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Steamboat Bill, Jr. (1928)

Not Rated | | Action, Comedy, Drama | 20 May 1928 (USA)
The effete son of a cantankerous riverboat captain comes to join his father's crew.

Directors:

(as Chas. F. Reisner), (uncredited)

Writer:

(story)
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Cast

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Tom Lewis ...
Marion Byron ...
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Storyline

Following through on a promise to his mother, William Canning Jr. goes to River Junction to meet his father who has not seen him since he was a child. The younger Canning isn't quite what the elder was expecting but the old man has bigger problems. He's being put out of business by J.J. King, who not only owns the local hotel and bank, but has recently introduced a new paddle wheel steamer that puts Cannings older boat, the Stonewall Jackson, to shame. Bill Jr. and Kitty King take a liking to each other much to the dismay of both of their fathers. When a fierce storm hits River Junction, Bill Jr. is forced to save Kitty, her father and his father. Written by garykmcd

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Taglines:

The Laugh Special of the Age. See It. See more »


Certificate:

Not Rated | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

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Release Date:

20 May 1928 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

El héroe del río  »

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Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
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Did You Know?

Trivia

This and The General (1926) are generally considered by critics to be Buster Keaton's last great films. Shortly after these two were made, the independent-minded Keaton made the mistake of signing a contract with MGM, whose regimented ways clashed with his scrupulous perfectionism. Five years after MGM hired him, it dropped his contract and Keaton drifted into obscurity, complicated by a severe drinking problem, from which he didn't emerge for many years. See more »

Goofs

Just before the house facade falls on Keaton, a stagehand can be seen through the first floor window giving it an extra push. See more »

Quotes

William Canfield Jr.: [to his father] I know what it is, you're ashamed of my baking.
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Connections

Referenced in Psych: High Noon-ish (2009) See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

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User Reviews

The Adventures of Steamboat Billy
25 March 2005 | by (Kissimmee, Florida) – See all my reviews

STEAMBOAT BILL JR. (United Artists, 1928), directed by Charles F. Reisner, stars Buster Keaton in his third independent production following THE GENERAL (1926) and COLLEGE (1927), his most effective and daring, as well as a premise that personifies him best. It is a fine character study as well, and since Keaton is quite a character, the role he plays is that of a weakling of a son who tries to impress his burly, strong-willed father, wonderfully played by veteran actor Ernest Torrence.

Story: Set in River Junction, Mississippi, William Canfield (Torrence), better known as "Steamboat Bill," owns a riverboat called "The Stonewall Jackson." He has a rival, John James King (Tom Maguire), a wealthy citizen, who attempts to cause Bill's financial ruin with his new river packet called "King" after himself. Canfield receives a telegram from Boston that his son, whom he hasn't seen since he was a baby, is arriving in town by train. Excited about the union, he is soon disappointed when he finds Bill Canfield Jr. (Buster Keaton) not to be the physical built of himself but a weakling sporting checkered clothes and beret, a mustache and playing a ukulele. Also returning home to River Junction is Mary (Marion Byron), King's daughter, whom Bill has already met while attending college. Because Bill and Mary love one another and Canfield and King have become rivals, the fathers attempt to keep these two apart.

A story with enough ingredients for comedy. With the love plot resembling that of Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet," there is no tragedy involved, but methods of the youths trying to get together at times without the knowledge of their feuding fathers. Scenes involving the meek Keaton and the rugged Torrence are extremely funny, their introduction being with Torrence at the train station to meet the son he hasn't seen in years, to be identified with a carnation, only to find practically every man at the station is wearing one. The element of surprise in finding his son not to be what's expected has been reworked numerous times on screen, the most famous being Universal's comedy-western, DESTRY RIDES AGAIN (1939), where the eagerly awaited sheriff believed to be a strong physical type only to arrive in town only to be a "horse of a different color" (James Stewart). Like Stewart's character, Keaton is considered a fool by many, but on the contrary, he's the opposite, in fact, intelligent when intelligence is needed, especially when it comes to rescuing his father from drowning in a jail cell during a flood that nearly has water covering over his head. Other scenes worth mentioning include father taking son by the hand like a small child to the barber shop to eliminate his mustache, and later to the clothing store where father attempts to change son's image into something more manly. But the high point is that of natural disasters of cyclone and flood that nearly wipes away the town, with the confused Bill actually becoming the hero during all this confusion, leading to the most celebrated scene where Keaton is seen standing in an empty street staring at the damaged surroundings, with the entire facade of a house falling down on him, with the open window frame of the house passing safely over his body, leaving him unharmed. A very dangerous stunt, which might have proved fatal, done without the technology of special effects or computers nearly succeeds in outshining Harold Lloyd's thrill comedies of the day. This alone needs to be seen to be believed. Even when all this is over, there are even more elements of surprises. Watch for them.

STEAMBOAT BILL JR. was introduced to public television around 1983 as part of a weekly series known as SPROCKETS, accompanied by a standard piano score. Later revived to cable television, it was then seen on American Movie Classics starting in 1995 where it was part of that station's annual film preservation series, and ending its run there in 1999. The movie was later presented on Turner Classic Movies in 2001 where it is played as part of its "Silent Sunday Nights." Initially accompanied with an excellent piano score by William Perry from the Paul Killiam collection, TCM sadly discontinued using this print in December 2004 in favor of a restored copy (which is fine) accompanied by scoring that happens to be one the worst ever composed for a silent movie. A pity because STEAMBOAT BILL Jr. is such a fine and exciting comedy, worthy to film students to studying the art and genius of Buster Keaton. Fortunately someone must have been in agreement with the bad scoring considering a new organ score was used in a crisp pint that aired June 21, 2005. Though scoring for STEAMBOAT BILL Jr. has varied in either VHS or DVD formats over the years, personally, the William Perry piano accompaniment is the best of its kind.

The last true Buster Keaton classic from the silent era, and surprisingly something that didn't do financially well when distributed in theaters. In fact, it's been said that United Artists withheld its release for almost a year. Today STEAMBOAT BILL Jr. is critically acclaimed and hailed as one of Keaton's masterpieces, a notch below THE GENERAL but an improvement over COLLEGE. Thanks to television revivals and video/DVD, Buster Keaton comedies such as this should never go out of style. (***)


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