The Railrodder (1965) Poster

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The last great silent film was made in 1965!
23skidoo-413 June 2004
The history books tell us that the death knell for silent films was sounded with The Jazz Singer in 1927, and that, with the exception of a few holdouts such as Chaplin, the form was all but dead by 1929. Buster Keaton was one of many actors of the silent era who was forced to move into sound. He was a moderate success, but never maintained the success he enjoyed as a silent comic. The Railrodder, released in 1965, was a wonderful homecoming for Keaton to the world he left behind -- that of the silents.

Of course, The Railrodder isn't completely silent. There is a wonderful (if slightly repetitious) soundtrack, and sound effects, and it's in color. But otherwise, Keaton is completely on form as an Englishman who decides to see Canada, swims the Atlantic Ocean (don't ask), arriving in Nova Scotia where he accidentally hijacks a one-man maintenance rail vehicle with a seemingly infinite supply of tea, eggs, and other necessities of life - not to mention fuel - and takes off on a whirlwind trip across the country.

The scenery is Keaton's co-star on this adventure, though his character is too busy doing laundry, shaving, making breakfast, and even going hunting, to notice much of it.

Fortunately, much of the scenery Keaton's character passes hasn't changed much over the last 40 years, which has given the movie a timeless quality.

An interesting sidenote to this production is that the NFB produced a behind-the-scenes documentary on the making of the film. Entitled Buster Keaton Rides Again, the documentary is several times LONGER than the film it is profiling!

Whether you are a fan of Canadian history, of railroads, or of silent movies, The Railrodder is a film you simply must see at least once -- but preferably, many times.
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A look at Canada
gmoore4425 March 2004
Yes, that's about it. As the film was produced by the National Film Board of Canada, it was a look at Canada, with Buster along for the ride. I saw this in school when it was first released, and as I had never heard of Buster, I became very interested in Buster Keaton's famous stone face. I was glad to see the film, as it started me off on a journey to see as many of the oldies as I could. And having an 8 movie retrospective of Keaton at our local repertory theater, was definitely one of my high points! With "The Three Ages" "The General" Steamboat Bill Jr." and many others, I discovered how good he was. While "The Railrodder" may be more of a film for die hard Keaton fans, I would recommend it.
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Classic silent comedy
medrjel17 January 2002
OK. This is far from Buster Keaton's best work (The General, Seven Chances), but it just goes to show you the mastery of a style all but lost. With the insights of "Buster Keaton Ride's Again", this short silent film gives us not only a look into the past, but an art form that was almost lost forever. For 70 years young, Buster Keaton showed that age means nothing. He did all his own stunts on the rail line, and some were quite dangerous, even if he downplayed it.

Yes, this was more like an ad for "See Canada By Rail", but it doesn't take away from the magic and inspiration of the site comedy he gives us. The gags are almost all pure Keaton.

It's a fun, light-hearted ride, no more than can be expected in a 20 minute short film. And being in color, perhaps younger viewers will allow themselves to get caught up in the magic. One taste of this, and perhaps classics like the General will be next on a young viewer's list.
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kinsayder21 March 2006
In an affectionate tribute to the silent films that made his name in the 1920s, Buster Keaton returns to the familiar character in slap shoes, baggy trousers and flat hat for this short travelogue set in Canada. The idea is simple: he gets on a tiny motorised railway buggy and travels from coast to coast, settling into his mobile home-from-home while causing or narrowly averting chaos along the way.

Under the direction of Gerald Potterton, the gags are more like a nostalgic nod in the right direction rather than laugh-out-loud funny; nevertheless, Keaton fans will find much to appreciate in the details: his familiar shambling walk, or the way Buster slips off his seat as a train rushes past him, or the way he stands on top of the buggy to scan the horizon just as he did on the locomotive in The General.

Ironically, the best sight gag is not in The Railrodder itself but in the documentary about the making of the film, when, with exquisite timing, Buster appears to stop and start a freight train by pulling it with one hand.

