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Columbo: Murder by the Book (1971)
I Was In the Neighborhood.
Who is the greatest TV detective of all times? That can be debatable, but Lieutenant Columbo is definitely the coolest - cooking omelette with his raincoat on, always happening to be in the neighborhood, and he always has one more thing. The mystery in the very first episode is not the best one from the whole series, and definitely isn't the most interesting ones among the whole television detective stories, but it has loads of charm and playfulness. Peter Falk's Columbo is quirky yet cool, he seems not the brightest tool in the box, but it is just one of his tool to overplay his opponents. Jack Cassidy's Ken Franklin is so arrogant and full of himself, that his cold confidence makes him quite chilling murderer. This is one of the stories where characters are much stronger and interesting than the story they are part of.
I had to catch that episode, besides Peter Falk's wonderful acting, mostly because it was directed by non other than great Steven Spielberg, but now I think I got hooked, and have to go through all the series. Binge watching 'Columbo' starts now.
The Balloonatic (1923)
Well, don't get too excited over the title - there are very little actual ballooning in the movie. No big stunts either, just cheap slapstick gags which some are great, but overall, the film can be quite a disappointment to big Buster Keaton's fans.
Buster Keaton stars as a young man who is so inept at anything, and being so oblivious about his own bumbling ways that it is almost hard to bear. His adventures start at the fun house of the amusement park, where Buster tries to amuse himself at someone's else expense. After failed attempt to hit on a girl on a boat ride, Buster stumbles on a hot air balloon that takes him into the wilderness. Trying to survive in the nature Buster has to overcome many obstacles, to win the heart of a girl.
Day Dreams (1922)
A young man must go into to big city to prove himself to the father of his girlfriend. He tries different professions and sends a letter home every time, so his girlfriend can imagine her sweetheart making big career.
Although the film is survived only partially - the dream sequences of Buster working as a surgeon and a wall street wolf are some that are gone. Luckily, the missing scenes are not that important in the storytelling point, and the film's flow is quite untouched, by the missing scenes. The film is worth to watch only for the fantastic chase scene where Buster is running from the whole city police.
The Electric House (1922)
Buster, the Electrician
Buster Keaton stars as botany major who is mistaken as electrical engineer, and who is hired to wire up a house with the newest gadgets, while the owner of the house is on a vacation with his family. After returning home Buster starts to familiarize the house owners with new gadgets. But then Buster's big rival, the guy who got robbed of his job, arrives and starts to sabotage the house, and soon the chaos escalates.
Most of the gags feature some of the electrical gadgets, rather than neck breaking stunts, but still the film is funny as the jokes are as inventive as the electrical systems of the house.
The Frozen North (1922)
Buster Keaton is the Villain
'The Frozen North' is far from being Buster Keaton's best works in the short film, but it is one of his most interesting ones. This is the only time when Buster Keaton plays a villain in his own movie. Although 'The Frozen North' parodies westerns and melodramas of that era (especially those of William S. Hart), the bad guy is the bad guy. The film includes some very genius little gags and some quite surreal ones (in the opening scene where Buster Keaton exits the subway station in the middle of the North Pole).
Although not the favorite one of most of the Buster Keaton's fans 'The Frozen North' is interesting (and way different) work of great comedic genius.
The Blacksmith (1922)
You're Not Helping!
Buster Keaton works as apprentice in the blacksmith's shop. When little misunderstanding sends the blacksmith into jail, Buster has to take over all the jobs. One little mistake leads to another and accidents grow bigger, until Buster destroys gleaming white Rolls Royce, and he is finally chased out from the town.
'The Blacksmith' doesn't include stunts on the large scale, but every little gag is so well tied with the next one, that it makes the film flow. Above the average on Buster Keaton scale, but probably the best one in the sense of pure storytelling - every joke and gag moves the story forward, and are not there just for the laughs. Or just for the sake of performing big stunt.
