Monday, February 20, 2017

Tonight's Movies: Steamboat Bill, Jr. (1928) and College (1927) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

This week Kino Lorber releases a terrific two-disc set with a pair of silent Buster Keaton comedies, STEAMBOAT BILL, JR. (1928) and COLLEGE (1927).

Like the set I recently reviewed with Keaton's THE GENERAL (1926) and THREE AGES (1923), both films are great-looking new 2K restorations from Lobster Films. Each movie comes on its own disc with excellent extras, which are listed at the end of this review.

I found both films quite entertaining. This was my second time to see STEAMBOAT BILL, JR., which I first saw with a live orchestra at the 2015 TCM Classic Film Festival.

Having now seen additional Keaton films, I enjoyed returning to STEAMBOAT BILL, JR., and this time I appreciated it even more.

STEAMBOAT BILL, JR., is the story of a young dandy (Keaton), who is reunited with his steamboat captain father (Ernest Torrence) for the first time in many years.

The father, who is struggling to keep his business afloat, so to speak, initially despairs of his citified son, but when Jr. breaks his dad out of jail they reach a new understanding.

Jr. is sweet on Kitty King (Marion Byron), whose father (Tom McGuire), has been trying to put Steamboat Bill out of business, but when a huge storm hits Jr. has the chance to rescue the Kings and unite their families.

This one should be seen for the stunts alone, which are completely mind-blowing; they include the famous scene where the wall of a house falls over, with Keaton perfectly on target to miss being hit. It has to be seen to be believed. His physicality, also seen climbing from level to level on the boat, is simply amazing.

STEAMBOAT BILL, JR., was directed by Charles Reisner and the uncredited Keaton. It was filmed by Bert Haines and Dev Jennings. The running time is 70 minutes.

COLLEGE is somewhat reminiscent of Harold Lloyd's THE FRESHMAN (1925), with Keaton as an awkward new college student, but it succeeds on its own terms thanks to a series of amusing visual jokes.

The scholastically oriented Keaton character decides to become an athlete in order to impress a young lady (Anne Cornwall), with awkward results. Baseball, track and field, and rowing all challenge him -- though somehow, while working as a waiter, he can do a backwards somersault without spilling a cup of coffee! I had to replay that delightful scene for a second look.

Ultimately, though, he's suddenly able to put athletic skills to work in order to save his lady love when her reputation is about to be compromised by a rival (Harold Goodwin).

Like STEAMBOAT BILL, JR., so much of the movie is based in physical humor and derring-do that it defies easy description. Incidentally, I was interested to learn that, as physically agile as Keaton was, his final pole vault into a window had to be doubled by an Olympic gold medalist!

COLLEGE was directed by James W. Horne along with the uncredited Keaton. Like STEAMBOAT BILL, JR., it was filmed by Bert Haines and Dev Jennings. The running time is 66 minutes.

STEAMBOAT BILL, JR., and COLLEGE each have a choice of orchestral or organ music track; I listened to the orchestral scores by Timothy Brock (STEAMBOAT BILL, JR.) and the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra (COLLEGE) for my reviews.

STEAMBOAT BILL, JR., also comes with a commentary track, an introduction, and a vintage Alka-Seltzer commercial with Keaton.

COLLEGE includes a fascinating 10-minute locations tour with John Bengtson which I suspect will be particularly appreciated by Southern Californians. The movie was shot at USC, the Coliseum, and Newport Bay, among other familiar locations.

The COLLEGE disc also includes a silent Mack Sennett short, RUN, GIRL, RUN (1928), starring Carole Lombard. It was silly but as a Lombard fan I enjoyed the chance to see some of her early work.

Other extras on the COLLEGE disc are two different introductions (one by Lillian Gish) plus Keaton's last onscreen performance, in an industrial short called THE SCRIBE (1966).

I reviewed the Blu-ray edition of this set, which is also available from Kino on DVD.

Keaton fans will also want to check out my recent review of another new two-film set from Kino Lorber, containing THE GENERAL (1926) and THREE AGES (1923).

Thanks to Kino Lorber for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray collection.


Blogger Seth said...

A few weeks ago, I heard Mont Alto accompany Steamboat Bill Jr. at the Rialto Theater in Loveland, Colorado. It was my first orchestra-accompanied silent film, and the first time I'd seen Steamboat Bill. It was very enjoyable. There's nothing like a theater full of people constantly laughing.

8:32 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Seth, that's wonderful! I'm so glad you got to hear Mont Alto live!

I haven't seen many silents with live music, but they've all been very memorable experiences. I'm so glad you got to do this in Colorado. Thanks for sharing!

Best wishes,

10:29 PM  

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