The Railrodder and the documentary are both currently available as extras on the MK2 restored 2-DVD edition of The General.
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Ode to Canada
Igenlode Wordsmith12 April 2006
The film that I was really reminded of here turned out to have been Powell and Pressburger's "49th Parallel" -- a slice through almost exactly the same set of coast-to-coast scenery. I had no idea I could recognise Canada subconsciously like that...

"The Railrodder" is an amiable and slightly surreal travelogue, which bears a resemblance at times to a live-action version of the adventures of the Road Runner or other cartoon antics: e.g. a massive freight train vanishes into one end of a tunnel, a small railcar enters the other, and the sound of an almighty smash-up is heard from within... to unexpected result! However, despite this and the featuring of a dialogue-free Buster Keaton in the principal role (one he must surely have relished, given the emphasis on his beloved trains) it isn't really a comedy as such, but more of an off-beat ode to the Canadian landscape. There are at least two laugh-out-loud gags to treasure, though: the very typical Keaton-solution to rain in one's teacup, and the arrival of an equally intrepid voyager from the Pacific coast.

An odd little light-weight piece, on the whole amusing.
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Buster demonstrates he hasn't lost the old magic.
catfish2 May 2001
Sad, in a way. Here's the greatest comedian of the silent era (sorry, Chaplin fans, but you're just wrong, okay?) showing that he can still cut it, never mind how old he might be.

Film appears to be an advert for Canada (probably is), but is still a joy. A endless series of inspired sight-gags as Buster sails calmly through the wilderness on a railroad buggy. The dexterity, poise and, above all, quiet dignity of the man shine through.

Pity the world forgot about him for so long.
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Buster does Canada, coast to coast, in a one man train car.
fester-518 September 1998
This was pure Buster. Although it was not a silent film, there was no dialog, and the feel was like one of his best silent features, The General (1927). This was a fine movie and perhaps his last performance in his old style.
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Even in his final days he still had it.
Hailey-77 January 2007
Buster Keaton was a star in the early days of film, this delightful little piece from 1965 proves he still had that pizazz that makes a great comedy star to till the very end. Falling off London Bridge in England and swimming all the way to Canada is one many funny, great things to be seen in this movie, but I think it really mostly highlights, Canada and it's railroad, plus you get to see the country's scenic beauty and places of the House of Parlament, all along the way and a great Jazz/Country/Bluegrass/Classical score to boot. Let's not forget Buster dodging mighty trains all along the way and doing other crazy stuff.
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Even in his old age, Buster had lost none of his stonefaced charm, this short is proof.
chaos-rampant21 June 2009
One year before his death in 1966, Buster Keaton, although far from the great popularity he enjoyed for the better part of the 1920's, squandered with the advent of sound under the autocratic rule of a studio that had no clue whatsoever how to use a man as talented as Buster, who had proved with THE CAMERAMAN (his first film for MGM after Jo Shenck sold his contract) to be absolutely unbeatable when left to his own devices and his own team of gagmen, the genius of silent cinema came on stage one last time for a final bow. THE RAILRODDER and the other short film he did the same year for Alan Schneider and Samuel Beckett, FILM, the first a joyous celebration of a legend, the other a sad, thoughtful examination of a man and myth; taken together, they form a great tribute to a great figure of cinema.

