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Buster Keaton Collection
DVD disk
03.15.2006 By: Jason Coleman
Buster Keaton Collection order
Jules White/Del Lord

Buster Keaton
Dorothy Appleby
Elsie Ames


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This is a complete set of ten comedic shorts by the late great Buster Keaton (also known as “The Great Stone Face”), a man who was a legend in the silent film era. These are the first of the “talkies” from the 30’s and forties, and this set fills in a gap in the career of one of the greatest comical minds of all time. It’s tons of slapstick, some stupidity, and a healthy dose of old fashioned tom foolery – all the things your mother hated!
While this is not Keaton’s best work, as by all accounts it was made when he was desperate and in need of money, it is nice to finally see these shorts that have been kept under wraps for so long. Back in late 1930’s, Columbia came to Keaton and wanted him to create a series of 10 shorts, shorts that didn’t quite have the originality and elegance of his original silent work, but a must see for all fans. So in keeping with the spirit of this highly memorable work, I’m going to review each one in the same format, welcome to reviews – in short.

Disc One:

General Nuisance (17:38): In my book, General Nuisance should have been last in this set, not first, as it’s the unfunniest of all the shorts. Playing a witless (what else!?) millionaire, Keaton falls for a girl who only likes a man in uniform, so he decides to join the army - comedy ensues. (Or it should have!) What a shame.

His Ex Marks The Spot (17:45): Definitely my favorite of all the shorts, complete with Keaton in top form, some great slapstick and physical comedy, and funny supporting players. Keaton and his new wife, who are stretched for money, decide to live with his ex-wife and boyfriend in lieu of paying alimony. A stupid premise, a stupid short and it’s funny as hell.

Mooching Through Georgia (18:41): Another gem among some stinkers, this time with Keaton and his brother playing civil war soldiers trying to outsmart the Yankees. Tactics (and funny crap!) include constantly changing soldier outfits, pretending to be shot and the old ants down the pants trick. Book ended with Keaton telling the story as an old man with a ZZ Top like beard and you got a hit filled with hilarity! (Insert laugh here!)

Nothing But Pleasure (17:20): I sense the faint smell of rotten cheese, oh, it’s this short! Keaton and wife travel to Detroit to buy a car, sounds funny, no? Exactly! With the exception of a few good bus gags, this one is nothing but painful.

Pardon My Berth Marks (18:09): This one, which has Keaton playing a mail room attendant who longs to be a reporter, starts off very flat, but eventually blossoms into something special. Keaton, by default (is there any other way!) is given an assignment and ends up on a train, where the short finally comes to life. Everything before the train moves in slow motion. (Major pun intended!)

Pest From The West (18:33): Playing, once again, a hapless millionaire, Keaton tries to woo a local Mexican beauty, who herself is just trying to make her multiple lovers jealous. This one tries way too hard, repeating some gags to the point of death, like when Keaton tries to land on the dock, but ends up in the water instead. First time, it’s funny. Second time, it’s mildly amusing. Third time and beyond, tiresome. (Point of the story – know when to say when!)

Disc Two:

She’s Oil Mine (17:28): Since the collectable Original Screenplay Reproduction is of this short, it would have been disastrous is it hadn’t been funny. Not to worry, there is funny in dem hills! Keaton plays a plumber who ends up fighting a gentleman over the affections and pocketbook of a wealthy oil heiress. When you think wacky and sub par plumbing, it’s either The Three Stooges or Keaton and this short solidifies it. A true funny bone from nip to tip!

So You Won’t Squawk (16:12): Keaton at his full slapstick best, playing a restaurant employee who is mistaken for a big shot gangster. This one throws guns, knives, and even exploding apples at the viewer just to keep them laughing. It worked! (I’d say more, but I’m laughing too hard!)

The Spook Speaks (18:29): The second worst, although some say this one is the worst of the ten shorts. Keaton is house sitting for a local magician where weird things are happening. I don’t think two laughs constitute a memorable comedic short, so no recommendation here. When the funniest gag is a penguin on roller skates (which actually isn’t funny!), you know someone needs a good ass kicking!

