Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Sherlock Jr. (1924)

Seen: On netflix instant on my tv.

Yeah yeah so Sherlock Jr. is my first Buster Keaton film, so I'm unschooled in a lot of things, so what. In his remarkably prescient look at the magic of the movies, Keaton plays a mild-mannered film projectionist/wannabe detective who sees his romantic aspirations crushed when a rival suitor pins the theft of the lady's father's pocket watch on him. He slips into a dream world inspired by the film he's projecting, wherein he becomes a Sherlock Holmes-esque character who endeavors to save the girl from her villainous thieving beau.

Packed with imaginative sight gags and a few truly impressive stunts, this is the kind of film that has continued to make me giggle as I look back on certain scenes and jokes. I loved the early segment wherein Keaton's character finds money in the movie theater rubbish, and when a girl comes by looking for her lost dollar, he asks her to describe it to him before he gives it back to her. And of course the booby-trapped mansion in the film-within-a-film, the death-defying chase scene that is both thrilling and hilarious, and the various little looks and tricks all made me smile. True to my expectations, Keaton himself is fantastic, entertaining easily with his oblivious air, mournful face, and careful movements. I'm pretty enamored of Ford West as Sherlock's steadfast sidekick Gillette, entirely because his frequent disguises reminded me of Gene Parmesan. I just imagined Keaton squealing with delight every time he unmasked himself, I don't know. The lady character (Kathryn McGuire) is pretty neat too, she totally solves the mystery and helps clear The Projectionist's name.

Sherlock Jr. may be a silly comedy at face value but it is also a technical masterpiece that slips in class commentary, almost in anticipation of the next decade's Depression with its depiction of a down-on-his-luck working man who dreams of a richer, more exciting existence. The effects are wonderful, with Keaton's ghostlike form stepping out of his corporeal body and seamlessly entering the movie screen, only to find himself switching scenes and backdrops in a jaw-dropping sequence that had me scratching my head. The moment when he jumps through Gillette's stomach to escape the bad guys had me gasp with glee, it was just so cool.

At a tragically trim 44 minutes, Sherlock Jr.'s only failing is that it's too short. I wanted more of Sherlock's adorable antics and Gillette's costume changes and Keaton's loving camera eye and a dreamlike movie fantasy that pleases on every level. Sigh.


Pair This Movie With: Well from where I sit today I think of Hugo for its ardent expression of silent film's magic. But personally I just wanted to set out and see all of Keaton's other movies (more will surely follow this month).

Further Reading: Jake Cole has a much more well-written and in-depth post on the film, check it out.