Although the style, the train setting, and a lot of the gags are a throwback, intentional homage, to some of Buster Keaton's most famous moments (THE GENERAL first among them), unlike the short films that made him a star in the 20's, this time Buster shares the stage. Vying for attention and getting it are both the Canadian countryside, open prairies and mountains, and the beautiful photography. To be appreciated for its cinematic merits as well as Keaton's presence, The Railrodder is a purely enjoyable, not particularly funny, but pleasant, warm, sympatico short film. And even in his old age, Buster has lost none of his stonefaced charm, that boyish naivety and oblivion to danger.
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The Railrodder vs. The Straight Story
danny_mcguire200130 July 2007
Having finally watched this comedy/documentary, yes, even I can make connections to the wonderfully underrated The Straight Story starring Richard Farnsworth. Interesting to note that both of these beloved men were STUNTMEN thru and thru!! The Railrodder is amazing, and contrary to previous discussions, Keaton was a survivor of alcoholism, and his dignity and wit shine through even as cancer was ravaging him. Keaton was a Genius! Having never traveled Canada, I am pleasantly surprised to hear this AMAZING country shown in this film still exists. I keep pronouncing the title of this film as Rail-Rodder, like hot rodder! The behind the scenes document is a wonderful revelation of the artist as an older and wiser man, not the washed up alcoholic some suggest. Keaton was in fine form through all this,even with cancer.
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Buster's Last Directorial Triumph
theowinthrop15 February 2008
Warning: Spoilers
For a man whom Louis B. Meyer thought was a stupid jester and a drunken flop, and whose career supposedly ended in 1935, Buster Keaton proved remarkably resilient. After years in the cellar, Keaton came back after a dual scene with fellow silent comic master Charlie Chaplin in LIMELIGHT. The rediscovery of his films like THE GENERAL, THE NAVIGATOR, SHERLOCK JR., STEAMBOAT BILL JR., and THE CAMERAMAN brought a whole new generation to look him up. Then (unlike other great comedians of the silent and early sound period) he embraced the new medium of television to discuss making comedy and to do old routines or new ones on shows like THE TWILIGHT ZONE and CANDID CAMERA. A dreadful movie with Donald O'Connor playing Keaton (which redid some of Buster's great routines) at least paid a large sum to Buster to set himself and his wife up for the rest of their lives. By 1960 he was reappearing in movies, some of which (A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM, IT'S A MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD) became classics, while others (the "Beach Blanket" films) he graced by his presence.

In 1965 he was able to appear in the last two great shorts of his career. They were FILM by Samuel Becket and THE RAILRODDER. They represented his last really first rate work in film, the former as a philosophical work and the latter as pure comedy-travelogue. THE RAILRODDER also allowed Keaton to return to a favorite subject of his best films - trains. His masterpiece THE GENERAL was about an actual incident where a train in Georgia was stolen by Union agents. The chase and counter-chase remain the best in comedy films. But before THE GENERAL Buster had looked at early railroading (circa 1835 - 1840) in OUR HOSPITALITY. There was also a brief sequence regarding trains in GO WEST. And (when forced by MGM into being a gag writer) Keaton's work with the Marx Brothers in their GO WEST included the demolition of a passenger train.

The National Film Board of Canada produced THE RAILRODDER, a nearly half hour movie, to advertise the beauties of Canada's countryside to visitors. The plot is quite simple. Buster is living in London, and reads an advertisement advocating visiting Canada. He leaves England, and when he arrives in Canada he takes a mechanical repair car across the country's railway systems, seeing the major cities of the east (they show Ottawa for example) and then the scenery of the west (the Rockies, the plains, the buffaloes, Canadian geese) all the way to the Pacific. At the conclusion Buster reaches the Pacific and is admiring the other great ocean when he loses his mechanical car. He accepts the loss and starts walking along the track headed back to the Atlantic coast.

The bare bones of the film plot does not show how Keaton improved the entire film by reawakening his old ideas. There are outtakes of Keaton with the film crew discussing various ideas, and Keaton (while not sharp or nasty - not like Groucho Marx was towards him on GO WEST) is critical. He tells the crew that some of the ideas are just not funny. But he does discuss them. It's refreshing to see how he did create on his best films.