My Wife's Relations (1922)
Horror of Marraige
In the world where people misunderstand each other perfectly Buster Keaton is accidentally wedded with intimidating woman (Kate Price) with even more intimidating brothers. Buster is not very welcome in the family and he gets bullied around until one of the brothers finds an envelope in the Buster's pocket. Inside the envelope is a letter that declares that he has inherited $100.000. Suddenly all the family starts to take care of Buster - they treat him good (well, almost) and they rent an expensive mansion. Then they discover that the letter wasn't for Buster, and all hell breaks loose.
The film has some quite funny and clever moments, but they are just moments. Like usually in the Buster Keaton's movies, this time the story doesn't go nowhere and random stunts (as magnificent as they are) are just random stunts in random order. Seems bit wasted opportunity, considering the talents of Buster Keaton. Still, it is fun and entertaining enough to spend your 25 minutes.
Inner Sanctum (1948)
Guilty Souls Can't Find Sanctum
'Inner Sanctum' is, although quite interesting and thrilling, wasted opportunity as quality film-noir. The film opens with a scene on a train where elegantly dressed woman meets Dr. Valonius (Fritz Leiber) who tells her the story about woman being killed be her fiancee. We then are thrown in the story in the midst of the killing scene. Harold Dunlap (Charles Russell) accidentally kills the woman who's attacking him. He is shocked by his deed, and rids himself from the body by throwing it on the back of the departing train. Unfortunately, young kid Mike (Dale Belding) sees Harold dumping the package on the train. Harold tries to flee the small town, but all the roads are closed because of the floods. He is picked up by local newspaperman McFee (Billy House), who drops him off at the boarding house ran by his close friend Mrs. Mitchell (Nana Bryant). In there Harold meets a young woman Jean (Mary Beth Hughes), who herself with a shaded past, starts to feel immediate sympathy towards mysterious Harold. Unfortunately, in the same house lives the boy Mike with his mother, and when the stories about the dead woman found on the train, reach the town, Mike starts to but one and one together.
The film has nice eerie atmosphere, and the story inside the story is interesting with Dr. Valonius storyline drawing nice circle around the main plot and neatly tying the knots. But the film seems bit rushed, as the director haven't allowed the psychological tension between the character grow enough. Otherwise neat little film-noir that manages to keep the viewer interested enough to sit through barely over an hour running time.
Eye of the Cat (1969)
Bizarre, yet stylish thriller
'Eye of the Cat' is moody and twisty little thriller. Written by Joseph Stefano who also wrote the screenplay of 'Psycho' but don't expect the suspense on that level. The film is shot with style and Lalo Schifrin's eerie score enhances the creepy mood from the start, but the story starts to fall apart and meander in the halfway through the movie.
Hairdresser Kassia Lancaster (Gayle Hunnicutt) looks up a young man Wylie (Michael Sarrazin), a nephew of a rich widower, with a plan to murder the woman and get his money. Unfortunately Wylie is terrified of cats, and his aunt (Eleanor Parker) has the animals freely roaming around in her house. Fear of the cats is not the only reason why Wylie is reluctant at first - it seems the murder is not very acceptable to the young man. He persuades the woman to give up the cats and moves in to live with her. Soon his aunt changes the will, so Wiley would become the sole heir of her money. Wiley's brother Luke (Tim Henry) who was taking care of their aunt until this time, seems very nonchalant about the murder plot.
There are some edgy moments, some ridiculous and unbelievable thrills and overly melodramatic dialogue. Quite interesting movie if you are into this kind of thrillers.
The Paleface (1922)
The Big Pale Chief
I can't help it, but 'The Paleface' is kind of boring Buster Keaton movie. It's definitely not bad film, but it was hard to stay interested throughout. The first part, where Indians have been robbed their land, and their chief issues an order to kill the first white man to enter the gates. Unaware of the danger, Buster Keaton who is on the hunt for the butterflies walks blissfully onto the Indian camp site and starts looking for the butterflies. He struts around like nothing is wrong, and when he suddenly sprints towards the gates, it's not because he finally realized the situation, he walked into, but he noticed another butterfly.
The other great scene is where he escapes from rivaling tribe over the bridge that has only dozen or so slats. Otherwise, pretty mediocre Keaton short, but it's worth to catch it if you have the chance, as it contains some nice and interesting moments.