The Taming Of The Snood (15:46): Thankfully, the set ends off on a good note with this final short, where Keaton plays a hat shop owner who becomes unwittingly involved in a jewel heist. Add wacky hats, building ledge comedy, and a pinch of drunken maid going nuts and you have a recipe for a humorous and quirky outing. (If I was the snood, I'd consider myself tamed!)
This set is virtually commentary crazy, providing full length dialogues for every single one of the ten shorts. Again, in keeping with the shorts theme, here is a quickie look at each one.

Disc One:

General Nuisance (With Commentary by Ed Watz): Watz, who introduces himself as the author of the book The Columbia Comedy Shorts, does a half and half. Meaning half of his commentary, where he spouts interesting facts about the short and its various players is interesting for fans. The other half, where he talks about what is going on, where you can see mistakes and blunders, and when he takes long pauses just to watch – not so great. This one could have been fixed with optional trivia and facts captions instead of a full commentary.

His Ex Marks The Spot (With Commentary by David Weddle): Weddle, a film historian who has written many times about Keaton, gives a much more fascinating and intimate look at the man himself. He doesn’t talk about the short very much, but his facts on the life of Keaton are so juicy (he once spent time in a sanitarium!) that it’s totally forgivable.

Mooching Through Georgia (With Commentary by Patricia Tobias and Joe Adamson): Tobias, who is the President of The International Buster Keaton Society and her husband Adamson come from two different areas in this dialogue. Tobias is the master of actors, as she can not only recite who all the actors are in this short, but what other work they’ve done as well. While Adamson is more about the story and facts therein. The tag team is interesting, but a tad on the dry side.

Nothing But Pleasure (With Commentary by David Weddle): Weddle is back, still in top form, talking about how the film paralleled the real life of Keaton. This guy really has the inside moola! (Should’ve let him do all the commentaries!)

Pardon My Berth Marks (With Commentary by Ed Watz): Watz loosens up a little on this one, not taking so many long breaks. This time it’s 75% interesting, 25% the other. Getting better Ed!

Pest From The West (With Commentary by David Weddle): Love ya Dave! (But stop listing your credits with every new short!) Some interesting Keaton history and short tidbits, fans rejoice!

Disc Two:

She’s Oil Mine (With Commentary by Ed Watz): Ed makes enough anecdotes and facts that you can forgive his rather wry delivery, his best one yet. (I still vote for optional captioned fun facts!)

So You Won’t Squawk (With Commentary by Patricia Tobias and Joe Adamson): Joe really knows his stuff, but does kind of take over for a while, leaving Patricia by the wayside.

The Spook Speaks (With Commentary by Ed Watz): Ed comes alive right from the get go on this one, stating that this one is considered to be Buster Keaton’s worst Columbia short, and he doesn’t mince words. (And is that a laugh from you I heard Ed?)

The Taming Of The Snood (With Commentary by Patricia Tobias and Joe Adamson): Same stuff from these two, but at least in this one we finally get an answer as to why this husband and wife team don’t have the same last name. Well, sort of. Okay, not really, just fishing!

Buster Keaton: From Silents To Shorts (24:50): Almost every commentator on the previous shorts is here and they’re all talking Keaton. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a fascinating look at the legacy of one of the greatest physical comedians of all time, complete with photos and early silent films that are pure gold. It just would have been nice to hear more from family members and people who knew him best. But I must say this mini-doc sure is honest, with the interviewees even talking about how the Keaton talkies are flawed and don’t completely represent the man in his best form. Brutal, frank, yet honorable - a real and fitting tribute to the genius of Buster Keaton, RIP.

Also included is a Previews section for Classic Westerns, The Three Stooges, and The Premiere Frank Capra DVD Collection.

As if all of this wasn’t enough, this glorious set also comes with a collectable Original Screenplay Reproduction of the short She’s Oil Mine, the final draft dated October 6, 1941, complete with a forward by Keaton’s Granddaughter Melissa Talmadge Cox.
Buster Keaton was undeniably one of the greats among physical comedians. The man and his work are up there with legends like The Three Stooges, Laurel and Hardy, and Keaton’s old partner Fatty Arbuckle. And while this collection of ten classic ‘talkie” shorts is varied and uneven, it does show all it’s strengths and flaws honestly and you have to respect it for that. From the frank commentaries, to the revealing mini-doc, to even the shorts themselves, this one shows you the good, the bad, and the ugly no holds barred. It’s a collectable and fitting tribute to Buster and all he did. This is a beautiful set that would make even the great stone face crack a smile.
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