Examples here: There is a side tool box on the car that he keeps opening up that contains all kinds of things that just shouldn't all be there! It has dishes, bathing utensils, fur coats (for the colder parts of Canada), blankets, even a newspaper! We never see Buster stop the machine at a town and buy anything - in fact we are quite sure from the start that Buster has no money with him. Everything he will need is in that machine.

His fine touch never falters. At one point he stops the car at a siding on the plains, and takes some hot water from a boiler and makes a small cup of tea for himself. He is drinking from a rather fine piece of bone china (on an electrified hand car!), with raised pinkie (he is genteel), and notes a bison staring at him. Buster looks at the bison but as it is grazing he is not perturbed. Instead, he is sipping his tea when he hears thunder and feels rain. He holds his hand out to feel the drops. Then he takes the cup's saucer and covers the cup's top with it, opening it enough to take some sips. He will not allow his cup of heated water to be "polluted" by the fresh cold water from the heavens!

Another good moment is when he struggles to photograph a magnificent panoramic view of the Rockies from a trestle. The camera is a box one and it keeps collapsing. Finally he is ready to snap the picture. All the while the car has been moving while he is doing this. At the end, just as he is snapping the picture the car enters a darkened tunnel!

THE RAILRODDER is full of these wonderful moments - and is well worth catching. It was Buster's last explosion of his own comic vision of the world, just a year before he died.
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A short silent movie where Keaton finds his own exciting way of seeing Canada.
josephitajosie19 September 2014
Buster Keaton was an all-time entertainer, who had made much success with his silent movies and was also known for his famous 'Stone Face'.His movie, 'The Railrodder' is one of his unique films and it shows us his unplanned sudden journey. Keaton himself stars in the movie and is shown as an English Gentleman who is shown to be reading a newspaper and when he sees the ad saying "See Canada Now!", he doesn't even hesitate and jumps into the sea, swims across what happens to be the Atlantic Ocean and emerges on the Eastern Coast of Canada. This shows us his desperation and similarly creates humor in the rest of the short film. He then takes advantage of the opportunity he gets and travels across Canada in what is commonly known as the speeder.

Although the film does not have a big story line, it is fascinating, like always, how he always manages to keep the audience interested without any speech (i.e. before he started doing talkie films, for example:Free and Easy (1930)), But it still has catchy soundtracks to go with the situations. We can clearly see there is a lot of hard work put into the making of this film, as it shows the magnificent scenes of nature, etc. I'd say this movie should be seen at least once and I rate it a total of 8.
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The Straight Story
tedg8 October 2005
in 1999, David Lynch made an apparently simple film about a man traveling across the country on a lawn mower. The actor playing the part had terminal cancer and knew it.

The nature of the thing was deceptive: superficially it was a simple travelogue, but if you knew Lynch you could see barely hidden depths. The control was amazing, simply amazing.

I'm sure he had this partly in mind. Here we have an old guy, also dying of cancer, traveling across the land in a similar vehicle. The genre is comic but the tone is the same: a lone man in the midst of vast nature.

Its a sad time though. The man we watch was a genius, someone who invented a huge portion of how we think in film. But he became a drunk and ruined himself. You can see this ruin in every move.

Yes, he can pretend to be himself, but that screen self was so sharp, so tuned that it probably vanished in the first phases of his drink.

What a sad, sad movie. I recommend watching "Straight Story," then this, then the accompanying documentary. It will bring pathos into your day and sadden your dreams.

Ted's Evaluation -- 2 of 3: Has some interesting elements.
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On the road again Warning: Spoilers
"The Railrodder" is a Canadian 25-minute movie from over 50 years ago written and directed by Gerald Potterton. But the star here is obviously the lead actor. Silent film legend Buster Keaton played the part about a year before his death and shows the audience that he still knows easily how to carry a film without dialogue from start to finish. He has some magical moments in here. the music is fine too. The story is not really that interesting or smart, but Keaton is good enough to make it work. As a whole, I enjoyed this film. At under half an hour, it was definitely an interesting watch and had a couple good moments. It is uplifting, but also a bit sad as the old Keaton shows us how nothing lasts forever. A must-see for Stoneface fans, a good watch for everybody else.
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Worth Watching for Keaton
Michael_Elliott23 March 2016
The Railrodder (1965)

** (out of 4)

This here isn't a particularly good film but at the same time it's worth watching due to its star. The Railrodder (Buster Keaton) is a man living in Europe who reads about how great Canada is so he goes there and travels the railway system where he takes in the wonderful visuals.

