped on his head.  Aha!  He's spotted by the cop, but The Boy manages to wipe half his face, looking like Frank Gorshin or Lou Antonio in Star Trek: Let That Be Your Last Battlefield.  The Boy confuses the heck out of the cop and makes good his escape.  Eventually though, one stunt too many sends The Boy right into the back of a Paddy Wagon.


Joe Keaton, Buster Keaton, Jack Duffy, Virginia Fox, Joe Roberts

After going to court to end their troubles, they have a wedding to start more.
- title card

In court, the Judge, played by Jack Duffy, an actor and make-up man who specialized in playing old duffers, agrees to marry The Girl to The Boy in hopes of calming down these trouble-making feuding families.  The Girl is resplendent in her wedding gown.  The Boy, in a borrowed suit of the wrong size, has trouble keeping his pants up.  The dining room table displays the wedding gifts, prominent among them a copy of World Heavyweight Champion Jim Corbett's "How to Box".  Cracks me up!


Buster and the Flying Escalantes do their stuff!

The wedding has many surprises, and ups and downs, but Her Father calls the whole thing off when he sees the cheap Woolworth's ring that is being offered.  The Girl is dragged back to the other side of the fence.  The Boy and his friends (brothers?) played by the circus act The Flying Escalantes thrill with their acrobatic feats bringing true hearts together.

Neighbors may be classified a short, but in laughs and thrills it is epic.

   

25 comments:

  1. I loved this movie and I'm glad to see it as part of the Buster Keaton blogathon.

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    1. So pleased to know another fan. Thanks.

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  2. Maybe I'd feel different if I saw this one, but I just don't buy Keaton as a romantic lead. I prefer him when he's doing his crazy stunts... although this sounds like it has a fair amount of stunts as well.

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    1. You haven't seen enough Keaton then! He is a great romantic lead along with his crazy stunts. You are fortunate in that you have much to discover while being armed with some knowledge. Enjoy!

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    2. Rich, you don't have to worry about Buster and the romance. The romance conforms distinctly to Buster's style.

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  3. I think Keaton's early self-directed shorts are some of my favourites. I love how his character develops through them and to see how much he developed from Arbuckle's side-kick. The wedding scene is up there with my all-time favourite comedy moments.
    (Also, I think Buster's dad here was his real-life father, Joe Keaton?)

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    1. Yes indeedy, that is Joe Keaton playing the Pop.

      I'm a shorts fan as well. Filled with so many wonderful ideas and so much fun.

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  4. How wonderful to see Buster Keaton on the big screen!

    This sounds like a terrific Buster Keaton film. I love that he frequently used Joe Roberts in his movies – they really played well off each other, didn't they?

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    1. Toronto is a great town for classic movies, particularly from the silent era. We are blessed in many opportunities to enjoy Buster on the big screen.

      Joe Roberts is the perfect Keaton foil. I like to think the Company was totally in sync with each other.

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  5. Thanks for giving one of my favorite BK shorts a plug, CW.

    Have you seen Buster's 1934 short Allez Oop? It reunites him with those Flying Escalantes.

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    1. I don't recall seeing it, but will get on it right away as I was mightily impressed with the Escalantes. Thanks!

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  6. Your love of this fun film comes across really well in this review! And I completely sympathize--the gags and the quick pace are just irresistible. I'm glad you were able to see it with a like-minded audience too. The one blackface gag you mentioned seems awkward on the surface, but it's more a play on the idea of mistaken identities than anything to do with race anyways. Thanks for submitting this great review to the blogathon!

    --Lea S.

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    2. Thanks for reading and commenting. When the cop is the butt of the joke, it always works!

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  7. Love this movie and Buster Keaton is one of my favorite silent stars! GREAT ARTICLE!

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    1. Thanks. "Neighbors" always brings the laughs. Buster certainly knew his business.

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  9. Hi Caftan Woman. I was happy to see your name on the list, and you picked a wonderful movie to write about. "How to Box" was a nice subtle gag. Getting buster to his girl at the end is a great feat. Thanks for sharing with all of us.

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    1. You put a big smile on my face today, Joe. I was the only one in the theatre who guffawed at the "Corbett" gag and I was far from the oldest in the crowd.

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  10. A few weeks ago, when my internet was down, I rewatched Neighbors. It was even better then thee first time. I wonder how it would be in a big screen. Oh, and I also want to show this short to my mom, who only knows Keaton by name. Maybe I can bring her to the classic film community, too?
    Don't forget to read my contribution to the blogathon! :)
    Kisses!
    http://www.criticaretro.blogspot.com.br/2015/02/keaton-fala.html

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    1. Speaking as a mom, we love it when our daughters want to share movies and shows with us. If she has your sense of humour, she'll love "Neighbors".

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  11. Great article! Buster's silents are pure magic - this one being no exception. He was such a darling.

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    1. Buster certainly had something special. All these years later he gets more and more popular.

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  12. I love this movie. You can't go wrong with Buster any time, I suppose, but I love this movie. Epic, indeed.

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