Buster Keaton: 3 Films (Volume 3) (Go West!, Our Hospitality, College) – Review
by Sarah Morgan
This is a man who was in his heyday almost 100 years ago, during a time when cinema was in its infancy. Special effects were virtually non-existent, and those that could be called upon weren’t really all that special or effective.
As a result, stunts were, by and large, real. Keaton, who grew up in vaudeville, participating in an act alongside other members of his family, learned early how to fall safely and thought nothing of pushing himself to his limits in order to get the perfect shot.
That’s very much in evidence in the latest boxset of his films, which contains the feature-length Our Hospitality, Go West! and College.
“No camera trickery”
The first of those features possibly the most incredible stunt I’ve ever seen – in fact, I went back and watched it several times; it’s amazing to think that Keaton did it himself with no camera trickery. It involves catching a woman falling from a waterfall while suspended on a rope tied to a log.
Yes, you did read that correctly – the ‘woman’ is actually a dummy, but that’s by the by. Keaton really carries out the catch himself and apparently had to be taken to hospital afterwards to have the water he’d inadvertently swallowed pumped from his body.
The film itself focuses on a feud between two 19th century families and was inspired by the real-life battle between the Hatfields and McCoys, which later formed the basis of a three-part mini-series starring Kevin Costner. The movie also stars Keaton’s first wife, Natalie Talmadge, his eldest son Joseph and his father.
Go West! is the tale of a ranch hand’s devotion to his favourite cow, while College sees Keaton demonstrate the full range of his sporting skills while playing a student who must prove his prowess to win the heart of the woman he loves. Among its supporting cast is an unbilled Charlie Hall; some might recognise him for his appearance in many Laurel and Hardy films, in which he was invariably cast as a short and very angry man.
All three productions, while not being hilariously funny – tastes have changed and developed in the intervening years – are nevertheless intriguing viewing. More impressive are the special features, in particular the 1965 short film The Railrodder and Buster Keaton Rides Again, which focuses on how it was made.
The Railrodder was one of Keaton’s final projects and is genuinely amusing; it charts his bizarre journey across Canada in a tiny vehicle.
The documentary accompanying it features interviews with the great man, who was still as inventive and enthusiastic as ever, despite a terrible cough – it’s sobering to think that just a year later, he was to pass away following a battle with lung cancer.
Limited Edition Hardbound Slipcase [3000 copies]
Our Hospitality: Presented in 1080p from a 2K restoration
Go West: Presented in 1080p from a 4K restoration
College: Presented in 1080p from a 2K restoration
Our Hospitality – new audio commentary by silent film historian Rob Farr
“Hospitality” [55 mins]: a shorter work-print version of Our Hospitality, presented with optional commentary by film historian Polly Rose
Making Comedy Beautiful [26 mins]: video essay by Patricia Eliot Tobias
Go West: new audio commentary by film historians Joel Goss and Bruce Lawton
Go West – A new video essay by John Bengtson (Silent Echoes / Silent Traces / Silent Visions) on Go West’s filming locations
A Window on Keaton [28 mins]: new video essay by David Cairns
Go West [1923, 12 mins]: short film
College: video essay by John Bengtson on College’s filming locations
The Railrodder [1965, 24 mins]: produced by the National Film Board of Canada and starring Buster Keaton in one of his final film roles
The Railrodder: optional audio commentary with director Gerald Potterton and cameraman David De Volpi
Buster Keaton Rides Again [1965, 55 mins]: documentary feature produced concurrently with, the filming of The Railrodder Q&A with Gerald Potterton [55 mins]: audio recording of a post-screening Q&A with The Railrodder director Gerald Potterton, and David De Volpi
PLUS: A 60-PAGE perfect bound collector’s book featuring new writing by Philip Kemp; essays on all three films by Imogen Sara Smith; a piece by John Bengtson on the filming locations of Our Hospitality; Gerald Potterton’s original treatment for The Railrodder; and an appreciation of Keaton and The Railrodder by writer and silent cinema aficionado Chris Seguin
Buster Keaton: Our Hospitality / Go West / College [Limited Edition Three Film Box Set] is released on Blu-ray by Eureka, £34.99