This twenty minute short really isn't all that good but it's slightly interesting thanks in large part to Keaton who appears in his final silent movie. There aren't any spoken words here so I'm sure the fact that the filmmakers got Keaton for the role played a huge part in this decision. What we basically see if Buster riding around and seeing various parts of Canada.

There's really not any sort of story as this here is basically just a travelogue meant to make people want to visit Canada. The photography is good enough for this type of film but I honestly can't say I wanted to visit Canada, which I guess defeats the whole purpose of the movie. Still, it's nice getting to see Keaton in this later day role.
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Buster Keaton Rides Again
SenjoorMutt29 November 2015
The Railrodder is one of the last films and very last silent film Buster Keaton made. Although gained some weight and lost some hair and flexibility The Great Stone Face didn't lose any of his comedic timing.

Buster plays an English gentleman who notices an add in the newspaper - See Canada Now! He jumps into the Thames and literally swims to the Canada. He finds a railway motor car (with inexhaustible fuel supply) and accidentally starts its engine, and so the trip across Canada begins. One running gag is infinite compartment box where Buster pulls out everything starting with blankets and billows ending with pots and shotguns.

Most of the gags are more like sweet nods to Buster's earlier works rather than just laugh out loud moments. Delightful film to Buster Keaton fans, and when you already watch this, don't forget to check out the documentary 'Buster Keaton Rides Again' that contains only known footage of Buster Keaton behind-the-scenes.
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Strange but charming
alexlangholm7 December 2013
Warning: Spoilers
I would almost rather not give The Railrodder a rating because this isn't really a pure film, nor is it a straightforward commercial, but something in-between: it has the overall structure of a promotional film but the charm of a work of art.

Nominally created to promote Canada as a travel destination, Railrodder takes a completely leftfield approach from its very beginning, where Keaton's Londoner spontaneously jumps into the Thames and swims all the way to Canada. Shortly after reaching the coast, he accidentally stumbles onto a maintenance railway car and begins a journey across the continent, which provides as good an excuse as any for a parade of visual gags as Keaton's nameless character tries to make the best of his situation. This is not the kind of thing that any modern marketer or focus group could possibly come up with.

In theory we're meant to be admiring Canada going past, and the cinematography is a nice backdrop, but it is Keaton's antics that are the real centre of attention. This is all the more remarkable as Keaton was quite old when the film was made, and in the pre-CGI pre-greenscreen era stunts were just as dangerous as they looked. Keaton's commitment to his work was clearly as strong as ever, he must have really enjoyed doing films.

It's perhaps slightly slow-paced for a modern audience (not as explicitly wacky as Mr Bean for example), but anyone familiar with the classic silent comedy era should enjoy this parting shot from one if its masters.