The Boat (1921)
Damned if I know.
This one might not be the best one of Keaton, but the adventures of one family on the self made boat is entertaining enough that it is worth your time. To understand the joke where Buster sends out S.O.S signal is good to know that the name of of the boat 'Damfino' means damned is I know. Also, International Buster Keaton Society (yes, there is such a cool organization) is called 'The Damfinos'.
Films starts with the scene, where Buster tries to get the boat out of the house and from there, one thing after another goes hilariously wrong that you finally start feel for the heroes. Fantastic scene is where the boat capsizes repeatedly and Buster runs like a hamster in a wheel while trying to send S.O.S. message.
The Play House (1921)
This fellow Keaton seems to be the whole show.
First part of the movie is amazing surreal scene where Buster Keaton performs all the parts himself. Then he wakes up and we learn that it was all his dream, but when suddenly some workmen start to tear down the walls of the bedroom, the viewer is momentarily taken back into the dream, until we finally learn that Buster Keaton was just an ordinary stagehand that took his nap on the stage, and the room was just a decoration. From there on Buster continues his ordinary workday with hilarious mishaps. The film is pretty tame considering the part of neck breaking stunts, but the more amazing is the opening sequence where Buster Keaton is the whole show. Wonderful movie that shows how inventive as a director Buster Keaton was even without performing any amazing stunt work.
Battling Butler (1926)
Boxing Movie with Attitude
Buster Keaton stars as Alfred Butler, spoiled young man from rich family. His father sends him into mountains for hunting and fishing trip to 'make a man' out of him. Unfortunately, Alfred is not quite weakling, but he is very used with comfortable life where everything is done before and after him (in the opening scene we see Alfred smoking, and his valet taking cigarette out between his lips, shaking ashes into the tray and placing cigarette back between his lips), so he decides to take his valet (Snitz Edwards) along. The life in the forest isn't much different for Alfred, as the tent is luxurious like a mansion, and his valet still preparing his clothing and meals. After meeting a girl, Alfred falls in love with her, but the girl's father and brother are against the marriage because they think Alfred is a weakling. Alfred's valet lies him to be a prize fighter who happens to bear the same name, Alfred Butler. One little lie leads to another, until Alfred is forced to take up the part of the boxer he pretended to be for real.
'Battling Butler' is more situation comedy than Keaton's usual physical action packed movies. Besides Keaton's time spent in the ring the film contains very little stunt work. But one shouldn't worry about that thing, as Buster Keaton's subtle performance is enough to compensate that. The high point of the whole movie is definitely the climatic fight between two Butlers (Buster Keaton and Francis McDonald). Not comparable with 'The General' or 'Sherlock Jr.' but sweet movie nonetheless. Like Martin Scorsese himself said - Keaton is the only person who had the right attitude about boxing in the movies. And 'Battling Butler' is one boxing comedy with attitude.
The Goat (1921)
Most Feared Man in Town
'The Goat' must be one of the best Buster Keaton shorts. The film screws up the pace into exhilarating heights and I keep being amazed how easy Buster can make all his stunts seem. 'The Goat' features one inventive gag after another, and although some of them look so simple (going into phone boot and pretending it to be an elevator) yet genius.
Definitely must see Buster Keaton short for everyone.
The 'High Sign' (1921)
What would you do if you'd be hired as a bodyguard and a hitman for the same man?
Our Hero came from nowhere - he wasn't going anywhere and got kicked off somewhere. With this sentence starts the very eventful short film of Buster Keaton who this times stars as a guy who first gets hired in the shooting range. With his clever cheating that shows him the masterful shooting, he manages to get recruited as a bodyguard for a rich man, Mr. August Nickelnurser, and also a hitman for a group of gangsters, who plan to murder the same Nickelnurser.
One can't stop being amazed how inventive was Buster Keaton when staging a physical comedy. Of course some of the stuff was repetitive, but he always managed to find some new ways how to use old gags and jokes. And how many subtle gags he managed to put between huge stunts. 'The High Sign' is no exception. Blink an eye and you might miss some very genius moments.
