Tuesday, February 21, 2017
Time for Fun
This is my entry in the Buster Keaton Blogathon hosted by Silent-ology.
Buster Keaton, along with Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd, are possibly the triumvirate of slaptick comedy from the silent era. Keaton's career spanned from early vaudeville days, when he performed on stage with his parents, right up until his death in 1966. (He died in 1966, not long after having completed work on what was to be his final appearance on screen in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum).
During the span of his film career, which began in 1917, he made some 100+ films, many of which, in those early years, were shorts (films which had a running time of 30 minutes or so). A number of those early features were with Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle. Buster graduated to full length films. His first headlining role in a feature length movie was one called 3 Ages, but he really came into his own with his third feature Sherlock, Jr, a movie in which Buster played a movie projectionist who enters, via a dream, into the fantasy world of the movie he is showing on screen.
In his later career, Buster appeared in cameos in such movies as It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World and Around the World in 80 Days. He was also a guest star on a variety of TV shows, and even had a brief run of his own TV show, The Buster Keaton Show, which unfortunately did not catch on and only lasted for 5 episodes. The problem, apparently, with the TV show was that he tried to recreate the scenes for which he was most famous from his movies. (I'm just guessing, since I haven't seen any episodes, but I assume it was mostly without dialogue, not a good idea for TV.)
One case where he did do a portion of his part in silent mode was the classic episode of the TV show The Twilight Zone, tiled "Once Upon A Time". The episode is a fan favorite, myself included.
Once Upon a Time
As indicated in the screenshot above, this episode was written by Richard Matheson, one of the better known contributing authors to The Twilight Zone. "Once Upon a Time" was directed by Norman Z. MacLeod, no stranger to comedy himself, having directed many comedies in Hollywood, including two Marx brothers movies, and several Bob Hope movies. Coincidentally, the "Once Upon a Time" episode aired just a few days after I was born.
The story begins, fittingly, in silent movie mode, as the time period is 1890. Woodrow Mulligan (Buster Keaton) is a man who wishes that life could be a lot more quiet and peaceful. He is frustrated with lfe where he thinks 17 cents a pound for sirloin steak is outrageous, bicycles are a road hazard, and the noise of livestock is just too noisy.
Woodrow works as a janitor for a scientist (Milton Parsons), who has created a time helmet that will allow the wearer to go into the future. Woodrow decides to use it. The slapstick scenes where the helmet starts shooting fireworks and panics Woodrow is just priceless. Woodrow ends up in 1960, where to his shock it's even noisier and costlier to live. To make matters worse, the time helmet breaks leaving him stranded.
The transfer to the present (1961 being the "present" at the time of the broadcast) changes the show from silent to sound. For those of you who have never heard Keaton's voice, you will get to do so. The slapstick still continues as a kid absconds with the helmet and Woodrow has to chase him down. He runs into Rollo (Stanley Adams) who, being convinced Woodrow really is from 1890 and not some crackpot, endeavors to help him fix the time helmet. They enlist the help of a repairman (Jesse White).
There is a pretty funny scene in the repair shop as Woodrow encounters his first meeting with a television. He thinks the thing is a window and that he character on the screen is talking directly to him. The character says "That man does not have all his buttons." What does that mean to Woodrow? It's anybody's guess...
With a fixed helmet, Rollo tries to use the helmet to back to 1890, and Woodrow tags along for the ride. But 1890 turns out to not be the great thing that Rollo was expecting and he begins to miss the comforts and pleasures of 1960. So Woodrow slaps the helmet on Rollo and sends him back.
The Twilight Zone tended to be bleak most of the time, but this is one of a handful of episodes that used humor to get the point across to its viewers. Fans of Keaton's slapstick style will not be disappointed. Of all the humorous episodes during it's run, this one is by far the funniest.
I'm going to stay here in the 2000's myself. If not for the internet, at least for the air conditioning. Hope you had fun with this one.