Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Buster Keaton in "Sherlock Jr." (1924)

There have been over 100 actors who have played Sherlock Holmes on screen at one time or another in the last century of film and television history. John Barrymore, Basil Rathbone, Peter Cushing, Jeremy Brett and Christopher Plummer to name but a few. Perhaps the most unusual "Holmes" of them all was Buster Keaton who chose to play a character based partly on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's immortal detective  for his second feature film , "Sherlock Junior" (1924).


 Keaton plays a young small-town cinema projectionist and theater janitor who is trying to woo a young lady. When her faher's watch is stolen by a romantic rival, and Buster is framed for the theft, he goes back to the theater and dreams himself into the melodramatic detective movie about lost jewels playing at the movie house. With the help of a Holmesian persona and a motorcycle-riding Dr. Watson, this very American Sherlock saves his girl from a ruthless gang of crooks. Now if only his dream can come true and the how-to-be-a-detective book he is reading on-the-job will help clear his name and restore him in good graces with the girl of his dreams. The clips below feature some amazing physical and logistical gags. Watch how Buster finds himself in difficulty when he enters a movie in progress; he becomes the  subject of jump cuts that put him in a variety of dangerous situations.


 There is also a dangerous sequence he shot without a stunt double in the runaway motorcycle segement. "Sherlock Jr" runs only about an hour in length but it is one of the most clever and inventive comedies ever made. Just these few minutes only scratch the surface of how inventive and ahead of its time it was in terms of playing with the idea of a person in a movie dreaming he's actually in a movie in his own mind! Here's a bit of the flavor of the film below. The soundtrack is provided by a modern group called the Club Foot Orchestra, and this version was released on KINO films in the 1990's


  1. Oh, my. What a comedy! I suspect I'm rather a grump and have never appreciated the finer points of these old black and whites. Can't help it, it's simply true!

    Perhaps all I really have to say is that I'm quite a fan of Sherlock. Jeremy Brett, in my opinion, captured the character of Sherlock best~certainly 'slightly' neurotic, passion for the violin, and other pleasures excluding women insofar as any intimacy was concerned; genuine respect for Watson (not the bumbling fool portrayed in the Basil Rathbone series), caustic, logical, and I guess, just basically the person I have always perceived Sherlock to be.

    Thanks for reminding me of him! I'll close my eyes and remove the first book on 'his' shelf for tonight's reading.

  2. Now this one I never have seen and within these old black and whites they were simply hilarious. I do get a kick out of these silent movies most enjoyable to watch this. I must say he did take his chances without a stunt double. Thanks Doug as this was most enjoyable.

  3. A lot of these movies are now much more available at DVD rental outlets or through Netflix and other mail deals, Sigurd. The Keaton silent films are worth seeing.

    Yes, much as I admire Rathbone and believe he made that part his own in his time, I think Jeremy Brett brought a certain mercurial energy to the part that was truly different from Rathbone yet in keeping with Holmes' original literary idiosyncrasies.

  4. You're welcome Jack. Of all the genres in silent films, comedies like these seem the most accessible. Keaton himself was his own stuntman and his own director. He even doubled other actors from time to time on other movies because as a young man he had learned to take all types of falls on the stage and was incredibly limber.

    He had the mind of an engineer and worked out every gag with exacting precision. But the main thing is he's funny.

  5. I love these and again thanks Doug as it was a nice listen and read last night before I headed off. If I may mention I am not sure if you were a large fan but after the silent movies I loved the likes of Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin. But so often with these short films I always think of Charlie Chaplin.

    Thanks there Doug.

  6. Doug, you said this much better than I.

    "Yes, much as I admire Rathbone and believe he made that part his own in his time"~so true. I sometimes wonder about the myriad of things that made audiences 'different' way back then. They laughed at things I can't find humorous at all, (nor would many of us), and the drama and 'pitch' of actors' voices wasn't at all natural. Maybe technology had something to do with it? Anyway, there was so much melodrama.

    I do want to clarify~it's not all black and white movies. One of my favorites of all time is TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. I'll look it up to see when it was produced.

  7. Those are important points, Sigurd. People often don't appreciate how changes in the culture and audience expectations change the way a character is presented. Humor has changed a great deal; people laughed at depictions of certain ethnic groups, for instance, that would make a modern audience cringe.

    Movie-goers did I think prefer a more conventional and heroic Holmes figure, not as complex, back in the 30's and 40's say then when Brett was playing the role forty years later. The latter's films are much closer to the original stories.

    Rathbone's best work is in the two films he did right off as Holmes, "The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes" and "Hound of the Baskervilles" (both 1939). After that, they "modernized" the character so he and Watson could do battle with Nazis and such. They even sent the dou to Washington, DC!

    Again, this was bowing to the demands of the audience in, say, 1942, who wanted a comforting and brilliant figure to strike a blow against fascism and sell some war bonds in the lobby after the movie ended. How much we have changed!

    "To Kill a Mockingbird" is a great, great film. I hope no one ever tries to remake that one.

  8. Please don't give me a heart attack. If they do, I don't want to even hear about it. (It was released December 25, 1962., but you probably already knew.)

    I believe Shirley Temple was another example of bowing to the demands~or needs, of the audience at the time. "A precocious performer known for her dimples and golden curls, she became the country's most popular female star and Hollywood's top box office attraction in the Great Depression era."

  9. As far as I know there are no plans to remake that 1962 classic. I do know someone is working on a new film versions of "Bonnie and Clyde". I don't think that bodes well, but it might stir interest in the original.

    Yes, Shirley Temple is an excellent example. Her success wasunique and, for a child-star, quite durable. The studio who produced her films literally stayed in business during hard times for many years off the revenue of this one little girl who could sing, laugh and cry on cue.

  10. I may be wrong, because I don't often watch movies. Please tell me: Are any movies being produced to see us through hard times now, or only to rev up an already angry and violent world?

  11. My personal opinion is that its the latter much too often Sigurd.

  12. That was my opinion. I didn't want to 'appear' negative, but I do believe it's true. Thanks.

  13. Excellent bit of film, I don't know what it has to do with Sherlock Holmes but it's great fun anyway. Thanks for the showing Doug :-)

  14. lol!

    Yes, other than the title, AA, and some fun with mixing small-town Americana with the Holmes legend, Keaton's highly-inventive film is certainly not a Sherlock Holmes adaptation.

    I still owe everybody here a Sherlock blog.