Hard Luck (1921)
Victim of the Hard Luck
The film was long time lost, until it was restored in the '80s with the final scene still missing. That final scene (which Keaton himself called 'the greatest laugh-getting scene of his career') was later found, and now the film can be enjoyed in it's entirety with the fantastic scene of Buster diving into the pool, but missing it.
Buster stars as out of luck guy who has lost his job and girlfriend, so he tries different methods of taking his own life until he drinks from the bottle which says 'poison'. Luckily for Buster, the bottle contained whiskey that waiter of the restaurant hid from others. Drunken Buster crashes in to the meeting where zoologists discuss the need of including new species among their exhibits. Buster agrees to take the task and all new set of exciting adventures begin.
North by Northwest (1959)
They said I led too dull a life.
One can argue about is 'North by Northwest' the best movie in the long list of Alfred Hitchcock's masterpieces, but it is definitely his most entertaining one. Escapist and unrealistic, sure, but all the characters, their motivations, actions and events depicted on the screen are believable in their own universe that Hitchcock directed based on Ernest Lehman's screenplay. The dialogue is witty and filled with amusing innuendos, and although it might seem that it is all game for the characters, the imminent threat is always present, and doesn't give the viewer (or the characters) too much time to rest from head spinning action. One aspect that is truly amazing (especially for a film like this) is that none of the characters were irritating, especially those who were totally ignorant for the obvious - the police officers and main character's mother (Jessie Royce Landis - what a wonderful performance), who didn't take seriously one single word that Roger Thornhill said about his situation.
Cary Grant, who mostly played himself in his later movies (he did that wonderfully, I might add), gives one of his best performances as Roger Thornhill, a man who is mistaken as government agent and later falsely accused of crime he didn't commit. Eva Marie Saint equally shines as Eve Kendall, a woman whose intentions are unclear. Chemistry between the two leads make the screen sizzle (take that implication how you want) and it is pure enjoyment to watch these two playfully overcome all threats and obstacles. James Mason is perfectly intelligent as the lead villain and Martin Landau as his cruel and cold right hand.
Not many movies can be so easy going and edge on your seat entertainment at the same time, and with such perfection. Timeless classic that has aged graciously without any wrinkles.
Seams Great, But. . .
'Seam' is short sf movie written and directed by Dassani brothers who are perhaps best known for their visual effects work in Hollywood television series. This short has great, but many times used (war between humans and machines) idea with little twist - machines have their sleeper agents among regular people. High production values and amazing FX (for a short film), but that's about it. Actors are doing great job, and they have material to work with, but the film is just too short to tell their story completely. Basically, the whole film feels like one action sequence from feature length movie, but not the complete story itself. That is my main complaint (and the shaky cam). Still, it is worth 20 minutes of your time if you're big science fiction fan.
The Haunted House (1921)
Haunt These Scoundrels
'The Haunted House' is not quite the haunted house story one might expect. In the very opening minutes, gang of counterfeiters and bank robbers are discussing the possibility to turn their hide out into a haunted house. Then we see Buster Keaton as bumbling bank clerk who accidentally pour glue onto the pile of dollar pills. Row of people stuck on the stuff and on each other follows (most of the are amusing at least), until the bank robbers appear. Soon, Buster himself is suspect and has to escape. He ends up in the hideout of the gang of criminals, and then all the fun starts.
The first half is quite boring in the sense that accidents with glue are (and were already by that time) very overused, but the second half uses many inventive film tricks, special effects and of course, Buster Keaton shines in some hilarious stunts.
Overall, there are better 'haunted house' silent comedies out there, but I like this one as it mixes some of my most favorite themes together into one amusing movie.
The Scarecrow (1920)
It's All About Timing
'The Scarecrow' might lack fluidity that some of the better Buster Keaton's short films have, but the three main segments, breakfast, dog chase, and scarecrow are all well staged as separate pieces. Especially the breakfast one that has amazing timing when two pals are sharing table equipment.
