US (1924) Dir. Buster Keaton
A young projectionist and wannabe detective (Buster Keaton) is in love with a young girl (Kathryn McGuire) but his plans to woo her are usurped by the local con man (Ward Crane), who frames the projectionist for theft. Later, while back at work, the projectionist falls asleep and dreams about being onscreen as the great detective Sherlock Holmes Jr!
It may only be 45 minutes long but Sherlock Jr is arguably one of Buster Keaton’s finest moments and most memorable films. The story is typically flimsy for the time as it is merely a backdrop for Keaton to unleash his unique brand of energetic, stunt filled, daredevil comedy. Many of the whacky stunts found here are often isolated when showing off the best of Keaton in documentaries and compilation films so chances are many of you have seen many of the physical highlights already without knowing it.
This film is often regarded as an early surrealist comedy (something Keaton denied) due to the special effects sequence where the projectionist steps out of his sleeping body and walks right into the film playing on the big screen. After some crazy antics – featuring some amazingly advanced editing for the period – the cast onscreen morph into the characters in the projectionist real life with our hero playing the titular detective.
Again the plot is flimsy, with Sherlock Jr called in to locate a missing pearl necklace and apprehend the thief (again played by Ward Crane) and as before the end result is some awe inspiring stunt work and inventive comedy masterpieces which have since been imitated but never duplicated.
Another well known fact about this film is that one stunt which saw Keaton be flattened by a powerful jet of water from a water tower actually fractured his neck! Keaton suffered from migraines and black outs but it wasn’t until he consulted a doctor in the 1930’s that the true extent of the injury was discovered. Keaton not only completed this movie but remarkably went on to make many more films with life threatening stunts (all of which he did himself) with a half broken neck! Unreal.
Even with many of the scenes no hugely familiar on their own, it is nice to see them in context for a change. Maybe one for true movie buffs only, Sherlock Jr remains an inventive and influential slice of silent cinema from one of its greatest pioneers.