the REEL WORLD: 1928

Steamboat Bill, Jr.

Another Buster Keaton silent, Steamboat Bill, Jr. is about what happens when Willie (Keaton) returns to see his steamboat captain father, Bill, after they've been separated for years. Bill decides that Willie, with his pencil-thin mustache and dapper beret, is far too effete, and decides to turn him into a Real Man. Going on through all this is Bill's rivalry with a wealthy man who runs a competing steamboat; of course Willie becomes involved with that man's daughter (yet another Romeo and Juliet story), and of course there's lots of wet slapstick as people trying to go from one steamboat to the other fall into the river.

You've probably seen a clip from the final sequence of this film. Because of a very complicated series of events (are happenings in Keaton's films ever not complicated?), Willie ends up wandering around in the middle of a huge windstorm and eventually a tornado. As he stands in front of a house, its facade falls off; it doesn't crush him because a small window opening, perfectly positioned, falls around him. In his review, Tim Dirks points out that the facade weighed two tons, and that Keaton had two inches of clearance as it fell around him, and the Internet Movie Database notes that "half the crew walked off the set rather than participate in a stunt that would have killed Keaton if he had been slightly off position." Unbelievable.

Anyway, Keaton was a genius. See this.

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Emily Way (
Last updated July 9, 1998