On a side-note, some of the jokes are so strange and disconnected from reality, it's almost like a live action version of a bizarre animation. Perhaps the silent era's comedians contributed more to the surreal comedy of the Goons and the Pythons than most people realise.
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The magic of Buster Keaton is still alive and growing continually.He plays the role of an Englishman who travels to Canada.
FilmCriticLalitRao9 September 2013
Those of us who watch good cinema would agree that we have all grown up watching a lot of Buster Keaton's American films.However,there are not many of us who have been aware of his appearance in a Canadian film."The Railrodder" sees Buster Keaton as an enthusiastic traveler who travels from Atlantic until Pacific ocean to discover the rugged beauty of Canada.As a result of accidentally entering a rail push trolley whose occupant is lying elsewhere,Buster Keaton's character is able to carry out his travel through the length and breadth of Canadian landscape. It is not only the travel which fascinates him and viewers but while watching this film,everybody is also impressed by incidents which happen to him during the journey and the nature which he encounters.The English gentleman-A role played with great finesse and maturity by Buster Keaton,gets sleep,drinks his morning coffee and shoots at birds."The Railrodder" is an important film by Gerald Potterton which would appeal solely to those viewers who are aware of the importance which Buster Keaton has in the field of cinema.Watching this comedy cinema classic one can ascertain the difference between a real comedy film and a fake comedy film filled with clowns of the worst kind.
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Retired Buster is showcased, again.
oscar-3518 May 2011
Warning: Spoilers
*Spoiler/plot- 1965, A film produced by the Canadian railway system to promote their rail service with a world famous silent star, Buster Keaton. Buster has always been a rail fan. Buster travels the length of Canada on a 'speeder' rail car used by rail service crews with comedic consequences from situations.

*Special Stars- Buster Keaton, Mrs. Buster Keaton

*Theme- Keaton still is a treasure of film craft.

*Based on- Buster Keaton's classic silent slapstick movies dealing with railroads.

*Trivia/location/goofs- ONLINE. The fictional film (The Rail Rodder) is teamed up with a documentary (Buster Rides Again) about how the fictional film was shot which highlights glimpses into Keaton's home life, marriage, comedy thinking, and personality. A must for silent film fans to enjoy.

*Emotion- Keaton gets into numerous carefully staged comic situations that show off Keatons's durable greatness as a performer, writer, producer and director. Sad to see that a once worldwide famous film sensation is reduced to making a slapstick commercial for the mundane topic of promoting socialized Canadian rail travel.
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A delightful little film
Chrissie31 October 2009
Somebody charged with making a travel film to advertise the beauties of Canada had a stroke of pure genius: Send Buster Keaton cruising silently across it on a motorized railcar.

Though the film isn't technically a silent film (there are both sound effects and a soundtrack), it's still a silent film in style and feel. Keaton, though far past the vigor of his youth (in fact dying of cancer), shows that he still has his same plucky, imperturbable aplomb.

Sitting by the Thames, Buster's unnamed character sees a full-page newspaper ad that commands him, "Visit Canada now!" Ever one to take up a challenge, Buster leaps into the river to emerge, sodden but undeterred, in Nova Scotia. There, he undertakes a mechanized magic carpet ride through the magnificent Canadian landscape, with all of his needs miraculously attended to by the bottomless toolbox.

Even those unfamiliar with Keaton's silent work will enjoy this charming little movie. Keaton aficionados, however, will be absolutely delighted, spotting one nod after the other to his independent masterpieces, each given a new life by the master himself. And Kudos to the NFB for doing what MGM didn't -- for letting Keaton be Keaton, and giving him the means to leave one more gift to his fans.
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The Railrodder is a fascinating look at Buster Keaton during his latter years
tavm11 June 2011
Just watched on the National Film Board of Canada site as linked from Mark Evanier's this latter day short of Buster Keaton's near the end of his life. In it, he travels from London, England, to the Canadian countryside before riding on a railcar he stumbles into. Some amusing gags abound like seeing him drinking tea while anticipating some rain as he covers his cup with the saucer or doing a shot of him passing through from the POV of restaurateurs. Nothing really hilarious but it's fascinating to watch the now-elderly man still do his own stunts and surviving on his own terms to boot. After years of suffering a creative decline after his treatment at M-G-M during the early sound era, it's such a treat to see him come full circle to his rediscovery as a comic genius during his final years of his career. This fascinating short was also the subject of a documentary filmed around the same time called Buster Keaton Rides Again. Since the sites I listed in the beginning have put that one up as well, I'm going there right now to watch it...
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