The Night Manager (2016)
Stylish Spy Games
'The Night Manager' is slow burning, but intense thriller that doesn't lose it's focus nor suspense. Since the very first episode the suspense goes slowly upwards until the explosive head spinning last episode. Gorgeous visual style, there aren't many unnecessary flashy shots. All the stylish angles and camera movements are well calculated just to enhance the feeling of terror and fear lurking around the corner. Every quiet walk along the hallway or climb up the stairs is sent by some unseen feel of threat. Unnecessary jump scares and pointless adrenaline scenes are almost non-existent, all the suspense is well balanced and always lurking under the surface. All the characters are fantastically developed (and masterfully acted by the magnificent cast) that it is very easy to feel nervous when someone is walking on the edge of the knife.
Slow, but perfectly paced character based political thriller.
The Saphead (1920)
All they do here is knock off hats, but I enjoy it. It occupies the mind.
'The Saphead' was Buster Keaton's feature film debut that made him real star and respectable as an actor. The film is based on Broadway play where Bertie Van Alstyne was played by Douglas Fairbanks, who declined the opportunity to reprise his role on big screen. Instead he recommended Buster Keaton for the role. Compared to best known Keaton's movies 'The Saphead' might feel little bit boring and slow because the film doesn't contain much of his usual breathtaking stunt work and elaborate action. Still, with his deadpan expression and perfect comedic timing Buster Keaton shines as the inept in life son of rich magnate Nicholas Van Alstyne (William H. Crane). The film itself is well paced and nicely balanced, but the most memorable scene is in the stock exchange where Bertie saves the day when he thinks that he is being insulted, and has no idea of his deed.
Don't go into this film with high expectations of action packed comedy and you find yourself entertained. Plus, you can see Buster Keaton's more serious side, and that side is equally enjoyable as his awesome physical comedy. Definitely must see film for all the admirers of the great 'Stone Face'.
Convict 13 (1920)
Buster Keaton stars as a golf player who is mistaken with escaped prisoner. After the golfing accident that knocks Buster unconscious, an escaped convict changes clothes with him. When Buster wakes up, he finds himself wearing prison convict clothes and being chased by the prisoner. After he is captures, he finds out he is about to being hanged, so Buster must find a way to escape from the jail.
Although not Keaton's best movie, 'Convict 13' includes plenty of laughs and action to be highly entertaining film. Being well known fact that Jackie Chan is huge Keaton fan one can see many similarities between the stunts performed in this movie and the ones Jackie does.
20 minutes non-stop enjoyable action.
One Week (1920)
Just Follow the Instructions
After working as a support player in Roscoe Arbuckle movies (who moved on to make feature films) Buster Keaton earned his first starring role in his own short film. After the the wedding the Bride (Sybil Seely) and the Groom (Buster Keaton) receive a portable house as a wedding present. All the necessary stuff to build the house are packed in the boxes, but Buster's rival, Handy Hank messes up the numeration of the boxes, so Buster and his new wife are having quite a trouble with putting the house together.
'One Week' being the first real Buster Keaton movie, one can see how amazingly complete the film is - Keaton's acting and directing style were almost fully developed by this early stage in his career. That only is proof that how good of a student Buster Keaton was to Arbuckle. Talk about apprentice surpassing the master.
His Greatest Battle for Love
Fatty is in love with Winnie (Winfred Westover to whom Kirsten Dunst bears amazing resemblance) and is about to propose her. Then his biggest rival Al (Al St. John) arrives with a letter from his father to Winnie's father, in which he offers half his land to him if he allows his daughter to marry Al. Of course the deal is closed and Fatty has to put all his wits to work to overcome all the obstacles between him and his great love.
The film was long forgotten and was even considered lost, but thanks to the fragments found in the Danish and Italian film archives 'Love' can be now seen in restored condition. And that would have been great bitty if that movie had stayed lost, as it is one of the Arbuckle's best. Made without his frequent collaborator at that time, Buster Keaton, who still served in the army, the film still includes some fantastically staged elaborate acrobatic stunts. Also the film includes one of the best Arbuckle in drag moments.
Definitely must see film for all Roscoe Arbuckle's fans.